My research interests cluster around the nature and epistemology of consciousness:

 

1. What is consciousness? How, and in what ways, does (or should) emerging work in the science of consciousness constrain philosophical answers to this question? What would a good philosophical answer to this question look like - and why?

 

2. Is there such a thing as a level or state of consciousness? If so, what does being in a particular state of consciousness - being awake, dreaming, being in a state in which one has insight into the fact that one is dreaming - consist in?

 

3. Which entities or organisms are conscious? How can we come to know this? How do we come to have knowledge about minds (our own and those of others) more generally? In what ways is the epistemology of mental phenomena sensitive to ontological accounts of mental phenomena - and, even more broadly, different theories about nature of mental categories themselves?

4. What are the standard concepts of consciousness  - phenomenal consciousness, access consciousness, the concept of a conscious state, good for? Which, if any, of these concepts are morally significant? Which, if any, are of primary epistemic significance?

 

My doctoral research works to develops a unified framework for the scientific and philosophical study of consciousness which can work to answer these seemingly disparate set of questions. This takes as its starting point the claim that phenomenal consciousness ought - for epistemic and moral purposes - to be re-engineered, in the popular meta-philosophical sense, as a natural kind concept

Publications.

For a PDF of a draft please email me at c.whiteley@lse.ac.uk.

Works In-Progress.

''Aphantasia, Imagination and Dreaming''

Forthcoming, Philosophical Studies.

 

Abstract: Aphantasia is a recently discovered disorder characterised by the total incapacity to generate visual forms of mental imagery. This paper proposes that aphantasia raises important theoretical concerns for the ongoing debate in the philosophy and science of consciousness over the nature of dreams. Recent studies of aphantasia and its neurobehavioral correlates reveal that the majority of aphantasics, whilst unable to produce visual imagery while awake, nevertheless retain the capacity to experience rich visual dreams. This finding constitutes a novel explanandum for theories of dreaming. Specifically, I argue that the recent dream reports of aphantasics constitute an empirical challenge to the emerging family of views which claim that dreams are essentially imaginative experiences, constitutively involving the kinds of mental imagery which aphantasics, ex-hypothesi, lack. After presenting this challenge in the context of Jonathan Ichikawa’s recent arguments for this view, I argue that this empirical challenge may be overcome if the imagination theorist abandons Ichikawa’s account of dreaming in favour of a modified version. This involves the claim that dreams are essentially inactive and constitutively involve non voluntary forms of imagination. I conclude with a suggestion for further research which can test the viability of this alternative hypothesis, and move the debate forward.

''Knowledge-First as a Naturalistic Epistemology''

Abstract: Recent literature on ‘knowledge-first’ approaches to epistemology suggests that the broad claim that knowledge does, or ought to have, theoretical priority in epistemological projects underdetermines a number of more specific conceptual and metaphysical theses with respect to knowledge and related epistemic concepts. This paper defends the claim that there is an alternative and stronger way of formulating the priority thesis of knowledge-first epistemology yet to be considered, which connects knowledge-first theorising to naturalistic approaches to epistemology: the claim that knowledge is a psychological natural kind. This is argued for on the basis that this not only (i) captures and includes within its purview many of the related priority theses endorsed by knowledge-first theorists but also (ii) unites and explains these in a way which alternative priority theses fail to do so. I conclude by suggesting how, if accepted, this higher level metaphysical claim can be put to work in resolving first-order disputes in epistemology - specifically, the suggestion that this provides us with an explanation for the value of knowledge which has recently been called into question (Papineau 2019).

''Explanation and Underdetermination in the Science of Consciousness''

Abstract: Much of contemporary philosophical work on consciousness is predicated on the assumption that work produced as part of the neuroscience of consciousness, the now prolific and well established research field within cognitive neuroscience, is neutral with respect to the radically divergent theories of consciousness in the philosophy of mind. The operation of this ‘neutrality thesis’ is evidenced most clearly in the methodological practices of philosophers and neuroscientists, who stand united in the assertion that questions about the metaphysics of consciousness and the details of its neural basis form largely independent, non-interacting research areas. Left unchallenged, this has led to the perceived viability and subsequent main of so-called naturalistic non-physicalist metaphysical accounts of consciousness on the basis that such a position is ‘‘broadly consistent with the picture of consciousness and the brain emerging from contemporary neuroscience’’ (Crane et al. 2015). This paper presents a case against the neutrality thesis and the view of the philosophy and metaphysics of mind it supports. This is split into two parts. In the first, I draw out the main line of argument in favour of the neutrality assumption, introduced by David Chalmers and Uriah Kriegel. With the use of case studies from recent neuroscientific research, in the second I present two objections to this argument. Together, these aim to demonstrate that the argument depends, in various ways, on an outdated and empirically implausible view of contemporary neuroscientific research and, in particular, its mechanistic explanatory aims and practices.

 

 

''A Neuroscience-First Approach to the Metaphysics of Mind''

An ongoing and heavily disputed debate in philosophical methodology concerns the extent to which contemporary metaphysics requires naturalisation. An emerging consensus suggests that whilst radical arguments which call the discontinuation of the entirety of metaphysics may be unfounded, epistemic considerations nevertheless demand the pursuit of a ‘moderately naturalised’ and scientifically responsible programme - one in which metaphysical theories are constructed on the basis of a rich and sustained dialog with emerging scientific research. This paper raises the following question: if one accepts these epistemic constraints, is there space in a scientifically engaged research programme for a naturalised metaphysics of consciousness? and defends an affirmative answer. When combined with recent work in the metaphysics of science, it is argued that adoption of an explanationist account of metaphysics - on which one views philosophy of mind as proceeding via inference to the best explanation - provides us with a compelling account of how such a programme can be constructed. The result is a novel methodological ‘‘neuroscience-first’’ framework for conducting the metaphysics of consciousness. In addition to satisfying the standard criteria demanded by a moderately naturalised metaphysics, it is argued that this framework, given the extent and maturity of neuroscientific research on the neural basis of consciousness, is likely to be a fruitful one. Consciousness, on this view, is ripe for naturalisation.

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