Understanding the difference between conscious and unconscious states is important for making sense of human cognition. Consider: your perception of these words is currently conscious while the feeling of the floor beneath your left foot presumably is not. But what does the difference between these states consist in? Contemporary philosophers disagree about how to answer this kind of question. Extrinsic theorists claim states are conscious because of how they are related to other states, entities, or processes. Intrinsic theorists deny this by claiming that consciousness is internal to states. As it stands, debates about consciousness are thus stuck at an impasse. So I approach things differently. In this dissertation, I argue there is a way to overcome the gridlock that plagues contemporary debates about consciousness, and to accommodate the considerations that motivate both intrinsic and extrinsic theorists. The way forward lies in developing a robust account of causal powers. Causal powers, on my view, correspond to dispositions things have. For example, salt’s disposition to dissolve in water corresponds to a power salt has: its solubility. Causal powers, moreover, can help us account for how things behave, for how and why things interact with each other in the ways they do. For example, we can account for salt’s dissolving in water by studying when and why salt manifests its power of solubility. And we can also account for our conscious experiences in reference to causal powers. Indeed, I argue that just as salt manifests one of its powers when it dissolves in water, so too humans manifest one of their powers when they have conscious experiences—our conscious experiences can be understood in reference to the causal powers we have, and in reference to how and why we manifest these powers. Just as importantly, if we use causal powers as a basis for a theory of consciousness, we can overcome the current opposition between extrinsic and intrinsic theories, and in doing so, open up avenues for theorizing about consciousness anew.
Vukov, Joseph Michael, "Consciousness Empowered" (2016). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI10125241.