Vagueness and the Evolution of Consciousness: Through the Looking Glass

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2022.07.06 : View this Review Online | View Recent NDPR Reviews

Michael Tye, Vagueness and the Evolution of Consciousness: Through the Looking Glass, Oxford University Press, 2021, 134pp., $35.00 (hbk), ISBN 9780198867234.

Reviewed by David Papineau, King’s College London/Graduate Center, City University of New York

Is consciousness vague? It is certainly sometimes difficult to decide which creatures are conscious. Take earthworms. They move around purposefully all right. Yet they have rudimentary nervous systems and a narrow repertoire of behaviours. Who is to say whether they are conscious or not? Or consider the fast-advancing world of linguistically intelligent computer bots. I don’t expect it to be long before serious commentators start disagreeing on whether some of these artificial systems qualify as conscious beings, without any obvious way of resolving the question.

Still, is it consciousness itself that is indeterminate, or just our ability to decide about it? It isn’t easy to make sense of the idea that consciousness itself is vague. Either the light is on, we…

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