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Saturday, May 26, 2018

Illusionism as a Theory of Consciousness

Keith Frankish

Theories of consciousness typically address the hard problem. They accept that phenomenal consciousness is real and aim to explain how it comes to exist. There is, however, another approach, which holds that phenomenal consciousness is an illusion and aims to explain why it seems to exist. We might call this eliminativism about phenomenal consciousness. The term is not ideal, however, suggesting as it does that belief in phenomenal consciousness is simply a theoretical error, that rejection of phenomenal realism is part of a wider rejection of folk psychology, and that there is no role at all for talk of phenomenal properties — claims that are not essential to the approach. Another label is ‘irrealism’, but that too has unwanted connotations; illusions themselves are real and may have considerable power. I propose ‘illusionism’ as a more accurate and inclusive name, and I shall refer to the problem of explaining why experiences seem to have phenomenal properties as the illusion problem.

 Although it has powerful defenders — pre-eminently Daniel Dennett — illusionism remains a minority position, and it is often dismissed out of hand as failing to ‘take consciousness seriously’ (Chalmers, 1996). The aim of this article is to present the case for illusionism. It will not propose a detailed illusionist theory, but will seek to persuade the reader that the illusionist research programme is worth pursuing and that illusionists do take consciousness seriously — in some ways, more seriously than realists do.

The article/book chapter is here.