I haven’t posted here much since I started Philosophy Sucks! but I wanted to discuss something that was brought up on this blog a while back and so I thought I’d do it here (though I have talked about it before, to a different end).
In consciousness studies there are two claims which are appealed to over and over again known as Transparency and Transitivity.
Transitivity– A conscious mental state is a mental state that I am conscious of myself as being in
Transparency– When I have a conscious mental state all I am conscious of is what the mental state represents
These two claims are often thought to be incompatible. In fact which one one finds more plausible is usually thought to determine whether you like (first-order) representational theories of consciousness like Tye and Dretske or higher-order theories of consciousness like Rosenthal and Lycan. In fact Tye has use transparency to argu that higher-order theories must be wrong.
But if David Rosenthal’s version of higher-order theory is right then it actually predicts that it will seem to us that transparency is true. Consider the following passage from Consciousness and Mind
When one has a thought that one’s own experience visually represents a red physical object, that thought need not be in any way consciously inferential or based on theory; it might well be independent of any inference of which one is conscious. From a first person point of view, any such thought would seem unmediated and spontaneous. And it is the having of just such thoughts that makes one conscious of one’s experiences. Such a thought, morover, by representing the experience as itself visually representing a red physical object, makes one conscious of the experience as being of the type that qualitatively represents red objects. And being an experience of that type simply is having the relevant mental quality. So, being conscious of oneself as having a sensation of that type is automatically being consciousof oneself as having a sensation with the quality of mental red, and thus of the mental quality itself. (p. 119)According to Rosenthal the higher-order state makes us conscious of the first-order state in a particular way; namely as being an experience of red. So it will seem to us that all we are conscious of is the redness of the experience even though we are in fact conscious of the experience.
Now one may very well object that transparency says that we are actually only conscious of what the experience is of NOT that it seems to us that we are only so conscious. True. But the only reason we are ever given in support of transparency is that that is how it seems to us. So if we have an alternative account of why it seems that way to us (via transitivity) then we need another reason to believe transparency.
So transitivity is compatible with a weaker version of transparency, i.e. the claim that transparency makes seems true, is faithful to our experience, or whatever and that all we have evidence for in the first place. I don’t see how a similar story would work going the other way and since both seem to be intuitively true, transitivity is better.