Having waded through a fair few more substantial and abstruse tomes on the philosophy of consciousness I was expecting this short little book, with its rather big writing, to be a bit of light relief and a relative pushover. In fact I was sufficiently wrong to be obliged around half way through the first reading to start the book again, adopting a more respectful attitude. Like many Open University books its main text is a commentary constructed around a series of readings, located at the rear of the book, taken from prominent authors in the field. Starting with deceptive simplicity, the readings become rapidly more demanding, and the discussion requires one to scrutinise them very carefully and to give a thorough consideration of one's own position with regard to the issues raised. The book achieves its admirable brevity and conciseness by keeping to an absolute minimum the mass of data from the mind sciences that usually accompanies such discussions. This is not a failing, as it leaves one well placed to approach the science data in subsequent reading, and simplifies the discussion to reveal the bare bones of the landscape of the current debate. As such, this book is one that will repay multiple readings for anyone who wants to get the topography and taxonomy of the debate firmly laid down as a basis for more advanced study.
The book is in five chapters. The first is easy enough, with the various modern common usages of the term 'consciousness' being disentangled, and the most problematic one, that of phenomenal consciousness, identified in a rough and ready way. The second chapter bypasses the traditional waffle on Cartesian substance dualism and goes straight for the more recent position of naturalistic property dualism, examining the Knowledge Argument as propounded by Frank Jackson with the help of Mary the colour scientist, and the Conceivability Argument of David Chalmers (following Kripke) and his zombies. The third chapter gives us the responses of the mainstream physicalists to the property dualists. Against the Knowledge Argument we have Dennett's general cautions on thought experiments, David Lewis's ability argument and Michael Tye's perspectivalism. Against conceivability we have Dennett and his zimbos. The pros and cons of all these positions are explored. Chapter three finishes with a look at the subtleties of Levine's explanatory gap, at which point the book is probably at its most demanding. Chapter four on representationalism was for me the most enjoyable, and one that clarified a number of positions I had encountered elsewhere in my reading. It begins with Tye's exposition of first order representational or FOR theory. This is followed by the rather more tricky account of David Rosenthal's higher order thought or HOT variation of higher order representationalism or HOR theory. I found myself getting quite agitated by Rosenthal's confusing and often perverse terminology, but eventually came to see that, while I didn't find his theory convincing, (when is a thought not a thought?), it certainly raised difficult questions that demand answers. The fifth chapter is the shortest and is entirely devoted to the ideas propounded by Dennett in his (in)famous Consciousness Explained and the controversial and highly counterintuitive eliminativist conclusions he draws.
The author, Keith Frankish, whoever he is, is to be praised for having marshalled this diverse and difficult material into such a concise and incisive format.