As I emphasized on Wednesday, phenomenal concepts are, in a sense, private. They are acquaintance-based indexicals that aren’t governed by any set of public norms, and which don’t defer to the expertise of others. Nor do they make any commitment to the underlying nature of the states referred to. When attempting to project one of those concepts into the mind of another creature, then, one is asking whether the mind of that creature contains the same sort of introspected feel as this. If “same sort” here picked out a distinctive kind of property—a quale—then the truth-condition for the thought would be clear. But given that there are no qualia, the truth-condition becomes problematic. In effect, it concerns what would become of the dispositions underlying one’s own use of “this sort” if they were instantiated in the mind of the creature in question. But that will require us to suppose that the mind of that creature is quite other than it is.
Consider an analogy. Suppose that while visiting a neighborhood in a city to which one is relocating one exclaims, “This is the sort of neighborhood where we should live!” In the case I envisage, there is no single property of the neighborhood that underlies one’s use of “this sort”. There might be a confluence of factors that one has only partial awareness of, and which one couldn’t articulate. Notice that there is a sense in which one’s use of “this sort” here is “private”, not governed by any public norms, and not deferring to the usage of others. But now consider another neighborhood in the same city and ask, “Is that neighborhood, too, of this sort?” What fixes the truth conditions for a correct answer? I suggest this: that if someone with the exact same dispositions-to-judge that underlay one’s judgment about the initial neighborhood were to be exposed to the second, then they would judge that it, too, is of that sort.
Likewise, then, when we ask about the truth condition for the statement, “The mind of the monkey contains a state of this sort” (where “this sort” reflects use of a first-person phenomenal concept). The truth condition will be that if the dispositions underlying my use of the first-person concept were to be instantiated in the mind of the monkey, then they would issue in a judgment that there is a mental state of just that sort. But the antecedent of this counterfactual requires us to suppose that the mind of the monkey is quite other than it is. It requires us to suppose a mind that is capable of explicit, reflective, higher-order thinking about its own nonconceptual states. But our original question, of course, was about the mind of the monkey as it actually is. And with respect to that, the proffered counterfactual is unevaluable. To evaluate it, we have to go to a different world, a world in which monkey minds are much more similar to human ones than they actually are.
So there is no fact of the matter about states like this (phenomenal consciousness) in animals. (Nor in human infants, come to that.) But the fact that there is no fact of the matter doesn’t matter. For there is no real property to be inquired about, beyond nonconceptual content that gives rise to zombie thought experiments and such-like in humans. There are many facts to be learned about animal minds (and infant minds) and the extent of their resemblances to and differences from the adult human mind. Once we know all that, there is nothing more to know.