~ Instead of Qualia

Instead of Qualia

in Consciousness in Philosophy and Cognitive Neuroscience, A. Revonsuo & M. Kamppinen, eds., Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1994.

Daniel C. Dennett

Instead of QualiaEndnote 1

Philosophers have adopted various names for the things in the beholder (or properties of the beholder) that have been supposed to provide a safe home for the colors and the rest of the properties that have been banished from the "external" world by the triumphs of physics: "raw feels", "sensa", "phenomenal qualities" "intrinsic properties of conscious experiences" "the qualitative content of mental states" and, of course, "qualia," the term I will use. There are subtle differences in how these terms have been defined, but I'm going to ride roughshod over them. I deny that there are any such properties. But I agree wholeheartedly that there seem to be.

There seem to be qualia, because it really does seem as if science has shown us that the colors can't be out there, and hence must be in here. Moreover, it seems that what is in here can't just be the judgments we make when things seem colored to us. Don't our internal discriminative states also have some special "intrinsic" properties, the subjective, private,

ineffable, properties that constitute the way things look to us (sound to us, smell to us, etc.)? Those additional properties would be the qualia, and before looking at the arguments philosophers have devised in an attempt to prove that there are these additional properties, I will try to remove the motivation for believing in these properties in the first place, by finding alternative explanations for the phenomena that seem to demand them. Then the systematic flaws in the attempted proofs will be readily visible.

(The whole paper is now available in Daniel Dennett, Brainchildren, Essays on Designing Minds, MIT Press and Penguin, 1998.)


1. Portions of this essay are drawn from Consciousness Explained, 1991, "Lovely and Suspect Qualities," 1992, and Ornstein, R., & Thompson, R.F. The Amazing Brain, 1984.