1. What is a Nation?
1.1 The Basic Concept of Nationalism
Although the term “nationalism” has a variety of meanings, it centrally encompasses the two phenomena noted at the outset: (1) the attitude that the members of a nation have when they care about their identity as members of that nation and (2) the actions that the members of a nation take in seeking to achieve (or sustain) some form of political sovereignty (see for example, Nielsen 1998–9, 9). Each of these aspects requires elaboration. (1) raises questions about the concept of a nation or national identity, about what it is to belong to a nation, and about how much one ought to care about one's nation. Nations and national identity may be defined in terms of common origin, ethnicity, or cultural ties, and while an individual's membership in the nation is often regarded as involuntary, it is sometimes regarded as voluntary. The degree of care for one's nation that nationalists require is often, but not always, taken to be very high: according to such views, the claims of one's nation take precedence over rival contenders for authority and loyalty (see Berlin 1979, Smith 1991, Levy 2000, and the discussion in Gans 2003; for a more extreme characterization see the opening pages of Crosby 2005, and for a recent rich and interesting discussions of nationalist attitudes see Yack 2012).
(2) raises questions about whether sovereignty requires the acquisition of full statehood with complete authority over domestic and international affairs, or whether something less than statehood suffices. Although sovereignty is often taken to mean full statehood (Gellner 1983, ch. 1; for discussion of Gellner's views see Meadwell 2012, 2014, and papers in Malesevic and Hugarard 2007), possible exceptions have been recognized (Miller 1992 (87), and Miller 2000). Some authors even defend an anarchist version of patriotism-moderate nationalism foreshadowed by Bakunin (see Robert Sparrow, “For the Union Makes Us Strong: Anarchism and Patriotism”, in Primoratz and Pavkovic 2007).
Despite these definitional worries, there is a fair amount of agreement about the historically paradigmatic form of nationalism. It typically features the supremacy of the nation's claims over other claims to individual allegiance and full sovereignty as the persistent aim of its political program. Territorial sovereignty has traditionally been seen as a defining element of state power and essential for nationhood. It was extolled in classic modern works by Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau and is returning to center stage in the debate, though philosophers are now more skeptical (see below). Issues surrounding the control of the movement of money and people (in particular immigration) and the resource rights implied in territorial sovereignty make the topic politically center in the age of globalization and philosophically interesting for nationalists and anti-nationalists alike.
The territorial state as political unit is seen by nationalists as centrally ‘belonging’ to one ethnic-cultural group and as actively charged with protecting and promulgating its traditions. This view is exemplified by the classical, “revivalist” nationalism that was most prominent in the 19th century in Europe and Latin America. This classical nationalism later spread across the world and still marks many contemporary nationalisms.
1.2 The Concept of a Nation
In its general form the issue of nationalism concerns the mapping between the ethno-cultural domain (featuring ethno-cultural groups or “nations”) and the domain of political organization. In breaking down the issue, we have mentioned the importance of the attitude that the members of a nation have when they care about their national identity. This point raises two sorts of questions. First, the descriptive ones:
(1a) What is a nation and what is national identity? (1b) What is it to belong to a nation? (1c) What is the nature of pro-national attitude? (1d) Is membership in a nation voluntary or involuntary?
Second, the normative ones:
(1e) Is the attitude of caring about national identity always appropriate? (1f) How much should one care?
This section discusses the descriptive questions, starting with (1a) and (1b). (The normative questions are addressed in Section 3 on the moral debate.) If one wants to enjoin people to struggle for their national interests, one must have some idea about what a nation is and what it is to belong to a nation. So, in order to formulate and ground their evaluations, claims, and directives for action, pro-nationalist thinkers have expounded theories of ethnicity, culture, nation and state. Their opponents have in turn challenged these elaborations. Now, some presuppositions about ethnic groups and nations are essential for the nationalist, while others are theoretical elaborations designed to support the essential ones. The definition and status of the social group that benefits from the nationalist program, variously called the “nation”, “ethno-nation” or “ethnic group”, is essential. Since nationalism is particularly prominent with groups that do not yet have a state, a definition of nation and nationalism purely in terms of belonging to a state is a non-starter.
Indeed, purely “civic” loyalties are often categorized separately under the title “patriotism”, or “constitutional patriotism” (Habermas 1996; see the discussion in Markell 2000; for a wider understanding of patriotism see Primoratz and Pavkovic 2007). This leaves two extreme options and a number of intermediates. The first extreme option has been put forward by a small but distinguished band of theorists, including Renan 1882 and Weber 1970; for a recent defense, see Brubaker 2004 and for a comparison with religion, Brubaker 2013. According to their purely voluntaristic definition, a nation is any group of people aspiring to a common political state-like organization. If such a group of people succeeds in forming a state, the loyalties of the group members become “civic” (as opposed to “ethnic”) in nature. At the other extreme, and more typically, nationalist claims are focused upon the non-voluntary community of common origin, language, tradition and culture: the classic ethno-nation is a community of origin and culture, including prominently a language and customs. The distinction is related (although not identical) to that drawn by older schools of social and political science between “civic” and “ethnic” nationalism, the former being allegedly Western European and the latter more Central and Eastern European, originating in Germany (a very prominent proponent of the distinction is Hans Kohn 1965). Philosophical discussions centered around nationalism tend to concern the ethnic-cultural variants only, and this habit will be followed here. A group aspiring to nationhood on this basis will be called here an ‘ethno-nation’ to underscore its ethno-cultural rather than purely civic underpinnings. For the ethno-(cultural) nationalist it is one's ethnic-cultural background that determines one's membership in the community. One cannot chose to be a member; instead, membership depends on the accident of origin and early socialization. However, commonality of origin has become mythical for most contemporary candidate groups: ethnic groups have been mixing for millennia.
Sophisticated pro-nationalists therefore tend to stress cultural membership only and speak of “nationality”, omitting the “ethno-” part (Miller 1992, 2000; Tamir 1993 and 2013; Gans 2003). Michel Seymour’s proposal of a “socio-cultural definition” adds a political dimension to the purely cultural one: a nation is a cultural group, possibly but not necessarily united by a common descent, endowed with civic ties (Seymour 2000). This is the kind of definition that would be accepted by most parties in the debate today. So defined, the nation is a somewhat mixed category, both ethno-cultural and civic, but still closer to the purely ethno-cultural than to the purely civic extreme.
The wider descriptive underpinnings of nationalist claims have varied over the last two centuries. The early German elaborations talk about “the spirit of a people”, while somewhat later ones, mainly of French extraction, talk about “collective mentality”, to which specific and significant causal powers are ascribed. A later descendent of this notion is the idea of a “national character” peculiar to each nation, which partly survives today under the guise of national “forms of life” and of feeling (Margalit 1997, see below). For almost a century, up to the end of the Second World War, it was customary to link nationalist views to organic metaphors for society. Isaiah Berlin, writing as late as the early seventies, proposed to define nationalism partly as consisting of the conviction that people belong to a particular human group, and that “…the characters of the individuals who compose the group are shaped by, and cannot be understood apart from, those of the group …” (first published in 1972, reprinted in Berlin, 1979: 341). The nationalist claims, according to Berlin, that “the pattern of life in a society is similar to that of a biological organism” (ibid.), and that the needs of this ‘organism’ determine the supreme goal for all of its members. Most contemporary defenders of nationalism, especially philosophers, avoid such language. The organic metaphor and talk about character have been replaced by one master metaphor: that of national identity. It is centered upon cultural membership, and used both for the identity of a group and for the socially based identity of its members, e.g., the national identity of George insofar as he is English or British. Various authors unpack the metaphor in various ways: some stress involuntary membership in the community, others the strength with which one identifies with the community, and yet others link it to the personal identity of each member of the community. Addressing these issues, nationalist philosophers such as Alisdair MacIntyre (1994), Charles Taylor (1989), and M. Seymour have significantly contributed to introducing and maintaining important topics such as community, membership, tradition and social identity into contemporary philosophical debate.
Let us now turn to the issue of the origin and “authenticity” of ethno-cultural groups or ethno-nations. In social and political science one usually distinguishes two kinds of views. The first can be called “primordialist” views. According to them, actual ethno-cultural nations have either existed “since time immemorial” (an extreme, somewhat caricatured version, corresponding to nineteenth century nationalist rhetoric), or at least for a long time during the pre-modern period (Hastings 1997, see the discussion of his views in Nations and Nationalism, Volume 9, 2003). Anthony Smith champions a very popular moderate version of this view (1991, 2001, 2008 and the book 2009 and paper 2011) under the name “ethnosymbolism.” For a fine development of this line see also the works of John Hutchinson (most recently his 2005 book) and of Roshwald (2006, debated in Nations and Nationalism 2008, Volumes 1 and 4 respectively). A volume dedicated to A. Smith debates his ethnno-nationalism (Leouss and Grosby, eds., 2007); recently a historical defense has been offered by Azar Gat and Alexander Yakobson (2013). According to this approach, nations are like artichokes, in that they have many “unimportant leaves” that can be chewed up one by one, but also have a heart, which remains after the leaves have been eaten (the metaphor is due to Stanley Hoffmann; for details and sources see the debate between Smith 2003 and Özkirimli 2003. For interesting historical details see a recent collection by Derks & Roymans 2009). The second are the modernist views, placing the origin of nations in modern times. They can be further classified according to their answer to an additional question: how real is the ethno-cultural nation? The modernist realist view is that nations are real but distinctly modern creations, instrumental in the genesis of capitalism (Gellner 1983, Hobsbawn 1990, and Breuilly 2001 and 2011). The realist view contrasts with more radical antirealism. According to one such view, nations are merely “imagined” but somehow still powerful entities; what is meant is that belief in them holds sway over the believers (Anderson 1965). The extreme anti-realist view claims that nations are pure “constructions” (see Walker 2001 for an overview and literature and, more recently, Malesevic 2011). These divergent views seem to support rather divergent moral claims about nations: see for instance the collections edited by Breen and O'Neill (2010) and by Lecours and Moreno (2010). For an overview of nationalism in political theory see Vincent 2001 and the encyclopedic volume edited by Delanty and Kumar (2006). For a more recent account combining political theory, history and quantitative research see (Wimmer 2013); other relevant books are De Lange 2010 and Bechhofer & McCrone 2009.
Indeed, older authors — from great thinkers like Herder and Otto Bauer to the propagandists who followed their footsteps — took great pains to ground normative claims upon firm ontological realism about nations: nations are real, bona fide entities. However, the contemporary moral debate has tried to diminish the importance of the imagined/real divide. Prominent contemporary philosophers have claimed that normative-evaluative nationalist claims are compatible with the “imagined” nature of a nation. (See, for instance, MacCormick 1982; Miller 1992, 2000; Tamir 1993, Gans 2003, Moore 2009, 2010, Dagger 2009 and, for an interesting discussion, Frost 2006.) They point out that common imaginings can tie people together, and that actual interaction resulting from togetherness can engender important moral obligations.
Let us now turn to question (1c) about the nature of pro-national attitudes. The explanatory issue that has interested political and social scientists concerns ethno-nationalist sentiment, the paradigm case of a pro-national attitude. Is it as irrational, romantic and indifferent to self-interest as it might seem on the surface? The issue has divided authors who see nationalism as basically irrational and those who try to explain it as being in some sense rational. Authors who see it as irrational propose various explanations of why people assent to irrational views. Some say, critically, that nationalism is based on “false consciousness”. But where does such false consciousness come from? The most simplistic view is that it is a result of direct manipulation of “masses” by “elites”. On the opposite side, the famous critic of nationalism Elie Kedourie (1960) thinks this irrationality is spontaneous. A decade ago Liah Greenfeld went as far as linking nationalism to mental illness in her provocative (2005) article; see also her (2006) book. On the opposite side, Michael Walzer has offered a sympathetic account of nationalist passion in his (2002). Authors relying upon the Marxist tradition offer various deeper explanations. To mention one, the French structuralist Étienne Balibar sees it as a result of the “production” of ideology effectuated by mechanisms which have nothing to do with spontaneous credulity of individuals, but with impersonal, structural social factors (Balibar and Wallerstein, 1992). (For an overview of Marxist approaches see Glenn 1997). Now we turn to those who see nationalist sentiments as being rational, at least in a very wide sense. Some authors claim that it is often rational for individuals to become nationalists (Hardin 1985). Consider the two sides of the nationalist coin. On the first side, identification and cohesion within an ethno-national group relates to inter-group cooperation, and cooperation is easier for those who are part of the same ethno-national group. To take an example of ethnic ties in a multiethnic state, a Vietnamese newcomer to the United States will do well to rely on his co-nationals: common language, customs and expectations might help him a lot in finding his way in new surroundings. Once the ties are established and he has become part of a network, it is rational to go on cooperating, and ethnic sentiment secures the trust and the firm bond needed for smooth cooperation. A further issue is when it is rational to switch sides; to stay with our example, when does it become profitable for our Vietnamese to develop an all-American patriotism? This has received a detailed elaboration in David Laitin (1998, summarized in 2001; applied to language rights in Laitin and Reich 2004; see also Laitin 2007), who uses material from the former Soviet Union. On the other side of the nationalist coin, non-cooperation with outsiders can lead to sometimes extreme conflict between various ethno-nations. Can one rationally explain the extremes of ethno-national conflict? Authors like Russell Hardin propose to do so in terms of a general view of when hostile behavior is rational: most typically, if an individual has no reason to trust someone, it is reasonable for that individual to take precautions against the other. If both sides take precautions, however, each will tend to see the other as increasingly inimical. It then becomes rational to start treating the other as an enemy. Mere suspicion can thus lead by small, individually rational steps to a situation of conflict. (Such negative development is often presented as a variant of the Prisoner's Dilemma; see the entry on prisoner's dilemma). It is relatively easy to spot the circumstances in which this general pattern applies to national solidarities and conflicts (see also Wimmer 2013). The line of thought just sketched is often called the “rational choice approach”. It has enabled the application of conceptual tools from game-theoretic and economic analyses of cooperative and non-cooperative behavior to the explanation of ethno-nationalism.
It is worth mentioning, however, that the individualist rational-choice approach, centered upon personal rationality, has serious competitors. A tradition in social psychology, initiated by Henri Tajfel (1981), shows that individuals may identify with a randomly selected group even when membership in the group brings no tangible rewards. Does rationality of any kind underlie this tendency to identification? Some authors (Sober & Wilson 1998) answer in the affirmative. They propose a non-personal, evolutionary sort of rationality: individuals who develop a sentiment of identification and sense of belonging end up better off in the evolutionary race; hence we have inherited such propensities. Initially, sentiments were reserved for kin, supporting the spreading of one's own genes. But cultural evolution has taken over the mechanisms of identification that initially developed within biological evolution. As a result, we project the sentiment originally reserved for kinship onto our cultural group. More detailed explanations from socio-biological perspectives differ greatly among themselves and constitute a wide and rather promising research program (see an overview in Goetze 2001). There is a growing literature connecting these issues with cognitive science, from Searle-White 2001 to Hogan 2009 and Yack 2012.
Finally, as for question (1d), the nation is typically seen as an essentially non-voluntary community to which one belongs by birth and early nurture and such that the belonging is enhanced and made more complete by one’s additional conscious endorsement. Avishai Margalit and Joseph Raz express a common view when they write about belonging to a nation: “Qualification for membership is usually determined by non-voluntary criteria. One cannot choose to belong. One belongs because of who one is” (Margalit and Raz, 1990, 447). Belonging brings crucial benefits: “Belonging to a national form of life means being within a frame that offers meaning to people's choice between alternatives, thus enabling them to acquire an identity” (Margalit 1997, 83). Why is national belonging taken to be involuntary? It is often attributed to the involuntary nature of linguistic belonging: a child does not decide which language will become her or his mother tongue, and one's mother tongue is often regarded as the most important depository of concepts, knowledge, social and cultural significance. All these are embedded in the language, and do not exist without it. Early socialization is seen as socialization into a specific culture, and very often that culture is just assumed to be a national one. “There are people who express themselves ‘Frenchly’, while others have forms of life that are expressed ‘Koreanly’ or ‘Icelandicly’,” writes Margalit (1997, 80). The resulting belonging is then to a large extent non-voluntary. (There are exceptions to this basically non-voluntaristic view: for instance, theoretical nationalists who accept voluntary changes of nationality. (See also Ernst Renan's 1882 (19) famous definition of a nation as constituted by ‘everyday plebiscite’.)
2. Varieties of Nationalism
2.1 Concepts of Nationalism: Strict and Wide
We pointed out at the very beginning of the entry that nationalism focuses upon (1) the attitude that the members of a nation have when they care about their national identity, and (2) the actions that the members of a nation take when seeking to achieve (or sustain) some form of political sovereignty. The politically central point is (2): the actions enjoined by the nationalist. To these we now turn, beginning with sovereignty and territory, the usual foci of a national struggle for independence. They raise an important issue:
(2a) Does political sovereignty within or over a territory require statehood or something weaker?
The classical answer is that a state is required. A more liberal answer is that some form of political autonomy suffices. Once this has been discussed, we can turn to the related normative issues:
(2b) What actions are morally permitted to achieve sovereignty and to maintain it? (2c) Under what conditions is it morally permitted to take actions of this kind?
Consider first the classical nationalist answer to (2a). Political sovereignty requires a state “rightfully owned” by the ethno-nation (Oldenquist 1997, who credits the expression to the writer Czeslaw Milosz). Developments of this line of thought often state or imply specific answers to (2b), and (2c), i.e., that in a national independence struggle the use of force against the threatening central power is almost always a legitimate means for bringing about sovereignty. However, classical nationalism is not only concerned with the creation of a state but also with its maintenance and strengthening. Nationalism is sometimes used to promote claims for the expansion of a state (even at the cost of wars) and for isolationist policies. Expansion is often justified by appeal to the unfinished business of bringing literally all members of the nation under one state and sometimes by territorial and resource interests. As for maintenance of sovereignty by peaceful and merely ideological means, political nationalism is closely tied to cultural nationalism. The latter insists upon the preservation and transmission of a given culture, or more accurately, of recognizably ethno-national traits of the culture in its pure form, dedicating artistic creation, education and research to this goal. Of course, the ethno-national traits to be preserved can be actual or invented, partly or fully so. Again, in the classical variant the relevant norm claims that one has both a right and an obligation (“a sacred duty”) to promote such a tradition. Its force trumps other interests and even other rights (a trump which is often needed in order to carry out the national independence struggle). In consequence, classical nationalism has something to say about the ranking of attitudes as well: in response to (1e), caring for one's nation is given the status of a fundamental duty for each of its members, and in answer to (1f), the scope is taken as unlimited. In summary, for future reference:
Classical nationalism is the political program that sees the creation and maintenance of a fully sovereign state owned by a given ethno-national group (“people” or “nation”) as a primary duty of each member of the group. Starting from the assumption that the appropriate (or “natural”) unit of culture is an ethno-nation, it claims that a primary duty of each member is to abide by one's recognizably ethno-national culture in all cultural matters.
Classical nationalists are usually vigilant about the kind of culture they protect and promote and about the kind of attitude people have to their nation-state. This watchful attitude carries some potential dangers: many elements of a given culture that are universalist or simply not recognizably national may fall prey to such nationalist enthusiasms. Classical nationalism in everyday life puts various additional demands on individuals, from buying more expensive home-produced goods in preference to cheaper imported ones to procreating as many future members of the nation as one can manage. (See Yuval-Davies 1997, and Yack 2012.)
Besides classical nationalism (and its more radical extremist cousins), various moderate views are also nowadays classified as nationalist. Indeed, the philosophical discussion has shifted to these moderate or even ultra-moderate forms, and most philosophers who describe themselves as nationalists propose very moderate nationalist programs. Let me characterize these briefly:
Nationalism in a wider sense is any complex of attitudes, claims and directives for action ascribing a fundamental political, moral and cultural value to nation and nationality and deriving obligations (for individual members of the nation, and for any involved third parties, individual or collective) from this ascribed value.
Nationalisms in this wider sense can vary somewhat in their conceptions of the nation (which are often left implicit in their discourse), in the grounds for and degree of its value, and in the scope of their prescribed obligations. (The term can also be applied to other cases not covered by classical nationalism, for instance to the hypothetical pre-state political forms that an ethnic identity might take). Moderate nationalism is less demanding than classical nationalism and sometimes goes under the name of “patriotism.” (A different usage, again, reserves “patriotism” for valuing of civic community and loyalty to state, in contrast to nationalism, centered around ethnic-cultural communities). The variations of nationalism most relevant for philosophy are those that influence the moral standing of claims and of recommended nationalist practices. The elaborate philosophical views put forward in favor of nationalism will be referred to here as “theoretical nationalism”, the adjective serving to distinguish such views from less sophisticated and more practical nationalist discourse. The central theoretical nationalist evaluative claims can be charted on the map of possible positions within political theory in the following useful but somewhat simplified and schematic way.
Nationalist claims featuring the nation as central to political action must answer two crucial general questions. First, is there one kind of large social group (smaller than the whole of mankind) that is of special moral importance? The nationalist answer is that there is just one, namely, the nation. When an ultimate choice is to be made, the nation has priority. (This answer is implied by rather standard definitions of nationalism offered by Berlin, discussed in Section 1., and Smith in his 2001.) Second, what are the grounds for an individual’s obligations to the morally central group? Are they based on voluntary or involuntary membership in the group? The typical contemporary nationalist thinker opts for the latter, while admitting that voluntary endorsement of one's national identity is a morally important achievement. On the philosophical map, pro-nationalist normative tastes fit nicely with the communitarian stance in general: most pro-nationalist philosophers are communitarians who choose the nation as the preferred community (in contrast to those of their fellow communitarians who prefer more far-ranging communities, such as those defined by global religious traditions). However, some writers who describe themselves as liberal nationalists, prominently including Will Kymlicka (2001, 2003, 2007), reject communitarian underpinning.
Before proceeding to moral claims, let me briefly sketch the issues and viewpoints connected to territory and territorial rights that are essential for nationalist political programs. (I am adapting the excellent taxonomy of A. Kollers (2009, Ch. 1) to the topic at hand.) Why is territory important for ethno-national groups, and what are the extent and grounds of territorial rights? Its primary importance resides in sovereignty and all the associated possibilities for internal control and external exclusion. Add to this the Rousseauian view that political attachments are essentially bounded and that love —or, to put it more mildly, republican civil friendship— for one’s group requires exclusion of some “other”, and the importance becomes quite obvious. What about the grounds for the demand for territorial rights? Nationalist and pro-nationalist views mostly rely on the attachment that members of a nation have to national territory and to the formative value of territory for a nation to justify territorial claims (see Miller 2000 and Meissels 2009, with some refinements discussed below). This is similar in some respects to the rationale given by proponents of indigenous peoples’ rights (Tully 2004, but see also Hendrix 2008) and in other respects to Kollers's (2009) ethno-geographical non-nationalist theory, but differs in preferring ethno-national groups as the sole carriers of the right. These attachment views stand in stark contrast to more pragmatic views about territorial rights as means for conflict resolution (e.g., Levy 2000). Another quite popular alternative is the family of individualistic views grounding territorial rights in rights and interests of individuals, for instance in their human rights (Buchanan 2004), pre-political Lockean property rights (Simmons 2001), individual resource rights (Steiner 1999), or political association rights (Wellman 2005). On the extreme end of anti-nationalist views stands the idea of Pogge (if he can be interpreted this way) that there are no specific territorial problems for political philosophy—the “dissolution approach”, as Kollers calls it. Some of the authors mentioned are cosmopolitan critics of nationalism, most prominently Buchanan and Pogge.
2.2 Moral Claims: The Centrality of Nation
We now pass to the normative dimension of nationalism. We shall first describe the very heart of the nationalist program, i.e., sketch and classify the typical normative and evaluative nationalist claims. These claims can be seen as answers to the normative subset of our initial questions about (1) pro-national attitudes and (2) actions.
We will see that these claims recommend various courses of action: centrally, those meant to secure and sustain a political organization — preferably a state — for the given ethno-cultural national community (thereby making more specific the answers to our normative questions (1e), (1f), (2b), and (2c)). Further, they enjoin the community’s members to promulgate recognizable ethno-cultural contents as central features of the cultural life within such a state. Finally, we shall discuss various lines of pro-nationalist thought that have been put forward in defense of these claims. To begin, let us return to the claims concerning the furthering of the national state and culture. These are proposed by the nationalist as norms of conduct. The philosophically most important variations concern three aspects of such normative claims:
(i) The normative nature and strength of the claim: does it promote merely a right (say, to have and maintain a form of political self-government, preferably and typically a state, or have cultural life centered upon a recognizably ethno-national culture), or a moral obligation (to get and maintain one), or a moral, legal and political obligation? The strongest claim is typical of classical nationalism; its typical norms are both moral and, once the nation-state is in place, legally enforceable obligations for all parties concerned, including for the individual members of the ethno-nation. A weaker but still quite demanding version speaks only of moral obligation (“sacred duty”). A more liberal version is satisfied with a claim-right to having a state “rightfully owned” by the ethno-nation.
(ii) The strength of the nationalist claim in relation to various external interests and rights: to give a real example, is the use of the domestic language so important that even international conferences should be held in it, at the cost of losing the most interesting participants from abroad? The force of the nationalist claim is here being weighed against the force of other claims, including those of individual or group interests or rights. Variations in comparative strength of nationalist claims take place on a continuum between two extremes. At one rather unpalatable extreme, nation-focused claims take precedence over any other claims, including over human rights. Further towards the center is the classical nationalism that gives nation-centered claims precedence over individual interests and many needs (including pragmatic collective utility), but not necessarily over general human rights. (See, for example, McIntyre 1994, Oldenquist 1997.) On the opposite end, which is mild, humane and liberal, the central nationalist claims are accorded prima facie status only (see Tamir 1993, Gans 2003, and most recently Miller's 2013 book, which looks for a compromise).
(iii) For which groups are the nationalist claims meant to be valid? What is their scope? One approach claims that they are valid for every ethno-nation and thereby universal. An example would be the claim “every ethno-nation should have its own state”. To put it more officially
Universalizing nationalism is the political program that claims that every ethno-nation should have a state that it should rightfully own and the interests of which it should promote.
Alternatively, a claim may be particularistic, such as the claim “Group X ought to have a state”, where this implies nothing about any other group:
Particularistic nationalism is the political program claiming that some ethno-nation should have its state, without extending the claim to all ethno-nations. It claims thus either
- by omission (unreflective particularistic nationalism), or
- by explicitly specifying who is excluded: “Group X ought to have a state, but group Y should not” (invidious nationalism).
The most difficult and indeed chauvinistic sub-case of particularism, i.e., (B), has been called “invidious” since it explicitly denies the privilege of having a state to some peoples. T. Pogge (1997) proposes a further division of (B) into the “high” stance, which denies it to some types of groups, and the “low” one which denies it to some particular groups. Serious theoretical nationalists usually defend only the universalist variety, whereas the nationalist-in-the-street most often defends the egoistic indeterminate one (“Some nations should have a state, above all mine!”). Classical nationalism comes in both particularistic and universalistic varieties.
Although the three dimensions of variation — internal strength, comparative strength, and scope — are logically independent, they are psychologically and politically intertwined. People who are radical in one respect tend also to be radical in other respects. In other words, certain clusters of attitudes appear to be most stable, so that extreme (or moderate) attitudes on one dimension psychologically and politically belong with extreme (or moderate) ones on others. Pairing extreme attitudes on one dimension with moderate ones on the others is psychologically and socially unstable.
The nationalist picture of morality traditionally has been quite close to the dominant view in the theory of international relations called “realism”. Put starkly, the view is that morality ends at the boundaries of the nation-state; beyond there is nothing but anarchy. The view is explicit in Friederich Meinecke (1965, Introduction) and Raymond Aron (1962) and very close to the surface in Hans Morgenthau (1946); for interesting links with contemporary nationalisms, see the paper by Michael C. Williams (2007) and the book edited by Duncan Bell (2008). It nicely complements the main classical nationalist claim about nation-state, i.e., that each ethno-nation or people should have a state of its own, and suggests what happens next: nation-states enter into competition in the name of their constitutive peoples.
3. The Moral Debate
3.1 Classical and liberal nationalisms
Let us return to our initial normative question centered around (1) attitudes and (2) actions. Is national partiality justified, and to what extent? What actions are appropriate to bring about sovereignty? In particular, are ethno-national states and institutionally protected (ethno-)national cultures goods independent from the individual will of their members, and how far may one go in protecting them? The philosophical debate for and against nationalism is a debate about the moral validity of its central claims. In particular the ultimate moral issue is the following: is any form of nationalism morally permissible or justified, and, if not, how bad are particular forms of it? (For debates on partiality in general, see Chatterjee and Smith 2003 and, more recently, Feltham and Cottingham 2010.)
Why do nationalist claims require a defense? In some situations they seem plausible: for instance, the plight of some stateless national groups — the history of Jews and Armenians, the historical and contemporary misfortunes of Kurds — lends credence to the idea that having their own state would have solved the worst problems. Still, there are good reasons to examine nationalist claims more carefully. The most general reason is that it should first be shown that the political form of nation state has some value as such, that a national community has a particular, or even central, moral and political value, and that claims in its favor have normative validity. Once this is established, a further defense is needed. Some classical nationalist claims appear to clash — at least under normal circumstances of contemporary life — with various values that people tend to accept. Some of these values are considered essential to liberal-democratic societies, while others are important specifically for the flourishing of creativity and culture. The main values in the first set are individual autonomy and benevolent impartiality (most prominently towards members of groups culturally different from one's own). The alleged special duties towards one's ethno-national culture can and often do interfere with individuals' right to autonomy. Also, construed too strictly these duties can interfere with other individual rights, e.g., the right to privacy. Many feminist authors have noted that the typical nationalist suggestion that women have a moral obligation to give birth to new members of the nation and to nurture them for the sake of the nation clashes with both the autonomy and the privacy of these women (Yuval-Davis 1997, Moller-Okin 1999, 2002 and 2005, and the discussion in the volume on Okin, Satz et al. 2009). Another endangered value is diversity within the ethno-national community, which can also be thwarted by the homogeneity of a central national culture.
Nation-oriented duties also interfere with the value of unconstrained creativity. For example, telling writers, musicians or philosophers that they have a special duty to promote national heritage interferes with the freedom of creation. The question here is not whether these individuals have the right to promote their national heritage, but whether they have a duty to do so.
Between these two sets of endangered values, the autonomy-centered and creativity-centered ones, fall values that seem to arise from ordinary needs of people living under ordinary circumstances (Barry 2001). In many modern states, citizens of different ethnic background live together and very often value this kind of life. The very fact of cohabitation seems to be a good that should be upheld. Nationalism does not tend to foster this kind of multiculturalism and pluralism, judging from both theory (especially the classical nationalist one) and experience. But the problems get worse. In practice, it does not seem accidental that the invidious particularistic form of nationalism, claiming rights for one's own people and denying them to others, is so widespread. The source of the problem is the competition for scarce resources: as Ernst Gellner (1983) famously pointed out, there is too little territory for all candidate ethnic groups to have a state, and the same goes for other goods demanded by nationalists for the exclusive use of their co-nationals. According to some authors (McCabe 1997), the invidious variant is more coherent than any other form of nationalism: if one values one's own ethnic group highly the simplest way is to value it tout court. If one definitely prefers one's own culture in all respects to any foreign one, it is a waste of time and attention to bother about others. The universalist, non-invidious variant introduces enormous psychological and political complications. These arise from a tension between spontaneous attachment to one's own community and the demand to regard all communities with an equal eye. This tension might make the humane, non-invidious position psychologically unstable, difficult to uphold in situations of conflict and crisis, and politically less efficient.
Philosophers sympathetic to nationalism are aware of the evils that historical nationalism has produced and usually distance themselves from these. They usually speak of “various accretions that have given nationalism a bad name”, and they are eager to “separate the idea of nationality itself from these excesses” (Miller 1992, 87 and Miller, 2000). Such thoughtful pro-nationalist writers have participated in an ongoing philosophical dialogue between proponents and opponents of the claim (see the anthologies McKim & McMahan 1997, Couture, Nielsen, & Seymour 1998, Miscevic 2000 and Primoratz and Pavkovic 2007). In order to help the reader find his or her way through this involved debate, we shall briefly summarize the considerations which are open to the ethno-nationalist to defend his or her case. (Compare the useful overview in Lichtenberg 1997.) Further lines of thought built upon these considerations can be used to defend very different varieties of nationalism, from radical to very moderate ones.
It is important to offer a warning concerning the key assumptions and premises figuring in each of the lines of thought summarized below: namely, that the assumptions often live an independent life in the philosophical literature. Some of them figure in the proposed defenses of various traditional views which have little to do with the concept of a nation in particular.
For brevity, I shall reduce each line of thought to a brief argument; the actual debate is more involved than one can represent in a sketch. I shall indicate, in brackets, some prominent lines of criticism that have been put forward in the debate. (These are discussed in greater detail in Miscevic 2001.) The main arguments in favor of nationalism purporting to establish its fundamental claims about state and culture will be divided into two sets. The first set of arguments defends the claim that national communities have a high value, often seen as non-instrumental and independent of the wishes and choices of their individual members, and argues that they should therefore be protected by means of state and official statist policies. The second set is less deeply ‘philosophical’ (or ‘comprehensive’), and encompasses arguments from the requirements of justice, independent from substantial assumptions about culture and cultural values.
The first set will be presented here in more detail, since it has formed the core of the debate. It depicts the community as the deep source of value or as the unique transmission device connecting its members to some important values. In this sense, the arguments from this set are communitarian in a particularly “deep” sense, since they are grounded in basic features of the human condition. Here is a characterization.
The deep communitarian perspective is a theoretical perspective on political issues (in the case under consideration, on nationalism) that justifies a given political arrangement (here, a nation-state) by appeal to deep philosophical assumptions about human nature, language, community ties and identity (in a deeper, philosophical sense).
The general form of deep communitarian arguments is as follows. First, the communitarian premise: there is some uncontroversial good (e.g., a person's identity), and some kind of community is essential for acquisition and preservation of it. Then comes the claim that the ethno-cultural nation is the kind of community ideally suited for this task. Unfortunately, this crucial claim is rarely defended in detail in the literature. But here is a sample from Margalit, whose last sentence has been already quoted above:
The idea is that people make use of different styles to express their humanity. The styles are generally determined by the communities to which they belong. There are people who express themselves ‘Frenchly’, while others have forms of life that are expressed ‘Koreanly’ or … ‘Icelandicly’. (1997, 80)
Then follows the statist conclusion: in order for such a community to preserve its own identity and support the identity of its members, it has to assume (always or at least normally) the political form of a state. The conclusion of this type of argument is that the ethno-national community has the right to an ethno-national state and the citizens of the state have the right and obligation to favor their own ethnic culture in relation to any other.
Although the deeper philosophical assumptions in the arguments stem from the communitarian tradition, weakened forms have also been proposed by more liberal philosophers. The original communitarian lines of thought in favor of nationalism suggest that there is some value in preserving ethno-national cultural traditions, in feelings of belonging to a common nation, and in solidarity between a nation's members. A liberal nationalist might claim that these are not the central values of political life but are values nevertheless. Moreover, the diametrically opposing views, pure individualism and cosmopolitanism, do seem arid, abstract, and unmotivated by comparison. By cosmopolitanism I shall understand a moral and political doctrine of the following sort:
Cosmopolitanism is the view that
- one's primary moral obligations are directed to all human beings (regardless of geographical or cultural distance), and
- political arrangements should faithfully reflect this universal moral obligation (in the form of supra-statist arrangements that take precedence over nation-states).
Critics of cosmopolitanism sometimes argue that these two claims are incoherent, since human beings generally strive best under some global institutional arrangement (like ours) that concentrates power and authority at the level of states.
Confronted with opposing forces of nationalism and cosmopolitanism, many philosophers opt for a mixture of liberalism-cosmopolitanism and patriotism-nationalism. In his writings B. Barber glorifies “a remarkable mixture of cosmopolitanism and parochialism” that in his view characterizes American national identity (in Cohen 1996, 31). Charles Taylor claims that “we have no choice but to be cosmopolitan and patriots” (ibid, 121). Hilary Putnam proposes loyalty to what is best in the multiple traditions in which each of us participates, apparently a middle way between a narrow-minded patriotism and an overly abstract cosmopolitanism (ibid, 114). The compromise has been foreshadowed by Berlin (1979), and Taylor (1989, 1993) and its various versions worked out in considerable detail by authors such as Yael Tamir (1993), David Miller (1995, 2000, 2007), Kai Nielsen (1998), Michel Seymour (2000) and Chaim Gans (2003). (See also the debate around Miller's work in De Schutter and Tinnevelt 2011.) In the last two decades it has occupied center stage in the debate and even provoked re-readings of historical nationalism in its light, for instance in Miller (2005a), Sung Ho Kim (2002) or Brian Vick (2007). Most liberal nationalist authors accept various weakened versions of the arguments we list below, taking them to support moderate or ultra-moderate nationalist claims.
It is important to mention here a more utopian proposal due to Chandran Kukathas (2003), which nicely combines multicultural pluralism with the distinctiveness of particular communities that classical nationalism celebrates. His “liberal archipelago” consists of units called “islands” that vary greatly amongst each other but are for the most part internally culturally homogenous. Some of these individual islands might be quite unpleasant by liberal standards; what makes the archipelago liberal overall is that each community guarantees its dissenting members the right to exit (which might have a high price, if former members have nowhere to go with any prospect for a decent life). The first level of political organization might thus be non-liberal (Kukathas hopes it will not turn out to be so), while the second level would be strongly liberal. The proposal nicely combines the traditional features of classical nationalism with very liberal, almost anarchic traits of the whole. Unfortunately, it is hard to see what would keep such an archipelago together without a strong unifying state, which Kukathas would not have. A clear danger is a slide towards a multipolar achipelago, with some big and powerful islands (say, a huge Islamic island, a huge EU-type island, and so on).
Let me return to the main line of exposition. Here are the main weakenings of classical ethno-nationalism that liberal, limited-liberal and cosmopolitan nationalists propose. First, ethno-national claims have only prima facie strength, and cannot trump individual rights. Second, legitimate ethno-national claims do not in themselves automatically amount to the right to a state, but rather to the right to a certain level of cultural autonomy. The main models of autonomy are either territorial or non-territorial: the first involves territorial devolution; the second, cultural autonomy granted to individuals regardless of their domicile within the state. (For a very stimulating discussion of comparative advantages and disadvantages of each, see the papers by Reiner Bauböck and Will Kymlicka in Dieckoff 2004; the former defends the non-territorial, and the latter the territorial option.) Third, ethno-nationalism is subordinate to civic patriotism, which has little or nothing to do with ethnic criteria. Fourth, ethno-national mythologies and similar “important falsehoods” are to be tolerated only if benign and inoffensive, in which case they are morally permissible despite their falsity. Finally, any legitimacy that ethno-national claims may have is to be derived from choices the concerned individuals are free to make.
3.2 Arguments in favor of nationalism: the deep need for community
Consider now the particular arguments from the first set. The first argument depends on assumptions that also appear in the subsequent ones, but it further ascribes to the community an intrinsic value. The later arguments point more towards an instrumental value of nation, derived from the value of individual flourishing, moral understanding, firm identity and the like.
(1) The Argument From Intrinsic Value. Each ethno-national community is valuable in and of itself since it is only within the natural encompassing framework of various cultural traditions that important meanings and values are produced and transmitted. The members of such communities share a special cultural proximity to each other. By speaking the same language and sharing customs and traditions, the members of these communities are typically closer to one another in various ways than they are to those who don't share the same culture. The community thereby becomes a network of morally connected agents, i.e., a moral community, with special, very strong ties of obligation. A prominent obligation of each individual concerns the underlying traits of the ethnic community, above all language and customs: they ought to be cherished, protected, preserved and reinforced. The general assumption that moral obligations increase with cultural proximity is often criticized as problematic. Moreover, even if we grant this general assumption in theory, it breaks down in practice. Nationalist activism is most often turned against close (and substantially similar) neighbors rather than against distant strangers, so that in many important contexts the appeal to proximity will not work. It might, however, retain its potential force against culturally distant groups.
(2) The Argument from Flourishing. The ethno-national community is essential for each of its members to flourish. In particular, it is only within such a community that an individual can acquire concepts and values crucial for understanding the community's cultural life in general and the individual's own life in particular. There has been much debate on the pro-nationalist side about whether divergence of values is essential for separateness of national groups. The Canadian liberal nationalists Seymour (1999), Taylor, and Kymlicka pointed out that the ‘divergences of value between different regions of Canada’ that aspire to separate nationhood are ‘minimal’. Taylor (1993, 155) concluded that it is not separateness of value that matters. This result is still compatible with the argument from flourishing if ‘concepts and values’ are not taken to be specifically national as communitarian nationalists (MacIntyre 1994, Margalit 1997) have claimed. Critics of nationalism point out that flourishing might have too high a price, especially in the form of aggressiveness towards neighbors. B. Yack notes the danger in situations where various factors combine against neighbors: “calculations of interest, feelings of social friendship and beliefs about justice” (2012, 221); see also the discussion of Yack in Hearn et al. 2014.
(3) The Argument from Identity. Communitarian philosophers emphasize nurture over nature as the principal force determining our identity as people — we come to be who we are because of the social settings and contexts in which we mature. This claim certainly has some plausibility. The very identity of each person depends upon his/her participation in communal life (see MacIntyre 1994, Nielsen, 1998, and Lagerspetz 2000). For example, Nielsen writes:
We are, to put it crudely, lost if we cannot identify ourselves with some part of an objective social reality: a nation, though not necessarily a state, with its distinctive traditions. What we find in people — and as deeply embedded as the need to develop their talents — is the need not only to be able to say what they can do but to say who they are. This is found, not created, and is found in the identification with others in a shared culture based on nationality or race or religion or some slice or amalgam thereof…. Under modern conditions, this securing and nourishing of a national consciousness can only be achieved with a nation-state that corresponds to that national consciousness (1993, 32).
Given that an individual's morality depends upon their having a mature and stable personal identity, the communal conditions that foster the development of personal identity must be preserved and encouraged. (For the opposite line, denying the importance of fixed and homogenous identity and proposing hybrid identities, see the papers in Iyall Smith and Leavy 2008.) Philosophical nationalists claim that the nation is the right format for preserving and encouraging such identity-providing communities. Therefore, communal life should be organized around particular national cultures. The classical nationalist proposes that cultures should be given their own states, while the liberal nationalist proposes that cultures should get at least some form of political protection. (For a discussion of linguistic issues, often tied to identity, see Kymlicka & Patten 2003 and Patten 2003.)
(4) The Argument from Moral Understanding. A particularly important variety of value is moral value. Some values are universal, e.g., freedom and equality, but these are too abstract and “thin”. The rich, “thick” moral values are discernible only within particular traditions, to those who have wholeheartedly endorsed the norms and standards of the given tradition. As Charles Taylor puts it, “the language we have come to accept articulates the issues of the good for us” (1989, 35). The nation offers a natural framework for moral traditions, and thereby for moral understanding; it is the primary school of morals. (I note in fairness that Taylor himself is ambivalent about the national format of morality.) An often-noticed problem with this line of thought is that particular nations do not each have a special morality of their own. Also, detailed, “thick” morality may vary more across other divisions, such as class or gender divisions, than across ethno-national groups. (For a sophisticated and intriguing recent discussion of some surprising consequences of the claim that there are “national values”, and of what happens when classical liberal values are counted as “national values”, see Laegard (2007).)
(5) The Argument from Diversity. Each national culture contributes uniquely to the diversity of human cultures. The most famous twentieth century proponent of the idea, Isaiah Berlin (interpreting Herder, who first saw this idea as significant), writes:
The ‘physiognomies’ of cultures are unique: each presents a wonderful exfoliation of human potentialities in its own time and place and environment. We are forbidden to make judgments of comparative value, for that is measuring the incommensurable. (1976, 206)
The carrier of basic value is thus the totality of cultures, from which each national culture and style of life that contributes to the totality derives its own value. The argument from diversity is therefore pluralistic: it ascribes value to each particular culture from the viewpoint of the collective totality of cultures. Assuming that the (ethno-)nation is the natural unit of culture, the preservation of cultural diversity amounts to institutionally protecting the purity of (ethno-)national culture. The plurality of cultural styles can be preserved and enhanced by tying them to ethno-national “forms of life”. A pragmatic inconsistency might threaten this argument. The issue is who can legitimately propose ethno-national diversity as ideal: the nationalist is much too tied to his or her own culture to do it, while the cosmopolitan is too eager to preserve intercultural links that go beyond the idea of having a single nation-state. Moreover, is diversity a value such that it deserves to be protected whenever it exists? Should the protection of diversity be restricted to certain aspects of culture(s) proposed in full generality? (For a more restricted, moderate version of the argument from diversity, appealing to the analogy with bio-diversity but focusing exclusively upon linguistic diversity, see François Grin in Kymlicka and Patten (2003)).
The line of thought (1) is not individualistic. And (5) can be presented without reference to individuals: diversity may be good in its own right, or may be good for nations. But the other lines of thought in the set just presented are all linked to the importance of community life in relation to the individual. They emerged from the “deep” communitarian perspective, and a recurrent theme is the importance of the fact that membership in the community is not chosen but rather involuntary. In each argument, there is a general communitarian premise (a community, to which one has no choice whether or not to belong, is crucial for one's identity, or for flourishing or some other important good). This premise is coupled with the more narrow, nation-centered descriptive claim that the ethno-nation is precisely the kind of community ideally suited for the task. However, liberal nationalists do not find these arguments completely persuasive. In their view, the premises of the arguments may not support the full package of nationalist ambitions and may not be unconditionally valid. For an even more skeptical view stemming from social science, see Hale (2008). Hale's conclusion is worth quoting: “Ethnicity is driven by uncertainty reduction, whereas ethnic politics are driven by interest” (2008, 241). Still, there is a lot to these arguments, and they might support liberal nationalism and a more modest stance in favor of national cultures.
We conclude this sub-section by pointing to an interesting and sophisticated pro-national stance that developed by David Miller over the course of decades, from his work of 1990 to the most recent work of 2013. He accepts multicultural diversity within a society but stresses an overarching national identity, taking as his prime example British national identity, which encompasses the English, Scottish and other ethnic identities. He demands an “inclusive identity, accessible to members of all cultural groups” (2013, 91). Such identity is necessary for basic social solidarity, and it goes far beyond simple constitutional patriotism, Miller claims. A skeptic could note the following. The problem with multicultural society is that national identity has historically been a matter of ethno-national ties and has required sameness in the weighted majority of cultural traits (common language, common “history-as-remembered”, customs, religion and so on). However, multi-cultural states typically bring together groups with very different histories, languages, religions, even quite contrasting appearances. Now, how is the overarching “national identity” to be achieved starting from the very thin identity of common belonging to a state? One seems to have a dilemma. Grounding social solidarity in national identity requires the latter to be rather thin and seems likely to end up as full-on, unitary cultural identity. Thick constitutional patriotism may be the only possible attitude that can ground such solidarity while preserving the original cultural diversity.
3.3 Arguments in favor of nationalism: issues of justice
Arguments in the second set concern political justice and do not rely on metaphysical claims about identity, flourishing and cultural values. They appeal to (actual or alleged) circumstances that would make nationalist policies reasonable (or permissible or even mandatory), such as (a) the fact that a large part of the world is organized into nation states (so that each new group aspiring to create a nation-state just follows an established pattern), or (b) the circumstances of group self-defense or of redressing past injustice that might justify nationalist policies (to take a special case). Some of the arguments also present nationhood as conducive to important political goods, such as equality.
(1) The Argument From the Right to Collective Self-determination. A group of people of a sufficient size has a prima facie right to govern itself and decide its future membership, if the members of the group so wish. It is fundamentally the democratic will of the members themselves that grounds the right to an ethno-national state and to ethno-centric cultural institutions and practices. This argument presents the justification of (ethno-)national claims as deriving from the will of the members of the nation. It is therefore highly suitable for liberal nationalism but not appealing to a deep communitarian who sees the demands of the nation as independent from, and prior to, the choices of particular individuals. (For extended discussion of this argument, see Buchanan 1991, which has become a contemporary classic; Moore 1998; and Gans 2003. For some exchanges of arguments, see J. Levy in Dieckoff 2004, and the volume on secession by Pavković and Radan 2007, and the work of Christopher Heath Wellman 2005. An interesting volume from a legal perspective is Kohen 2006, and some interesting case studies are presented in Casertano 2013. For an extremely negative judgment see Yack 2012, Ch. 10.)
(2) The Argument From the Right to Self-defense andto Redress Past Injustices. Oppression and injustice give the victimized group a just cause and the right to secede. If a minority group is oppressed by the majority to the extent that almost every minority member is worse off than most members of the majority simply in virtue of belonging to the minority, then nationalist claims on behalf of the minority are morally plausible and potentially compelling. This argument implies a restrictive answer to our questions (2b) and (2c): the use of force in order to achieve sovereignty is legitimate only in the cases of self-defense and redress. Of course, there is a whole lot of work to be done specifying against whom force may legitimately be used, and how much damage may be done to how many. It establishes a typical remedial right, acceptable from a liberal standpoint. (See the discussion in Kukathas and Poole 2000, also Buchanan 1991. For past injustices see Waldron 1992).
(3) The Argument From Equality. Members of a minority group are often disadvantaged in relation to a dominant culture because they have to rely on those with the same language and culture to conduct the affairs of daily life. Since freedom to conduct one's daily life is a primary good, and it is difficult to change or give up reliance upon one's minority culture to attain that good, this reliance can lead to certain inequalities if special measures are not taken. Spontaneous nation-building by the majority has to be moderated. Therefore, liberal neutrality itself requires that the majority provide certain basic cultural goods, i.e., granting differential rights. (See Kymlicka 1995b, 2001 and 2003.) Institutional protections and the right to the minority group's own institutional structure are remedies that restore equality and turn the resulting nation-state into a more moderate multicultural one. (See Kymlicka 2001, 2003.) (We note an interesting recent proposal by Robert E. Goodin (2006), who distinguishes two motivations for multiculturalism and two possible resultant kinds: polyglot multiculturalism and protective multiculturalism. The latter is of Kymlicka's cast, focused upon protecting the interests of the minority from disregard by the majority; the former is inspired by ideals of diversity and the value of variety, the availabity of which in a given country “expands the choice set of autonomous agents” (2006, 290).)
(4) The Argument From Success. The nation-state has in the past succeeded in promoting equality and democracy. As Craig Calhoun writes in his recent book, “(…) imagining democracy requires thinking of ”the people“ as active and coherent and oneself as both a member and an agent. Liberalism informs the notion of individual agency, but provides weak purchase at best on membership and on the collective cohesion and capacity of the demos. In the modern era, the discursive formation that has most influentially underwritten these dimensions of democracy is nationalism” (2007, 147). Ethno-national solidarity is a powerful motive for a more egalitarian distribution of goods (Miller 1995, Canovan 1996, 2000). The nation-state also seems to be essential to safeguard the moral life of communities in the future, since it is the only form of political institution capable of protecting communities from the threats of globalization and assimilationism. (For a detailed critical discussion of this argument see Mason 1999.) Calhoun himself is acutely aware of the limitations of his praise of nationalism, mentioning some on the same page as that from which we quoted above.
A much more deflating view of the nation-state’s success was recently offered by A. Roshwald in his (2006) book, which cited the paradoxical and contradictory nature of nationalist claims. To quote a fine summary given by A. Smith:
For Roshwald, nationalism is at once ancient and very modern; it employs twin conceptions of time, cyclical and linear; it seeks self-determination while manifesting a sense of victimhood; it insists on the nation's particularity of chosenness while claiming a universal mission; and finally, it reveals a symbiosis of kindred and mingled blood, of ethnic and civic nationhood. Through these antinomies, nationalism is constantly able to renew itself and adapt to different situations …. (Smith 2008b, 638)
Pro-capitalists might derive an even more problematic kind of appeal to success from the theory of Liah Greenfeld, according to whom “the factor responsible for the reorientation of economic activity toward growth is nationalism”, and “the unprecedented position of the economic sphere in the modern consciousness is a product of the dynamics of American society, in turn shaped by the singular characteristics of American nationalism” (2001, 1). Greenfeld herself is very critical of nationalism, but someone might contemplate incorporating her theory (cleansed of her critical attitude) into a defense of nationalism.
These political arguments can be combined with deep communitarian ones. However, taken in isolation, their perspective offers a “liberal culturalism” that is more suitable for ethno-culturally plural societies. More remote from classical nationalism than the liberal nationalism of Tamir and Nielsen, it eschews any communitarian philosophical underpinning (see the detailed presentation and defense in Kymlicka 2001; his recent, truly encyclopedic work (2007) that still occasionally calls such culturalism ‘nationalist’; a short summary in Kymlicka 2003; and Gans 2003). The idea of moderate nation-building points to an open multi-culturalism, in which every group receives its share of remedial rights but, instead of walling itself off from others, participates in a common, overlapping civic culture and in open communication with other sub-communities. Given the variety of pluralistic societies and intensity of trans-national interactions, such openness seems to many to be the only guarantee of stable social and political life (see the debate in Shapiro and Kymlicka 1997). Openness is important to avoid the trap Margaret Canovan calls “the paradox of the prowling cats” (2001). She warns that “new nationalist theories inadvertently contain perverse incentives to do the exact opposite of what theorists intend to authorize”. The only solution seems to be extreme moderation. The dialectics of moderating nationalist claims in the context of pluralistic societies might thus lead to a stance respectful of cultural differences, but liberal and potentially cosmopolitan in its ultimate goals.
The liberal nationalist stance is mild and civil, and there is much to be said in favor of it. It tries to reconcile our intuitions in favor of some sort of political protection of cultural communities with a liberal political morality. Of course, this raises issues of compatibility between liberal universal principles and the particular attachments to one's ethno-cultural nation. Very liberal nationalists such as Tamir divorce ethno-cultural nationhood from statehood. Also, the kind of love for country they suggest is tempered by all kinds of universalist considerations, which in the last instance trump national interest (Tamir 1993, 115; see also Moore 2001 and Gans 2003). There is an ongoing debate among philosophical nationalists about how much weakening and compromising is still compatible with a stance's being nationalist at all. (For example, Canovan 1996 (ch. 10) presents Tamir as having abandoned the ideal of ‘nation-state’, and thereby nationhood as such; Seymour (1999) criticizes Taylor and Kymlicka for turning their backs on genuine nationalist programs, and proposing multiculturalism instead of nationalism.) There is also a streak of cosmopolitan interest present in the work of some liberal nationalists (Nielsen 1998/9). For a more sociological approach to the dialectic of the global and the ethno-national, see the Introduction to Delanty and Kumar 2006 and Delanty's contribution to that volume.
In recent years issues of nationalism have been increasingly integrated into the debate about the international order (see the entries on globalization and cosmopolitanism). The main conceptual link is the claim that nation-states are natural, stable and suitable units of the international order. It is underpinned by the assumption that to each nation-state corresponds a “people”, a culturally homogenous population whose members are prone to solidarity with their compatriots. Central to the recent debate is the view set out in John Rawls' “Law of Peoples” (1999), which ascribes a great deal of political promise and a high moral value to the international system composed of liberal and decent nation-states. More cosmopolitan critics of Rawls argue against such a high status for nation-states and criticize the assumption of homogenous “peoples” (Pogge 2001, 2002; O'Neil 2000; Nussbaum 2002 (Other Internet Resources), Barry, 1999). A related debate concerns the role of minorities in the processes of globalization (see Kaldor, 2004). Philosophers’ interest in the morality of the international order has generated interesting proposals about alternative sub-national and supra-national units, which could play a role distinct from that of nation-states and might even come to supplement them (for a fine summary see Held 2003, and for an interesting recent overview of alternatives see Walzer 2004, chapter 12). Moreover, the two approaches might ultimately converge: a multiculturalist liberal nationalism and a moderate, difference-respecting cosmopolitanism have a lot in common. One investigation in this direction has been undertaken by Kok-Chor Tan (2004, see in particular ch. 5). However, he is quite skeptical about the convergence in his later 2011 paper (see also his 2012 book).
3.4 Nation-state in global context
Let me start by briefly returning to the recent debates on territory and nation and then pass to issues of global justice. Liberal nationalists (Miller 2000, 2007; Gans 2003; Meissels 2009) try to preserve the traditional nationalist link between ethnic “ownership” of the state and sovereignty and territorial control, but in a much more flexible and sophisticated setting. Tamar Meissels thus argues in favor of “taking existing national settlements into account as a central factor in demarcating territorial boundaries” since this line “ has both liberal foundations” (i.e., in the work of John Locke) and liberal-national appeal (2009, 159) grounded in its affinity with the liberal doctrine of national self-determination. She combines it with Chaim Gans' interpretation of ‘historical right’ claims as ‘the right to formative territories’ (Gans 2003, Ch. 4). She thus combines “historical arguments, understood as claims to formative territories”, with her argument from settlement and insists on their interplay and mutual reinforcement, presenting them as being “most closely related to, and based on, liberal nationalist assumptions and underlying ideas” (Meissels 2009, 160). She nevertheless stresses that more than one ethnic group can have formative ties to a given territory, and that there might be competing claims based on settlement. (Yack (2012, 203ff) starts from the same point to derive much more pessimistic conclusions.)
But, given the ethno-national conflicts of the twentieth century, one can safely assume that culturally plural states divided into isolated and closed sub-communities glued together merely by arrangements of modus vivendi are inherently unstable. Stability might therefore require that the pluralist society envisioned by liberal culturalists promote quite intense intra-state interaction between cultural groups in order to forestall mistrust, reduce prejudice, and create a solid basis for cohabitation.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, more cosmopolitan authors (Buchanan 2003, Waldron 2005, Other Internet Resources) also point to the fact of multiple settlements in roughly the same territory and to the importance of the proximity of various ethno-cultural groups. They stress internal cultural pluralism: for reasons of peace and security, state borders should bring together distinct cultural groups (typically ethno-national ones), and they in fact most often do so. Combining the cultural motivation to foster open multiculturalism and Waldron's security-based motivation to structure states for the purpose of resolving conflicts and establishing justice, forming a state becomes a duty we owe to anyone with whom we are likely to come into endemic conflict. (Waldron 2005, Other Internet Resources).
But where should one stop? The question arises since there are a lot of geographically open, interacting territories of various sizes. Consider first the geographical openness of big continental planes, then add the modern ease of interaction (“No island is an island any more”, one could say), and, finally and dramatically, the substantial ecological interconnectedness of land and climate. The cosmopolitan logic regarding the interests of peace and security therefore suggests joining together bigger and bigger units in a kind of recursive scheme. For instance, the EU was created to secure lasting peace, and other supra-statal and macro-regional might follow its lead. Ultimately, the combination of ethno-cultural and security-focused considerations might thus point in a clearly cosmopolitan direction when formulating and resolving dilemmas about matters of territory. This brings us to the wider issue concerning cosmopolitanism.
What are the obligations of nations and nation-states towards neighbors, and even more distant Others? This issue is regaining prominence in recent debates on nationalism. (Again, see the entries on globalization and cosmopolitanism.) It encompasses a range of sub-topics: national responsibility to non-nationals, reparations and distributive justice beyond the state, individual states’ obligations with regard to global ecological problems like waste and climate change, and finally, immigration and responsibilities of nation-states towards potential immigrants.
Since the present entry is on nationalism, we stress the pro-national accounts, taking Miller (2007, 2013) as our paradigm. In principle one might think of intermediate positions falling between two extremes: on one extreme, completely closed nation-states, like in Fichte's early nineteenth century utopia of Closed commercial state; on the other, completely opened borders, like in the arrangement proposed by Joseph Carens (2013). However, the tough nationalistic line is no longer proposed seriously in ethical debates, so the furthest pro-national extreme is in fact a relatively moderate stance, exemplified by Miller in the works listed. Here is a typical proposal of his concerning global justice based on nation states:
It might become a matter of national pride to have set aside a certain percentage of GDP for developmental goals – perhaps for projects in one particular country or group of countries … . (2013, 182)
A similar proposal might work for the reduction of the emission of greenhouse gasses, he continues. It is a challenging idea, and a critic might ask how it would fare under normal circumstances. Imagine the proposal is accepted by leading industrial countries, and each chooses its beneficiaries. Suppose a benefactor state B1 adopts a beneficiary state C1 and proceeds to deliver aid. What if a political faction in C1 that is hostile to B1 pushes its co-nationals to turn to some other benefactor? Would B1 allow opponent factions in C1 to act freely, or would it “gently” intervene (in a situation where there is no global regulatory power)? Similarly, if B1 needed international support in its dealings with some other powerful country B2, it would certainly count on C1 to give it. This arrangement is beginning to look somewhat colonial. (Even worse things might happen in a situation of economic crisis: if B1 has been feeding C1 for ten years, during a crisis it might become greedy for C1's resources; what would prevent it from blackmailing C1?)
So much for issues of aid. On the opposite extreme one finds strong cosmopolitans, like Thomas Pogge, who blame the global order for injustices committed against the poor and recommend a considerable redistribution of goods as a remedy to restore justice. In between we find authors like Mathias Risse (2013), who proposes a highly structured conception of justice that preserves the statist order of international politics but accepts common ownership of the Earth and places considerable duties on states: inequalities are allowed, but only if all inhabitants of the Earth have enough to satisfy their basic needs.
Miller has also put forward the most thoughtful pro-nationalist proposal concerning immigration. His proposal allows refugees to seek asylum temporarily until the situation in their country of origin improves; it also limits economic migration. Miller argues against the defensibility of a global standard for equality, opportunity, welfare, etc., because measures of just equality are context-bound. People do have the right to a minimum standard of living, but the right to migrate only activates as a last resort after all other measures within a candidate-migrant’s country of origin have been tried.
As mentioned, the opposite extreme is occupied by those like Joseph Carens (2013) who defend completely open borders. Many recent views seem to converge to the middle ground. There, we find proposals like those of Thomas Christiano (2012), Mathias Risse (2013) and Michael Blake (2013). Christiano, for example, proposes working from the relatively just system of existing norms that oblige cooperation between states. He thinks that the right way to proceed is to negotiate consensus agreements satisfying individual beneficiary and benefactor states as well as international legal norms. A poor state might send a number of workers to a rich state on a temporary basis; these workers would then return to their country of origin to foster development. International law would provide a framework of legitimacy, and negotiations between states would provide concrete, and hopefully just, solutions.
The philosophy of nationalism nowadays does not concern itself much with the aggressive and dangerous form of invidious nationalism that often occupies center stage in the news and in sociological research. Although this pernicious form can be of significant instrumental value in mobilizing oppressed people and restoring their sense of dignity, its moral costs are usually taken by philosophers to outweigh its benefits. Nationalist philosophers distance themselves from such aggressive forms of nationalism and mainly seek to construct and defend very moderate versions; these have therefore come to be the main focus of recent philosophical debate.
The debate carries an interesting methodological message overlooked in the literature. Authors defending the importance of ethno-national and cultural considerations standardly point to their enormous practical impact, and underlying factual, social and historical factors. It is no wonder that the prominent pro-nationalist thinker D. Miller insists on the importance of social and historical facts for political philosophy and moral decisions (2013, chapters 1 and 2). Indeed, when drawing from the usual resources for theorizing in political philosophy — principles, facts (including presumed facts), and intuitions from thought experiments — cosmopolitan authors typically stress the importance of principles, while pro-nationalists stress that of facts. Miller’s demand for “attention to factual presuppositions of our principles” (2013, 26) is characteristic of pro-nationalist methodology.
In presenting the claims that nationalists defend, we have proceeded from the more radical towards more liberal nationalist alternatives. In examining the arguments for these claims, we have presented metaphysically demanding communitarian arguments resting upon deep communitarian assumptions about culture, such as the premise that the ethno-cultural nation is the most important community for all individuals. This is an interesting and respectable claim, but its plausibility has not yet been established. The moral debate about nationalism has resulted in various weakenings of culture-based arguments, proposed by liberal nationalists, which render the arguments less ambitious but much more plausible. Having abandoned the old nationalist ideal of a state owned by a single dominant ethno-cultural group, liberal nationalists have become receptive to the idea that identification with a plurality of cultures and communities is important for a person's social identity. They have equally become sensitive to trans-national issues and more willing to embrace a partly cosmopolitan perspective.
Liberal nationalism has also brought to the fore more modest, less philosophically or metaphysically charged arguments grounded in concerns about justice. These stress the practical importance of ethno-cultural membership, ethno-cultural groups’ rights to have injustices redressed, democratic rights of political association, and the role that ethno-cultural ties and associations can play in promoting just social arrangements. Liberal culturalists such as Kymlicka have proposed minimal and pluralistic versions of nationalism built around such arguments. In these minimal versions, the project of building classical nation-states is tempered or abandoned and replaced by a more sensitive form of national identity that can thrive in a multicultural society. This new project, however, might demand a further widening of our moral perspectives. The twentieth century has taught us that culturally-plural states divided into isolated and closed sub-communities glued together only by arrangements of mere modus vivendi are inherently unstable. Stability might therefore require that the plural society envisioned by liberal culturalists promote quite intense interaction between cultural groups in order to forestall mistrust, reduce prejudice and create a solid basis for cohabitation. On the other hand, as noted above in connection with issues of territorial justice, once membership in multiple cultures and communities is legitimized, social groups will spread beyond the borders of a single state (e.g., groups bound by religious or racial ties), thus creating an opening for at least a minimal cosmopolitan perspective. The internal dialectic driven by concern for ethno-cultural identity might in this way lead to pluralistic and potentially cosmopolitan political arrangements that are rather distant from what was classically understood as nationalism.
1. History of the issue
Questions about the nature of conscious awareness have likely been asked for as long as there have been humans. Neolithic burial practices appear to express spiritual beliefs and provide early evidence for at least minimally reflective thought about the nature of human consciousness (Pearson 1999, Clark and Riel-Salvatore 2001). Preliterate cultures have similarly been found invariably to embrace some form of spiritual or at least animist view that indicates a degree of reflection about the nature of conscious awareness.
Nonetheless, some have argued that consciousness as we know it today is a relatively recent historical development that arose sometime after the Homeric era (Jaynes 1974). According to this view, earlier humans including those who fought the Trojan War did not experience themselves as unified internal subjects of their thoughts and actions, at least not in the ways we do today. Others have claimed that even during the classical period, there was no word of ancient Greek that corresponds to “consciousness” (Wilkes 1984, 1988, 1995). Though the ancients had much to say about mental matters, it is less clear whether they had any specific concepts or concerns for what we now think of as consciousness.
Although the words “conscious” and “conscience” are used quite differently today, it is likely that the Reformation emphasis on the latter as an inner source of truth played some role in the inward turn so characteristic of the modern reflective view of self. The Hamlet who walked the stage in 1600 already saw his world and self with profoundly modern eyes.
By the beginning of the early modern era in the seventeenth century, consciousness had come full center in thinking about the mind. Indeed from the mid-17th through the late 19th century, consciousness was widely regarded as essential or definitive of the mental. René Descartes defined the very notion of thought (pensée) in terms of reflexive consciousness or self-awareness. In the Principles of Philosophy (1640) he wrote,
By the word ‘thought’ (‘pensée’) I understand all that of which we are conscious as operating in us.
Later, toward the end of the 17th century, John Locke offered a similar if slightly more qualified claim in An Essay on Human Understanding (1688),
I do not say there is no soul in man because he is not sensible of it in his sleep. But I do say he can not think at any time, waking or sleeping, without being sensible of it. Our being sensible of it is not necessary to anything but our thoughts, and to them it is and to them it always will be necessary.
Locke explicitly forswore making any hypothesis about the substantial basis of consciousness and its relation to matter, but he clearly regarded it as essential to thought as well as to personal identity.
Locke's contemporary G.W. Leibniz, drawing possible inspiration from his mathematical work on differentiation and integration, offered a theory of mind in the Discourse on Metaphysics (1686) that allowed for infinitely many degrees of consciousness and perhaps even for some thoughts that were unconscious, the so called “petites perceptions”. Leibniz was the first to distinguish explicitly between perception and apperception, i.e., roughly between awareness and self-awareness. In the Monadology (1720) he also offered his famous analogy of the mill to express his belief that consciousness could not arise from mere matter. He asked his reader to imagine someone walking through an expanded brain as one would walk through a mill and observing all its mechanical operations, which for Leibniz exhausted its physical nature. Nowhere, he asserts, would such an observer see any conscious thoughts.
Despite Leibniz's recognition of the possibility of unconscious thought, for most of the next two centuries the domains of thought and consciousness were regarded as more or less the same. Associationist psychology, whether pursued by Locke or later in the eighteenth century by David Hume (1739) or in the nineteenth by James Mill (1829), aimed to discover the principles by which conscious thoughts or ideas interacted or affected each other. James Mill's son, John Stuart Mill continued his father's work on associationist psychology, but he allowed that combinations of ideas might produce resultants that went beyond their constituent mental parts, thus providing an early model of mental emergence (1865).
The purely associationist approach was critiqued in the late eighteenth century by Immanuel Kant (1787), who argued that an adequate account of experience and phenomenal consciousness required a far richer structure of mental and intentional organization. Phenomenal consciousness according to Kant could not be a mere succession of associated ideas, but at a minimum had to be the experience of a conscious self situated in an objective world structured with respect to space, time and causality.
Within the Anglo-American world, associationist approaches continued to be influential in both philosophy and psychology well into the twentieth century, while in the German and European sphere there was a greater interest in the larger structure of experience that lead in part to the study of phenomenology through the work of Edmund Husserl (1913, 1929), Martin Heidegger (1927), Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1945) and others who expanded the study of consciousness into the realm of the social, the bodily and the interpersonal.
At the outset of modern scientific psychology in the mid-nineteenth century, the mind was still largely equated with consciousness, and introspective methods dominated the field as in the work of Wilhelm Wundt (1897), Hermann von Helmholtz (1897), William James (1890) and Alfred Titchener (1901). However, the relation of consciousness to brain remained very much a mystery as expressed in T. H. Huxley's famous remark,
How it is that anything so remarkable as a state of consciousness comes about as a result of irritating nervous tissue, is just as unaccountable as the appearance of the Djin, when Aladdin rubbed his lamp (1866).
The early twentieth century saw the eclipse of consciousness from scientific psychology, especially in the United States with the rise of behaviorism (Watson 1924, Skinner 1953) though movements such as Gestalt psychology kept it a matter of ongoing scientific concern in Europe (Köhler 1929, Köffka 1935). In the 1960s, the grip of behaviorism weakened with the rise of cognitive psychology and its emphasis on information processing and the modeling of internal mental processes (Neisser 1965, Gardiner 1985). However, despite the renewed emphasis on explaining cognitive capacities such as memory, perception and language comprehension, consciousness remained a largely neglected topic for several further decades.
In the 1980s and 90s there was a major resurgence of scientific and philosophical research into the nature and basis of consciousness (Baars 1988, Dennett 1991, Penrose 1989, 1994, Crick 1994, Lycan 1987, 1996, Chalmers 1996). Once consciousness was back under discussion, there was a rapid proliferation of research with a flood of books and articles, as well as the introduction of specialty journals (The Journal of Consciousness Studies, Consciousness and Cognition, Psyche), professional societies (Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness—ASSC) and annual conferences devoted exclusively to its investigation (Toward a Science of Consciousness, ASSC).
2. Concepts of Consciousness
The words “conscious” and “consciousness” are umbrella terms that cover a wide variety of mental phenomena. Both are used with a diversity of meanings, and the adjective “conscious” is heterogeneous in its range, being applied both to whole organisms—creature consciousness—and to particular mental states and processes—state consciousness (Rosenthal 1986, Gennaro 1995, Carruthers 2000).
2.1 Creature Consciousness
An animal, person or other cognitive system may be regarded as conscious in a number of different senses.
Sentience. It may be conscious in the generic sense of simply being a sentient creature, one capable of sensing and responding to its world (Armstrong 1981). Being conscious in this sense may admit of degrees, and just what sort of sensory capacities are sufficient may not be sharply defined. Are fish conscious in the relevant respect? And what of shrimp or bees?
Wakefulness. One might further require that the organism actually be exercising such a capacity rather than merely having the ability or disposition to do so. Thus one might count it as conscious only if it were awake and normally alert. In that sense organisms would not count as conscious when asleep or in any of the deeper levels of coma. Again boundaries may be blurry, and intermediate cases may be involved. For example, is one conscious in the relevant sense when dreaming, hypnotized or in a fugue state?
Self-consciousness. A third and yet more demanding sense might define conscious creatures as those that are not only aware but also aware that they are aware, thus treating creature consciousness as a form of self-consciousness (Carruthers 2000). The self-awareness requirement might get interpreted in a variety of ways, and which creatures would qualify as conscious in the relevant sense will vary accordingly. If it is taken to involve explicit conceptual self-awareness, many non-human animals and even young children might fail to qualify, but if only more rudimentary implicit forms of self-awareness are required then a wide range of nonlinguistic creatures might count as self-conscious.
What it is like. Thomas Nagel's (1974) famous“what it is like” criterion aims to capture another and perhaps more subjective notion of being a conscious organism. According to Nagel, a being is conscious just if there is “something that it is like” to be that creature, i.e., some subjective way the world seems or appears from the creature's mental or experiential point of view. In Nagel's example, bats are conscious because there is something that it is like for a bat to experience its world through its echo-locatory senses, even though we humans from our human point of view can not emphatically understand what such a mode of consciousness is like from the bat's own point of view.
Subject of conscious states. A fifth alternative would be to define the notion of a conscious organism in terms of conscious states. That is, one might first define what makes a mental state a conscious mental state, and then define being a conscious creature in terms of having such states. One's concept of a conscious organism would then depend upon the particular account one gives of conscious states (section 2.2).
Transitive Consciousness. In addition to describing creatures as conscious in these various senses, there are also related senses in which creatures are described as being conscious of various things. The distinction is sometimes marked as that between transitive and intransitive notions of consciousness, with the former involving some object at which consciousness is directed (Rosenthal 1986).
2.2 State consciousness
The notion of a conscious mental state also has a variety of distinct though perhaps interrelated meanings. There are at least six major options.
States one is aware of. On one common reading, a conscious mental state is simply a mental state one is aware of being in (Rosenthal 1986, 1996). Conscious states in this sense involve a form of meta-mentality or meta-intentionality in so far as they require mental states that are themselves about mental states. To have a conscious desire for a cup of coffee is to have such a desire and also to be simultaneously and directly aware that one has such a desire. Unconscious thoughts and desires in this sense are simply those we have without being aware of having them, whether our lack of self-knowledge results from simple inattention or more deeply psychoanalytic causes.
Qualitative states. States might also be regarded as conscious in a seemingly quite different and more qualitative sense. That is, one might count a state as conscious just if it has or involves qualitative or experiential properties of the sort often referred to as “qualia” or “raw sensory feels”. (See the entry on qualia.) One's perception of the Merlot one is drinking or of the fabric one is examining counts as a conscious mental state in this sense because it involves various sensory qualia, e.g., taste qualia in the wine case and color qualia in one's visual experience of the cloth. There is considerable disagreement about the nature of such qualia (Churchland 1985, Shoemaker 1990, Clark 1993, Chalmers 1996) and even about their existence. Traditionally qualia have been regarded as intrinsic, private, ineffable monadic features of experience, but current theories of qualia often reject at least some of those commitments (Dennett 1990).
Phenomenal states. Such qualia are sometimes referred to as phenomenal properties and the associated sort of consciousness as phenomenal consciousness, but the latter term is perhaps more properly applied to the overall structure of experience and involves far more than sensory qualia. The phenomenal structure of consciousness also encompasses much of the spatial, temporal and conceptual organization of our experience of the world and of ourselves as agents in it. (See section 4.3) It is therefore probably best, at least initially, to distinguish the concept of phenomenal consciousness from that of qualitative consciousness, though they no doubt overlap.
What-it-is-like states. Consciousness in both those senses links up as well with Thomas Nagel's (1974) notion of a conscious creature, insofar as one might count a mental state as conscious in the “what it is like” sense just if there is something that it is like to be in that state. Nagel's criterion might be understood as aiming to provide a first-person or internal conception of what makes a state a phenomenal or qualitative state.
Access consciousness. States might be conscious in a seemingly quite different access sense, which has more to do with intra-mental relations. In this respect, a state's being conscious is a matter of its availability to interact with other states and of the access that one has to its content. In this more functional sense, which corresponds to what Ned Block (1995) calls access consciousness, a visual state's being conscious is not so much a matter of whether or not it has a qualitative “what it's likeness”, but of whether or not it and the visual information that it carries is generally available for use and guidance by the organism. In so far as the information in that state is richly and flexibly available to its containing organism, then it counts as a conscious state in the relevant respect, whether or not it has any qualitative or phenomenal feel in the Nagel sense.
Narrative consciousness. States might also be regarded as conscious in a narrative sense that appeals to the notion of the “stream of consciousness”, regarded as an ongoing more or less serial narrative of episodes from the perspective of an actual or merely virtual self. The idea would be to equate the person's conscious mental states with those that appear in the stream (Dennett 1991, 1992).
Although these six notions of what makes a state conscious can be independently specified, they are obviously not without potential links, nor do they exhaust the realm of possible options. Drawing connections, one might argue that states appear in the stream of consciousness only in so far as we are aware of them, and thus forge a bond between the first meta-mental notion of a conscious state and the stream or narrative concept. Or one might connect the access with the qualitative or phenomenal notions of a conscious state by trying to show that states that represent in those ways make their contents widely available in the respect required by the access notion.
Aiming to go beyond the six options, one might distinguish conscious from nonconscious states by appeal to aspects of their intra-mental dynamics and interactions other than mere access relations; e.g., conscious states might manifest a richer stock of content-sensitive interactions or a greater degree of flexible purposive guidance of the sort associated with the self-conscious control of thought. Alternatively, one might try to define conscious states in terms of conscious creatures. That is, one might give some account of what it is to be a conscious creature or perhaps even a conscious self, and then define one's notion of a conscious state in terms of being a state of such a creature or system, which would be the converse of the last option considered above for defining conscious creatures in terms of conscious mental states.
2.3 Consciousness as an entity
The noun “consciousness” has an equally diverse range of meanings that largely parallel those of the adjective “conscious”. Distinctions can be drawn between creature and state consciousness as well as among the varieties of each. One can refer specifically to phenomenal consciousness, access consciousness, reflexive or meta-mental consciousness, and narrative consciousness among other varieties.
Here consciousness itself is not typically treated as a substantive entity but merely the abstract reification of whatever property or aspect is attributed by the relevant use of the adjective “conscious”. Access consciousness is just the property of having the required sort of internal access relations, and qualitative consciousness is simply the property that is attributed when “conscious” is applied in the qualitative sense to mental states. How much this commits one to the ontological status of consciousness per se will depend on how much of a Platonist one is about universals in general. (See the entry on the medieval problem of universals.) It need not commit one to consciousness as a distinct entity any more than one's use of “square”, “red” or “gentle” commits one to the existence of squareness, redness or gentleness as distinct entities.
Though it is not the norm, one could nonetheless take a more robustly realist view of consciousness as a component of reality. That is one could think of consciousness as more on a par with electromagnetic fields than with life.
Since the demise of vitalism, we do not think of life per se as something distinct from living things. There are living things including organisms, states, properties and parts of organisms, communities and evolutionary lineages of organisms, but life is not itself a further thing, an additional component of reality, some vital force that gets added into living things. We apply the adjectives “living” and “alive” correctly to many things, and in doing so we might be said to be attributing life to them but with no meaning or reality other than that involved in their being living things.
Electromagnetic fields by contrast are regarded as real and independent parts of our physical world. Even though one may sometimes be able to specify the values of such a field by appeal to the behavior of particles in it, the fields themselves are regarded as concrete constituents of reality and not merely as abstractions or sets of relations among particles.
Similarly one could regard “consciousness” as referring to a component or aspect of reality that manifests itself in conscious states and creatures but is more than merely the abstract nominalization of the adjective “conscious” we apply to them. Though such strongly realist views are not very common at present, they should be included within the logical space of options.
There are thus many concepts of consciousness, and both “conscious” and “consciousness” are used in a wide range of ways with no privileged or canonical meaning. However, this may be less of an embarrassment than an embarrassment of riches. Consciousness is a complex feature of the world, and understanding it will require a diversity of conceptual tools for dealing with its many differing aspects. Conceptual plurality is thus just what one would hope for. As long as one avoids confusion by being clear about one's meanings, there is great value in having a variety of concepts by which we can access and grasp consciousness in all its rich complexity. However, one should not assume that conceptual plurality implies referential divergence. Our multiple concepts of consciousness may in fact pick out varying aspects of a single unified underlying mental phenomenon. Whether and to what extent they do so remains an open question.
3. Problems of Consciousness
The task of understanding consciousness is an equally diverse project. Not only do many different aspects of mind count as conscious in some sense, each is also open to various respects in which it might be explained or modeled. Understanding consciousness involves a multiplicity not only of explananda but also of questions that they pose and the sorts of answers they require. At the risk of oversimplifying, the relevant questions can be gathered under three crude rubrics as the What, How, and Why questions:
- The Descriptive Question: What is consciousness? What are its principal features? And by what means can they be best discovered, described and modeled?
- The Explanatory Question: How does consciousness of the relevant sort come to exist? Is it a primitive aspect of reality, and if not how does (or could) consciousness in the relevant respect arise from or be caused by nonconscious entities or processes?
- The Functional Question: Why does consciousness of the relevant sort exist? Does it have a function, and if so what is it? Does it act causally and if so with what sorts of effects? Does it make a difference to the operation of systems in which it is present, and if so why and how?
The three questions focus respectively on describing the features of consciousness, explaining its underlying basis or cause, and explicating its role or value. The divisions among the three are of course somewhat artificial, and in practice the answers one gives to each will depend in part on what one says about the others. One can not, for example, adequately answer the what question and describe the main features of consciousness without addressing the why issue of its functional role within systems whose operations it affects. Nor could one explain how the relevant sort of consciousness might arise from nonconscious processes unless one had a clear account of just what features had to be caused or realized to count as producing it. Those caveats notwithstanding, the three-way division of questions provides a useful structure for articulating the overall explanatory project and for assessing the adequacy of particular theories or models of consciousness.
4. The descriptive question: What are the features of consciousness?
The What question asks us to describe and model the principal features of consciousness, but just which features are relevant will vary with the sort of consciousness we aim to capture. The main properties of access consciousness may be quite unlike those of qualitative or phenomenal consciousness, and those of reflexive consciousness or narrative consciousness may differ from both. However, by building up detailed theories of each type, we may hope to find important links between them and perhaps even to discover that they coincide in at least some key respects.
4.1 First-person and third-person data
The general descriptive project will require a variety of investigational methods (Flanagan 1992). Though one might naively regard the facts of consciousness as too self-evident to require any systematic methods of gathering data, the epistemic task is in reality far from trivial (Husserl 1913).
First-person introspective access provides a rich and essential source of insight into our conscious mental life, but it is neither sufficient in itself nor even especially helpful unless used in a trained and disciplined way. Gathering the needed evidence about the structure of experience requires us both to become phenomenologically sophisticated self-observers and to complement our introspective results with many types of third-person data available to external observers (Searle 1992, Varela 1995, Siewert 1998)
As phenomenologists have known for more than a century, discovering the structure of conscious experience demands a rigorous inner-directed stance that is quite unlike our everyday form of self-awareness (Husserl 1929, Merleau-Ponty 1945). Skilled observation of the needed sort requires training, effort and the ability to adopt alternative perspectives on one's experience.
The need for third-person empirical data gathered by external observers is perhaps most obvious with regard to the more clearly functional types of consciousness such as access consciousness, but it is required even with regard to phenomenal and qualitative consciousness. For example, deficit studies that correlate various neural and functional sites of damage with abnormalities of conscious experience can make us aware of aspects of phenomenal structure that escape our normal introspective awareness. As such case studies show, things can come apart in experience that seem inseparably unified or singular from our normal first-person point of view (Sacks 1985, Shallice 1988, Farah 1995).
Or to pick another example, third-person data can make us aware of how our experiences of acting and our experiences of event-timing affect each other in ways that we could never discern through mere introspection (Libet 1985, Wegner 2002). Nor are the facts gathered by these third person methods merely about the causes or bases of consciousness; they often concern the very structure of phenomenal consciousness itself. First-person, third-person and perhaps even second-person (Varela 1995) interactive methods will all be needed to collect the requisite evidence.
Using all these sources of data, we will hopefully be able to construct detailed descriptive models of the various sorts of consciousness. Though the specific features of most importance may vary among the different types, our overall descriptive project will need to address at least the following seven general aspects of consciousness (sections 4.2–4.7).
4.2 Qualitative character
Qualitative character is often equated with so called “raw feels” and illustrated by the redness one experiences when one looks at ripe tomatoes or the specific sweet savor one encounters when one tastes an equally ripe pineapple (Locke 1688). The relevant sort of qualitative character is not restricted to sensory states, but is typically taken to be present as an aspect of experiential states in general, such as experienced thoughts or desires (Siewert 1998).
The existence of such feels may seem to some to mark the threshold for states or creatures that are really conscious. If an organism senses and responds in apt ways to its world but lacks such qualia, then it might count as conscious at best in a loose and less than literal sense. Or so at least it would seem to those who take qualitative consciousness in the “what it is like” sense to be philosophically and scientifically central (Nagel 1974, Chalmers 1996).
Qualia problems in many forms—Can there be inverted qualia? (Block 1980a 1980b, Shoemaker 1981, 1982) Are qualia epiphenomenal? (Jackson 1982, Chalmers 1996) How could neural states give rise to qualia? (Levine 1983, McGinn 1991)—have loomed large in the recent past. But the What question raises a more basic problem of qualia: namely that of giving a clear and articulated description of our qualia space and the status of specific qualia within it.
Absent such a model, factual or descriptive errors are all too likely. For example, claims about the unintelligibility of the link between experienced red and any possible neural substrate of such an experience sometimes treat the relevant color quale as a simple and sui generis property (Levine 1983), but phenomenal redness in fact exists within a complex color space with multiple systematic dimensions and similarity relations (Hardin 1992). Understanding the specific color quale relative to that larger relational structure not only gives us a better descriptive grasp of its qualitative nature, it may also provide some “hooks” to which one might attach intelligible psycho-physical links.
Color may be the exception in terms of our having a specific and well developed formal understanding of the relevant qualitative space, but it is not likely an exception with regard to the importance of such spaces to our understanding of qualitative properties in general (Clark 1993, P.M. Churchland 1995). (See the entry on qualia.)
4.3 Phenomenal structure
Phenomenal structure should not be conflated with qualitative structure, despite the sometimes interchangeable use of “qualia” and “phenomenal properties” in the literature. “Phenomenal organization” covers all the various kinds of order and structure found within the domain of experience, i.e., within the domain of the world as it appears to us. There are obviously important links between the phenomenal and the qualitative. Indeed qualia might be best understood as properties of phenomenal or experienced objects, but there is in fact far more to the phenomenal than raw feels. As Kant (1787), Husserl (1913), and generations of phenomenologists have shown, the phenomenal structure of experience is richly intentional and involves not only sensory ideas and qualities but complex representations of time, space, cause, body, self, world and the organized structure of lived reality in all its conceptual and nonconceptual forms.
Since many non-conscious states also have intentional and representational aspects, it may be best to consider phenomenal structure as involving a special kind of intentional and representational organization and content, the kind distinctively associated with consciousness (Siewert 1998). (See the entry on representational theories of consciousness).
Answering the What question requires a careful account of the coherent and densely organized representational framework within which particular experiences are embedded. Since most of that structure is only implicit in the organization of experience, it can not just be read off by introspection. Articulating the structure of the phenomenal domain in a clear and intelligible way is a long and difficult process of inference and model building (Husserl 1929). Introspection can aid it, but a lot of theory construction and ingenuity are also needed.
There has been recent philosophical debate about the range of properties that are phenomenally present or manifest in conscious experience, in particular with respect to cognitive states such as believing or thinking. Some have argued for a so called “thin” view according to which phenomenal properties are limited to qualia representing basic sensory properties, such as colors, shapes, tones and feels. According to such theorists, there is no distinctive “what-it-is-likeness” involved in believing that Paris is the capital of France or that 17 is a prime number (Tye, Prinz 2012). Some imagery, e.g., of the Eiffel Tower, may accompany our having such a thought, but that is incidental to it and the cognitive state itself has no phenomenal feel. On the thin view, the phenomenal aspect of perceptual states as well is limited to basic sensory features; when one sees an image of Winston Churchill, one's perceptual phenomenology is limited only to the spatial aspects of his face.
Others holds a “thick” view according to which the phenomenology of perception includes a much wider range of features and cognitive states have a distinctive phenomenology as well (Strawson 2003, Pitt 2004, Seigel 2010). On the thick view, the what-it-is-likeness of perceiving an image of Marilyn Monroe includes one's recognition of her history as part of the felt aspect of the experience, and beliefs and thoughts as well can and typically do have a distinctive nonsensory phenomenology. Both sides of the debate are well represented in the volume Cognitive Phenomenology (Bayne and Montague 2010).
Subjectivity is another notion sometimes equated with the qualitative or the phenomenal aspects of consciousness in the literature, but again there are good reason to recognize it, at least in some of its forms, as a distinct feature of consciousness—related to the qualitative and the phenomenal but different from each. In particular, the epistemic form of subjectivity concerns apparent limits on the knowability or even the understandability of various facts about conscious experience (Nagel 1974, Van Gulick 1985, Lycan 1996).
On Thomas Nagel's (1974) account, facts about what it is like to be a bat are subjective in the relevant sense because they can be fully understood only from the bat-type point of view. Only creatures capable of having or undergoing similar such experiences can understand their what-it's-likeness in the requisite empathetic sense. Facts about conscious experience can be at best incompletely understood from an outside third person point of view, such as those associated with objective physical science. A similar view about the limits of third-person theory seems to lie behind claims regarding what Frank Jackson's (1982) hypothetical Mary, the super color scientist, could not understand about experiencing red because of her own impoverished history of achromatic visual experience.
Whether facts about experience are indeed epistemically limited in this way is open to debate (Lycan 1996), but the claim that understanding consciousness requires special forms of knowing and access from the inside point of view is intuitively plausible and has a long history (Locke 1688). Thus any adequate answer to the What question must address the epistemic status of consciousness, both our abilities to understand it and their limits (Papineau 2002, Chalmers 2003). (See the entry on self-knowledge).
4.5 Self-perspectival organization
The perspectival structure of consciousness is one aspect of its overall phenomenal organization, but it is important enough to merit discussion in its own right. Insofar as the key perspective is that of the conscious self, the specific feature might be called self-perspectuality. Conscious experiences do not exist as isolated mental atoms, but as modes or states of a conscious self or subject (Descartes 1644, Searle 1992, though pace Hume 1739). A visual experience of a blue sphere is always a matter of there being some self or subject who is appeared to in that way. A sharp and stabbing pain is always a pain felt or experienced by some conscious subject. The self need not appear as an explicit element in our experiences, but as Kant (1787) noted the “I think” must at least potentially accompany each of them.
The self might be taken as the perspectival point from which the world of objects is present to experience (Wittgenstein 1921). It provides not only a spatial and temporal perspective for our experience of the world but one of meaning and intelligibility as well. The intentional coherence of the experiential domain relies upon the dual interdependence between self and world: the self as perspective from which objects are known and the world as the integrated structure of objects and events whose possibilities of being experienced implicitly define the nature and location of the self (Kant 1787, Husserl 1929).
Conscious organisms obviously differ in the extent to which they constitute a unified and coherent self, and they likely differ accordingly in the sort or degree of perspectival focus they embody in their respective forms of experience (Lorenz 1977). Consciousness may not require a distinct or substantial self of the traditional Cartesian sort, but at least some degree of perspectivally self-like organization seems essential for the existence of anything that might count as conscious experience. Experiences seem no more able to exist without a self or subject to undergo them than could ocean waves exist without the sea through which they move. The Descriptive question thus requires some account of the self-perspectival aspect of experience and the self-like organization of conscious minds on which it depends, even if the relevant account treats the self in a relatively deflationary and virtual way (Dennett 1991, 1992).
Unity is closely linked with the self-perspective, but it merits specific mention on its own as a key aspect of the organization of consciousness. Conscious systems and conscious mental states both involve many diverse forms of unity. Some are causal unities associated with the integration of action and control into a unified focus of agency. Others are more representational and intentional forms of unity involving the integration of diverse items of content at many scales and levels of binding (Cleeremans 2003).
Some such integrations are relatively local as when diverse features detected within a single sense modality are combined into a representation of external objects bearing those features, e.g. when one has a conscious visual experience of a moving red soup can passing above a green striped napkin (Triesman and Gelade 1980).
Other forms of intentional unity encompass a far wider range of contents. The content of one's present experience of the room in which one sits depends in part upon its location within a far larger structure associated with one's awareness of one's existence as an ongoing temporally extended observer within a world of spatially connected independently existing objects (Kant 1787, Husserl 1913). The individual experience can have the content that it does only because it resides within that larger unified structure of representation. (See the entry on unity of consciousness.)
Particular attention has been paid recently to the notion of phenomenal unity (Bayne 2010) and its relation to other forms of conscious unity such as those involving representational, functional or neural integration. Some have argued that phenomenal unity can be reduced to representational unity (Tye 2005) while others have denied the possibility of any such reduction (Bayne 2010).
4.7 Intentionality and transparency
Conscious mental states are typically regarded as having a representational or intentional aspect in so far as they are about things, refer to things or have satisfaction conditions. One's conscious visual experience correctly represents the world if there are lilacs in a white vase on the table (pace Travis 2004), one's conscious memory is of the attack on the World Trade Center, and one's conscious desire is for a glass of cold water. However, nonconscious states can also exhibit intentionality in such ways, and it is important to understand the ways in which the representational aspects of conscious states resemble and differ from those of nonconscious states (Carruthers 2000). Searle (1990) offers a contrary view according to which only conscious states and dispositions to have conscious states can be genuinely intentional, but most theorists regard intentionality as extending widely into the unconscious domain. (See the entry on consciousness and intentionality.)
One potentially important dimension of difference concerns so called transparency, which is an important feature of consciousness in two interrelated metaphoric senses, each of which has an intentional, an experiential and a functional aspect.
Conscious perceptual experience is often said to be transparent, or in G.E. Moore's (1922) phrase “diaphanous”. We transparently “look through” our sensory experience in so far as we seem directly aware of external objects and events present to us rather than being aware of any properties of experience by which it presents or represents such objects to us. When I look out at the wind-blown meadow, it is the undulating green grass of which I am aware not of any green property of my visual experience. (See the entry on representational theories of consciousness.) Moore himself believed we could become aware of those latter qualities with effort and redirection of attention, though some contemporary transparency advocates deny it (Harman 1990, Tye 1995, Kind 2003).
Conscious thoughts and experiences are also transparent in a semantic sense in that their meanings seem immediately known to us in the very act of thinking them (Van Gulick 1992). In that sense we might be said to ‘think right through’ them to what they mean or represent. Transparency in this semantic sense may correspond at least partly with what John Searle calls the “intrinsic intentionality” of consciousness (Searle 1992).
Our conscious mental states seem to have their meanings intrinsically or from the inside just by being what they are in themselves, by contrast with many externalist theories of mental content that ground meaning in causal, counterfactual or informational relations between bearers of intentionality and their semantic or referential objects.
The view of conscious content as intrinsically determined and internally self-evident is sometimes supported by appeals to brain in the vat intuitions, which make it seem that the envatted brain's conscious mental states would keep all their normal intentional contents despite the loss of all their normal causal and informational links to the world (Horgan and Tienson 2002). There is continued controversy about such cases and about competing internalist (Searle 1992) and externalist views (Dretske 1995) of conscious intentionality.
Though semantic transparency and intrinsic intentionality have some affinities, they should not be simply equated, since it may be possible to accommodate the former notion within a more externalist account of content and meaning. Both semantic and sensory transparency obviously concern the representational or intentional aspects of consciousness, but they are also experiential aspects of our conscious life. They are part of what it's like or how it feels phenomenally to be conscious. They also both have functional aspects, in so far as conscious experiences interact with each other in richly content-appropriate ways that manifest our transparent understanding of their contents.
4.8 Dynamic flow
The dynamics of consciousness are evident in the coherent order of its ever changing process of flow and self-transformation, what William James (1890) called the “stream of consciousness.” Some temporal sequences of experience are generated by purely internal factors as when one thinks through a puzzle, and others depend in part upon external causes as when one chases a fly ball, but even the latter sequences are shaped in large part by how consciousness transforms itself.
Whether partly in response to outer influences or entirely from within, each moment to moment sequence of experience grows coherently out of those that preceded it, constrained and enabled by the global structure of links and limits embodied in its underlying prior organization (Husserl 1913). In that respect, consciousness is an autopoietic system, i.e., a self-creating and self-organizing system (Varela and Maturana 1980).
As a conscious mental agent I can do many things such as scan my room, scan a mental image of it, review in memory the courses of a recent restaurant meal along with many of its tastes and scents, reason my way through a complex problem, or plan a grocery shopping trip and execute that plan when I arrive at the market. These are all routine and common activities, but each involves the directed generation of experiences in ways that manifest an implicit practical understanding of their intentional properties and interconnected contents (Van Gulick 2000).
Consciousness is a dynamic process, and thus an adequate descriptive answer to the What question must deal with more than just its static or momentary properties. In particular, it must give some account of the temporal dynamics of consciousness and the ways in which its self-transforming flow reflects both its intentional coherence and the semantic self-understanding embodied in the organized controls through which conscious minds continually remake themselves as autopoietic systems engaged with their worlds.
A comprehensive descriptive account of consciousness would need to deal with more than just these seven features, but having a clear account of each of them would take us a long way toward answering the “What is consciousness?” question.
5. The explanatory question: How can consciousness exist?
The How question focuses on explanation rather than description. It asks us to explain the basic status of consciousness and its place in nature. Is it a fundamental feature of reality in its own right, or does its existence depend upon other nonconscious items, be they physical, biological, neural or computational? And if the latter, can we explain or understand how the relevant nonconscious items could cause or realize consciousness? Put simply, can we explain how to make something conscious out of things that are not conscious?
5.1 Diversity of explanatory projects
The How question is not a single question, but rather a general family of more specific questions (Van Gulick 1995). They all concern the possibility of explaining some sort or aspect of consciousness, but they vary in their particular explananda, the restrictions on their explanans, and their criteria for successful explanation. For example, one might ask whether we can explain access consciousness computationally by mimicking the requisite access relations in a computational model. Or one might be concerned instead with whether the phenomenal and qualitative properties of a conscious creature's mind can be a priori deduced from a description of the neural properties of its brain processes. Both are versions of the How question, but they ask about the prospects of very different explanatory projects, and thus may differ in their answers (Lycan 1996). It would be impractical, if not impossible, to catalog all the possible versions of the How question, but some of the main options can be listed.
Explananda. Possible explananda would include the various sorts of state and creature consciousness distinguished above, as well as the seven features of consciousness listed in response to the What question. Those two types of explananda overlap and intersect. We might for example aim to explain the dynamic aspect either of phenomenal or of access consciousness. Or we could try to explain the subjectivity of either qualitative or meta-mental consciousness. Not every feature applies to every sort of consciousness, but all apply to several. How one explains a given feature in relation to one sort of consciousness may not correspond with what is needed to explain it relative to another.
Explanans. The range of possible explanans is also diverse. In perhaps its broadest form, the How question asks how consciousness of the relevant sort could be caused or realized by nonconscious items, but we can generate a wealth of more specific questions by further restricting the range of the relevant explanans. One might seek to explain how a given feature of consciousness is caused or realized by underlying neural processes, biological structures, physical mechanisms, functional or teleofunctional relations, computational organization, or even by nonconscious mental states. The prospects for explanatory success will vary accordingly. In general the more limited and elementary the range of the explanans, the more difficult the problem of explaining how could it suffice to produce consciousness (Van Gulick 1995).
Criteria of explanation. The third key parameter is how one defines the criterion for a successful explanation. One might require that the explanandum be a priori deducible from the explanans, although it is controversial whether this is either a necessary or a sufficient criterion for explaining consciousness (Jackson 1993). Its sufficiency will depend in part on the nature of the premises from which the deduction proceeds. As a matter of logic, one will need some bridge principles to connect propositions or sentences about consciousness with those that do not mention it. If one's premises concern physical or neural facts, then one will need some bridge principles or links that connect such facts with facts about consciousness (Kim 1998). Brute links, whether nomic or merely well confirmed correlations, could provide a logically sufficient bridge to infer conclusions about consciousness. But they would probably not allow us to see how or why those connections hold, and thus they would fall short of fully explaining how consciousness exists (Levine 1983, 1993, McGinn 1991).
One could legitimately ask for more, in particular for some account that made intelligible why those links hold and perhaps why they could not fail to do so. A familiar two-stage model for explaining macro-properties in terms of micro-substrates is often invoked. In the first step, one analyzes the macro-property in terms of functional conditions, and then in the second stage one shows that the micro-structures obeying the laws of their own level nomically suffice to guarantee the satisfaction of the relevant functional conditions (Armstrong 1968, Lewis 1972).
The micro-properties of collections of H2O molecules at 20°C suffice to satisfy the conditions for the liquidity of the water they compose. Moreover, the model makes intelligible how the liquidity is produced by the micro-properties. A satisfactory explanation of how consciousness is produced might seem to require a similar two stage story. Without it, even a priori deducibility might seem explanatorily less than sufficient, though the need for such a story remains a matter of controversy (Block and Stalnaker 1999, Chalmers and Jackson 2001).
5.2 The explanatory gap
Our current inability to supply a suitably intelligible link is sometimes described, following Joseph Levine (1983), as the existence of an explanatory gap, and as indicating our incomplete understanding of how consciousness might depend upon a nonconscious substrate, especially a physical substrate. The basic gap claim admits of many variations in generality and thus in strength.
In perhaps its weakest form, it asserts a practical limit on our present explanatory abilities; given our current theories and models we can not now articulate an intelligible link. A stronger version makes an in principle claim about our human capacities and thus asserts that given our human cognitive limits we will never be able to bridge the gap. To us, or creatures cognitively like us, it must remain a residual mystery (McGinn 1991). Colin McGinn (1995) has argued that given the inherently spatial nature of both our human perceptual concepts and the scientific concepts we derive from them, we humans are not conceptually suited for understanding the nature of the psychophysical link. Facts about that link are as cognitively closed to us as are facts about multiplication or square roots to armadillos. They do not fall within our conceptual and cognitive repertoire. An even stronger version of the gap claim removes the restriction to our cognitive nature and denies in principle that the gap can be closed by any cognitive agents.
Those who assert gap claims disagree among themselves about what metaphysical conclusions, if any, follow from our supposed epistemic limits. Levine himself has been reluctant to draw any anti-physicalist ontological conclusions (Levine 1993, 2001). On the other hand some neodualists have tried to use the existence of the gap to refute physicalism (Foster 1996, Chalmers 1996). The stronger one's epistemological premise, the better the hope of deriving a metaphysical conclusion. Thus unsurprisingly, dualist conclusions are often supported by appeals to the supposed impossibility in principle of closing the gap.
If one could see on a priori grounds that there is no way in which consciousness could be intelligibly explained as arising from the physical, it would not be a big step to concluding that it in fact does not do so (Chalmers 1996). However, the very strength of such an epistemological claim makes it difficult to assume with begging the metaphysical result in question. Thus those who wish to use a strong in principle gap claim to refute physicalism must find independent grounds to support it. Some have appealed to conceivability arguments for support, such as the alleged conceivability of zombies molecularly identical with conscious humans but devoid of all phenomenal consciousness (Campbell 1970, Kirk 1974, Chalmers 1996). Other supporting arguments invoke the supposed non-functional nature of consciousness and thus its alleged resistance to the standard scientific method of explaining complex properties (e.g., genetic dominance) in terms of physically realized functional conditions (Block 1980a, Chalmers 1996). Such arguments avoid begging the anti-physicalist question, but they themselves rely upon claims and intuitions that are controversial and not completely independent of one's basic view about physicalism. Discussion on the topic remains active and ongoing.
Our present inability to see any way of closing the gap may exert some pull on our intuitions, but it may simply reflect the limits of our current theorizing rather than an unbridgeable in principle barrier (Dennett 1991). Moreover, some physicalists have argued that explanatory gaps are to be expected and are even entailed by plausible versions of ontological physicalism, ones that treat human agents as physically realized cognitive systems with inherent limits that derive from their evolutionary origin and situated contextual mode of understanding (Van Gulick 1985, 2003; McGinn 1991, Papineau 1995, 2002). On this view, rather than refuting physicalism, the existence of explanatory gaps may confirm it. Discussion and disagreement on these topics remains active and ongoing.
5.3 Reductive and non-reductive explanation
As the need for intelligible linkage has shown, a priori deducibility is not in itself obviously sufficient for successful explanation (Kim 1980), nor is it clearly necessary. Some weaker logical link might suffice in many explanatory contexts. We can sometimes tell enough of a story about how facts of one sort depend upon those of another to satisfy ourselves that the latter do in fact cause or realize the former even if we can not strictly deduce all the former facts from the latter.
Strict intertheoretical deduction was taken as the reductive norm by the logical empiricist account of the unity of science (Putnam and Oppenheim 1958), but in more recent decades a looser nonreductive picture of relations among the various sciences has gained favor. In particular, nonreductive materialists have argued for the so called “autonomy of the special sciences” (Fodor 1974) and for the view that understanding the natural world requires us to use a diversity of conceptual and representational systems that may not be strictly intertranslatable or capable of being put into the tight correspondence required by the older deductive paradigm of interlevel relations (Putnam 1975).
Economics is often cited as an example (Fodor 1974, Searle 1992). Economic facts may be realized by underlying physical processes, but no one seriously demands that we be able to deduce the relevant economic facts from detailed descriptions of their underlying physical bases or that we be able to put the concepts and vocabulary of economics in tight correspondence with those of the physical sciences.
Nonetheless our deductive inability is not seen as cause for ontological misgivings; there is no “money-matter” problem. All that we require is some general and less than deductive understanding of how economic properties and relations might be underlain by physical ones. Thus one might opt for a similar criterion for interpreting the How question and for what counts as explaining how consciousness might be caused or realized by nonconscious items. However, some critics, such as Kim (1987), have challenged the coherence of any view that aims to be both non-reductive and physicalist, though supporters of such views have replied in turn (Van Gulick 1993).
Others have argued that consciousness is especially resistant to explanation in physical terms because of the inherent differences between our subjective and objective modes of understanding. Thomas Nagel famously argued (1974) that there are unavoidable limits placed on our ability to understand the phenomenology of bat experience by our inability to empathetically take on an experiential perspective like that which characterizes the bat's echo-locatory auditory experience of its world. Given our inability to undergo similar experience, we can have at best partial understanding of the nature of such experience. No amount of knowledge gleaned from the external objective third-person perspective of the natural sciences will supposedly suffice to allow us to understand what the bat can understand of its own experience from its internal first-person subjective point of view.
5.4 Prospects of explanatory success
The How question thus subdivides into a diverse family of more specific questions depending upon the specific sort or feature of consciousness one aims to explain, the specific restrictions one places on the range of the explanans and the criterion one uses to define explanatory success. Some of the resulting variants seem easier to answer than others. Progress may seem likely on some of the so called “easy problems” of consciousness, such as explaining the dynamics of access consciousness in terms of the functional or computational organization of the brain (Baars 1988). Others may seem less tractable, especially the so-called “hard problem” (Chalmers 1995) which is more or less that of giving an intelligible account that lets us see in an intuitively satisfying way how phenomenal or “what it's like” consciousness might arise from physical or neural processes in the brain.
Positive answers to some versions of the How questions seem near at hand, but others appear to remain deeply baffling. Nor should we assume that every version has a positive answer. If dualism is true, then consciousness in at least some of its types may be basic and fundamental. If so,we will not be able to explain how it arises from nonconscious items since it simply does not do so.
One's view of the prospects for explaining consciousness will typically depend upon one's perspective. Optimistic physicalists will likely see current explanatory lapses as merely the reflection of the early stage of inquiry and sure to be remedied in the not too distant future (Dennett 1991, Searle 1992, P. M.Churchland 1995). To dualists, those same impasses will signify the bankruptcy of the physicalist program and the need to recognize consciousness as a fundamental constituent of reality in its own right (Robinson 1982, Foster 1989, 1996, Chalmers 1996). What one sees depends in part on where one stands, and the ongoing project of explaining consciousness will be accompanied by continuing debate about its status and prospects for success.
6. The functional question: Why does consciousness exist?
The functional or Why question asks about the value or role or consciousness and thus indirectly about its origin. Does it have a function, and if so what is it? Does it make a difference to the operation of systems in which it is present, and if so why and how? If consciousness exists as a complex feature of biological systems, then its adaptive value is likely relevant to explaining its evolutionary origin, though of course its present function, if it has one, need not be the same as that it may have had when it first arose. Adaptive functions often change over biological time. Questions about the value of consciousness also have a moral dimension in at least two ways. We are inclined to regard an organism's moral status as at least partly determined by the nature and extent to which it is conscious, and conscious states, especially conscious affective states such as pleasures and pains, play a major role in many of the accounts of value that underlie moral theory (Singer 1975).
As with the What and How questions, the Why question poses a general problem that subdivides into a diversity of more specific inquiries. In so far as the various sorts of consciousness, e.g., access, phenomenal, meta-mental, are distinct and separable—which remains an open question—they likely also differ in their specific roles and values. Thus the Why question may well not have a single or uniform answer.
6.1 Causal status of consciousness
Perhaps the most basic issue posed by any version of the Why question is whether or not consciousness of the relevant sort has any causal impact at all. If it has no effects and makes no causal difference whatsoever, then it would seem unable to play any significant role in the systems or organisms in which it is present, thus undercutting at the outset most inquiries about its possible value. Nor can the threat of epiphenomenal irrelevance be simply dismissed as an obvious non-option, since at least some forms of consciousness have been seriously alleged in the recent literature to lack causal status. (See the entry on epiphenomenalism.) Such worries have been raised especially with regard to qualia and qualitative consciousness (Huxley 1874, Jackson 1982, Chalmers 1996), but challenges have also been leveled against the causal status of other sorts including meta-mental consciousness (Velmans 1991).
Both metaphysical and empirical arguments have been given in support of such claims. Among the former are those that appeal to intuitions about the conceivability and logical possibility of zombies, i.e., of beings whose behavior, functional organization, and physical structure down to the molecular level are identical to those of normal human agents but who lack any qualia or qualitative consciousness. Some (Kirk 1970, Chalmers 1996) assert such beings are possible in worlds that share all our physical laws, but others deny it (Dennett 1991, Levine 2001). If they are possible in such worlds, then it would seem to follow that even in our world, qualia do not affect the course of physical events including those that constitute our human behaviors. If those events unfold in the same way whether or not qualia are present, then qualia appear to be inert or epiphenomenal at least with respect to events in the physical world. However, such arguments and the zombie intuitions on which they rely are controversial and their soundness remains in dispute (Searle 1992, Yablo 1998, Balog 1999).
Arguments of a far more empirical sort have challenged the causal status of meta-mental consciousness, at least in so far as its presence can be measured by the ability to report on one's mental state. Scientific evidence is claimed to show that consciousness of that sort is neither necessary for any type of mental ability nor does it occur early enough to act as a cause of the acts or processes typically thought to be its effects (Velmans 1991). According to those who make such arguments, the sorts of mental abilities that are typically thought to require consciousness can all be realized unconsciously in the absence of the supposedly required self-awareness.
Moreover, even when conscious self-awareness is present, it allegedly occurs too late to be the cause of the relevant actions rather than their result or at best a joint effect of some shared prior cause (Libet 1985). Self-awareness or meta-mental consciousness according to these arguments turns out to be a psychological after-effect rather than an initiating cause, more like a post facto printout or the result displayed on one's computer screen than like the actual processor operations that produce both the computer's response and its display.
Once again the arguments are controversial, and both the supposed data and their interpretation are subjects of lively disagreement (see Flanagan 1992, and commentaries accompanying Velmans 1991). Though the empirical arguments, like the zombie claims, require one to consider seriously whether some forms of consciousness may be less causally potent than is typically assumed, many theorists regard the empirical data as no real threat to the causal status of consciousness.
If the epiphenomenalists are wrong and consciousness, in its various forms, is indeed causal, what sorts of effects does it have and what differences does it make? How do mental processes that involve the relevant sort of consciousness differ form those that lack it? What function(s) might consciousness play? The following six sections (6.2–6.7) discuss some of the more commonly given answers. Though the various functions overlap to some degree, each is distinct, and they differ as well in the sorts of consciousness with which each is most aptly linked.
6.2 Flexible control
Increased flexibility and sophistication of control. Conscious mental processes appear to provide highly flexible and adaptive forms of control. Though unconscious automatic processes can be extremely efficient and rapid, they typically operate in ways that are more fixed and predetermined than those which involve conscious self-awareness (Anderson 1983). Conscious awareness is thus of most importance when one is dealing with novel situations and previously unencountered problems or demands (Penfield 1975, Armstrong 1981).
Standard accounts of skill acquisition stress the importance of conscious awareness during the initial learning phase, which gradually gives way to more automatic processes of the sort that require little attention or conscious oversight (Schneider and Shiffrin 1977). Conscious processing allows for the construction or compilation of specifically tailored routines out of elementary units as well as for the deliberate control of their execution.
There is a familiar tradeoff between flexibility and speed; controlled conscious processes purchase their customized versatility at the price of being slow and effortful in contrast to the fluid rapidity of automatic unconscious mental operations (Anderson 1983). The relevant increases in flexibility would seem most closely connected with the meta-mental or higher-order form of consciousness in so far as the enhanced ability to control processes depends upon greater self-awareness. However, flexibility and sophisticated modes of control may be associated as well with the phenomenal and access forms of consciousness.
6.3 Social coordination
Enhanced capacity for social coordination. Consciousness of the meta-mental sort may well involve not only an increase in self-awareness but also an enhanced understanding of the mental states of other minded creatures, especially those of other members of one's social group (Humphreys 1982). Creatures that are conscious in the relevant meta-mental sense not only have beliefs, motives, perceptions and intentions but understand what it is to have such states and are aware of both themselves and others as having them.
This increase in mutually shared knowledge of each other's minds, enables the relevant organisms to interact, cooperate and communicate in more advanced and adaptive ways. Although meta-mental consciousness is the sort most obviously linked to such a socially coordinative role, narrative consciousness of the kind associated with the stream of consciousness is also clearly relevant in so far as it involves the application to one's own case of the interpretative abilities that derive in part from their social application (Ryle 1949, Dennett 1978, 1992).
6.4 Integrated representation
More unified and densely integrated representation of reality. Conscious experience presents us with a world of objects independently existing in space and time. Those objects are typically present to us in a multi-modal fashion that involves the integration of information from various sensory channels as well as from background knowledge and memory. Conscious experience presents us not with isolated properties or features but with objects and events situated in an ongoing independent world, and it does so by embodying in its experiential organization and dynamics the dense network of relations and interconnections that collectively constitute the meaningful structure of a world of objects (Kant 1787, Husserl 1913, Campbell 1997).
Of course, not all sensory information need be experienced to have an adaptive effect on behavior. Adaptive non-experiential sensory-motor links can be found both in simple organisms, as well as in some of the more direct and reflexive processes of higher organisms. But when experience is present, it provides a more unified and integrated representation of reality, one that typically allows for more open-ended avenues of response (Lorenz 1977). Consider for example the representation of space in an organism whose sensory input channels are simply linked to movement or to the orientation of a few fixed mechanisms such as those for feeding or grabbing prey, and compare it with that in an organism capable of using its spatial information for flexible navigation of its environment and for whatever other spatially relevant aims or goals it may have, as when a person visually scans her office or her kitchen (Gallistel 1990).
It is representation of this latter sort that is typically made available by the integrated mode of presentation associated with conscious experience. The unity of experienced space is just one example of the sort of integration associated with our conscious awareness of an objective world. (See the entry on unity of consciousness.)
This integrative role or value is most directly associated with access consciousness, but also clearly with the larger phenomenal and intentional structure of experience. It is relevant even to the qualitative aspect of consciousness in so far as qualia play an important role in our experience of unified objects in a unified space or scene. It is intimately tied as well to the transparency of experience described in response to the What question, especially to semantic transparency (Van Gulick 1993). Integration of information plays a major role in several current neuro-cognitive theories of consciousness especially Global Workspace theories (see section 9.5) and Giulio Tononi's Integrated Information theory. (section 9.6 below).
6.5 Informational access
More global informational access. The information carried in conscious mental states is typically available for use by a diversity of mental subsystems and for application to a wide range of potential situations and actions (Baars 1988). Nonconscious information is more likely to be encapsulated within particular mental modules and available for use only with respect to the applications directly connected to that subsystem's operation (Fodor 1983). Making information conscious typically widens the sphere of its influence and the range of ways it which it can be used to adaptively guide or shape both inner and outer behavior. A state's being conscious may be in part a matter of what Dennett calls “cerebral celebrity”, i.e., of its ability to have a content-appropriate impact on other mental states.
This particular role is most directly and definitionally tied to the notion of access consciousness (Block 1995), but meta-mental consciousness as well as the phenomenal and qualitative forms all seem plausibly linked to such increases in the availability of information (Armstrong 1981, Tye 1985). Diverse cognitive and neuro-cognitive theories incorporate access as a central feature of consciousness and conscious processing. Global Workspace theories, Prinz's Attendend Intermediate Representation (AIR) (Prinz 2012) and Tononi's Integrated Information Theory (IIT) all distinguish conscious states and processes at least partly in terms of enhanced wide spread access to the state's content (See section 9.6)
6.6 Freedom of will
Increased freedom of choice or free will. The issue of free will remains a perennial philosophical problem, not only with regard to whether or not it exists but even as to what it might or should consist in (Dennett 1984, van Inwagen 1983, Hasker 1999, Wegner 2002). (See the entry on free will.) The notion of free will may itself remain too murky and contentious to shed any clear light on the role of consciousness, but there is a traditional intuition that the two are deeply linked.
Consciousness has been thought to open a realm of possibilities, a sphere of options within which the conscious self might choose or act freely. At a minimum, consciousness might seem a necessary precondition for any such freedom or self-determination (Hasker 1999). How could one engage in the requisite sort of free choice, while remaining solely within the unconscious domain? How can one determine one's own will without being conscious of it and of the options one has to shape it.
The freedom to chose one's actions and the ability to determine one's own nature and future development may admit of many interesting variations and degrees rather than being a simple all or nothing matter, and various forms or levels of consciousness might be correlated with corresponding degrees or types of freedom and self-determination (Dennett 1984, 2003). The link with freedom seems strongest for the meta-mental form of consciousness given its emphasis on self-awareness, but potential connections also seem possible for most of the other sorts as well.
6.7 Intrinsic motivation
Intrinsically motivating states. At least some conscious states appear to have the motive force they do intrinsically. In particular, the functional and motivational roles of conscious affective states, such as pleasures and pains, seem intrinsic to their experiential character and inseparable from their qualitative and phenomenal properties, though the view has been challenged (Nelkin 1989, Rosenthal 1991). The attractive positive motivational aspect of a pleasure seems a part of its directly experienced phenomenal feel, as does the negative affective character of a pain, at least in the case of normal non-pathological experience.
There is considerable disagreement about the extent to which the feel and motive force of pain can dissociate in abnormal cases, and some have denied the existence of such intrinsically motivating aspects altogether (Dennett 1991). However, at least in the normal case, the negative motivational force of pain seems built right into the feel of the experience itself.
Just how this might be so remains less than clear, and perhaps the appearance of intrinsic and directly experienced motivational force is illusory. But if it is real, then it may be one of the most important and evolutionarily oldest respects in which consciousness makes a difference to the mental systems and processes in which it is present (Humphreys 1992).
Other suggestions have been made about the possible roles and value of consciousness, and these six surely do not exhaust the options. Nonetheless, they are among the most prominent recent hypotheses, and they provide a fair survey of the sorts of answers that have been offered to the Why question by those who believe consciousness does indeed make a difference.
6.8 Constitutive and contingent roles
One further point requires clarification about the various respects in which the proposed functions might answer the Why question. In particular one should distinguish between constitutive cases and cases of contingent realization. In the former, fulfilling the role constitutes being conscious in the relevant sense, while in the latter case consciousness of a given sort is just one way among several in which the requisite role might be realized (Van Gulick 1993).
For example, making information globally available for use by a wide variety of subsystems and behavioral applications may constitute its being conscious in the access sense. By contrast, even if the qualitative and phenomenal forms of consciousness involve a highly unified and densely integrated representation of objective reality, it may be possible to produce representations having those functional characteristics but which are not qualitative or phenomenal in nature.
The fact that in us the modes of representation with those characteristics also have qualitative and phenomenal properties may reflect contingent historical facts about the particular design solution that happened to arise in our evolutionary ancestry. If so, there may be quite other means of achieving a comparable result without qualitative or phenomenal consciousness. Whether this is the right way to think about phenomenal and qualitative conscious is unclear; perhaps the tie to unified and densely integrated representation is in fact as intimate and constitutive as it seems to be in the case of access consciousness (Carruthers 2000). Regardless of how that issue gets resolved, it is important to not to conflate constitution accounts with contingent realization accounts when addressing the function of consciousness and answering the question of why it exists (Chalmers 1996).
7. Theories of consciousness
In response to the What, How and Why questions many theories of consciousness have been proposed in recent years. However, not all theories of consciousness are theories of the same thing. They vary not only in the specific sorts of consciousness they take as their object, but also in their theoretical aims.
Perhaps the largest division is between general metaphysical theories that aim to locate consciousness in the overall ontological scheme of reality and more specific theories that offer detailed accounts of its nature, features and role. The line between the two sorts of theories blurs a bit, especially in so far as many specific theories carry at least some implicit commitments on the more general metaphysical issues. Nonetheless, it is useful to keep the division in mind when surveying the range of current theoretical offerings.
8. Metaphysical theories of consciousness
General metaphysical theories offer answers to the conscious version of the mind-body problem, “What is the ontological status of consciousness relative to the world of physical reality?” The available responses largely parallel the standard mind-body options including the main versions of dualism and physicalism.
8.1 Dualist theories
Dualist theories regard at least some aspects of consciousness as falling outside the realm of the physical,but specific forms of dualism differ in just which aspects those are. (See the entry on dualism.)
Substance dualism, such as traditional Cartesian dualism (Descartes 1644), asserts the existence of both physical and non-physical substances. Such theories entail the existence of non-physical minds or selves as entities in which consciousness inheres. Though substance dualism is at present largely out of favor, it does have some contemporary proponents (Swinburne 1986, Foster 1989, 1996).
Property dualism in its several versions enjoys a greater level of current support. All such theories assert the existence of conscious properties that are neither identical with nor reducible to physical properties but which may nonetheless be instantiated by the very same things that instantiate physical properties. In that respect they might be classified as dual aspect theories. They take some parts of reality—organisms, brains, neural states or processes—to instantiate properties of two distinct and disjoint sorts: physical ones and conscious, phenomenal or qualitative ones. Dual aspect or property dualist theories can be of at least three different types.
Fundamental property dualism regards conscious mental properties as basic constituents of reality on a par with fundamental physical properties such as electromagnetic charge. They may interact in causal and law-like ways with other fundamental properties such as those of physics, but ontologically their existence is not dependent upon nor derivative from any other properties (Chalmers 1996).
Emergent property dualism treats conscious properties as arising from complex organizations of physical constituents but as doing so in a radical way such that the emergent result is something over and above its physical causes and is not a priori predictable from nor explicable in terms of their strictly physical natures. The coherence of such emergent views has been challenged (Kim 1998) but they have supporters (Hasker 1999).
Neutral monist property dualism treats both conscious mental properties and physical properties as in some way dependent upon and derivative from a more basic level of reality, that in itself is neither mental nor physical (Russell 1927, Strawson 1994). However, if one takes dualism to be a claim about there being two distinct realms of fundamental entities or properties, then perhaps neutral monism should not be classified as a version of property dualism in so far as it does not regard either mental or physical properties as ultimate or fundamental.
Panpsychism might be regarded as a fourth type of property dualism in that it regards all the constituents of reality as having some psychic, or at least proto-psychic, properties distinct from whatever physical properties they may have (Nagel 1979). Indeed neutral monism might be consistently combined with some version of panprotopsychism (Chalmers 1996) according to which the proto-mental aspects of micro-constituents can give rise under suitable conditions of combination to full blown consciousness. (See the entry on panpsychism.)
The nature of the relevant proto-psychic aspect remains unclear, and such theories face a dilemma if offered in hope of answering the Hard Problem. Either the proto-psychic properties involve the sort of qualitative phenomenal feel that generates the Hard Problem or they do not. If they do, it is difficult to understand how they could possibly occur as ubiquitous properties of reality. How could an electron or a quark have any such experiential feel? However, if the proto-psychic properties do not involve any such feel, it is not clear how they are any better able than physical properties to account for qualitative consciousness in solving the Hard Problem.
A more modest form of panpsychism has been advocated by the neuroscientist Giulio Tononi (2008) and endorsed by other neuroscientists including Christof Koch (2012). This version derives from Tononi's integrated information theory (IIT) of consciousness that identifies consciousness with integrated information which can exist in many degrees (see section 9.6 below). According to IIT, even a simple indicator device such as a single photo diode possesses some degree of integrated information and thus some limited degree of consciousness, a consequence which both Tononi and Koch embrace as a form of panpsychism.
A variety of arguments have been given in favor of dualist and other anti-physicalist theories of consciousness. Some are largelya priori in nature such as those that appeal to the supposed conceivability of zombies (Kirk 1970, Chalmers 1996) or versions of the knowledge argument (Jackson 1982, 1986) which aim to reach an anti-physicalist conclusion about the ontology of consciousness from the apparent limits on our ability to fully understand the qualitative aspects of conscious experience through third-person physical accounts of the brain processes. (See Jackson 1998, 2004 for a contrary view; see also entries on Zombies, and Qualia: The Knowledge Argument) Other arguments for dualism are made on more empirical grounds, such as those that appeal to supposed causal gaps in the chains of physical causation in the brain (Eccles and Popper 1977) or those based on alleged anomalies in the temporal order of conscious awareness (Libet 1982, 1985). Dualist arguments of both sorts have been much disputed by physicalists (P.S. Churchland 1981, Dennett and Kinsbourne 1992).
8.2 Physicalist theories
Most other metaphysical theories of consciousness are versions of physicalism of one familiar sort or another.
Eliminativist theories reductively deny the existence of consciousness or at least the existence of some of its commonly accepted sorts or features. (See the entry on eliminative materialism.) The radical eliminativists reject the very notion of consciousness as muddled or wrong headed and claim that the conscious/nonconscious distinction fails to cut mental reality at its joints (Wilkes 1984, 1988). They regard the idea of consciousness as sufficiently off target to merit elimination and replacement by other concepts and distinctions more reflective of the true nature of mind (P. S. Churchland 1983).
Most eliminativists are more qualified in their negative assessment. Rather than rejecting the notion outright, they take issue only with some of the prominent features that it is commonly thought to involve, such as qualia (Dennett 1990, Carruthers 2000), the conscious self (Dennett 1992), or the so called “Cartesian Theater” where the temporal sequence of conscious experience gets internally projected (Dennett and Kinsbourne 1992). More modest eliminativists, like Dennett, thus typically combine their qualified denials with a positive theory of those aspects of consciousness they take as real, such as the Multiple Drafts Model (section 9.3 below).
Identity theory, at least strict psycho-physical type-type identity theory, offers another strongly reductive option by identifying conscious mental properties, states and processes with physical ones, most typically of a neural or neurophysiological nature. If having a qualitative conscious experience of phenomenal red just is being in a brain state with the relevant neurophysiological properties, then such experiential properties are real but their reality is a straight forwardly physical reality.
Type-type identity theory is so called because it identifies mental and physical types or properties on a par with identifying the property of being water with the property of being composed of H2O molecules. After a brief period of popularity in the early days of contemporary physicalism during the 1950s and 60s (Place 1956, Smart 1959) it has been far less widely held because of problems such as the multiple realization objection according to which mental properties are more abstract and thus capable of being realized by many diverse underlying structural or chemical substrates (Fodor 1974, Hellman and Thompson 1975). If one and the same conscious property can be realized by different neurophysiological (or even non-neurophysiological) properties in different organisms, then the two properties can not be strictly identical.
Nonetheless the type-type identity theory has enjoyed a recent if modest resurgence at least with respect to qualia or qualitative conscious properties. This has been in part because treating the relevant psycho-physical link as an identity is thought by some to offer a way of dissolving the explanatory gap problem (Hill and McLaughlin 1998, Papineau 1995, 2003). They argue that if the conscious qualitative property and the neural property are identical, then there is no need to explain how the latter causes or gives rise to the former. It does not cause it, it is it. And thus there is no gap to bridge, and no further explanation is needed. Identities are not the sort of thing that can be explained, since nothing is identical with anything but itself, and it makes no sense to ask why something is identical with itself.
However, others contend that the appeal to type-type identity does not so obviously void the need for explanation (Levine 2001). Even if two descriptions or concepts in fact refer to one and the same property, one may still reasonably expect some explanation of that convergence, some account of how they pick out one and the same thing despite not initially or intuitively seeming to do so. In other cases of empirically discovered property identities, such as that of heat and kinetic energy, there is a story to be told that explains the co-referential convergence, and it seems fair to expect the same in the psycho-physical case. Thus appealing to type-type identities may not in itself suffice to dissolve the explanatory gap problem.
Most physicalist theories of consciousness are neither eliminativist nor based on strict type-type identities. They acknowledge the reality of consciousness but aim to locate it within the physical world on the basis of some psycho-physical relation short of strict property identity.
Among the common variants are those that take conscious reality to supervene