Behavioral and Brain Sciences

Continuing Commentary
Ned Block (1995). On a confusion about a function of consciousness. BBS 18:227–287.

Consciousness as a social construction

Martin Kurthen a1, Thomas Grunwald a1 and Christian E. Elger a1
a1 Department of Epileptology, University of Bonn, D-53105 Bonn, Germany


If the explanatory gap between phenomenal consciousness (“p-consciousness”) and the brain cannot be closed by current naturalistic theories of mind, one might instead try to dissolve the explanatory gap problem. We hold that such a dissolution can start from the notion of consciousness as a social construction. In his target article, however, Block (1995) argues that the thesis that consciousness is a social construction is trivially false if it is construed to be about phenomenal consciousness. He ridicules the idea that the occurrence of p-consciousness requires that the subject of p-consciousness already have the concept of p-consciousness. This idea is not as ridiculous as Block supposes. To see this, one must accept that in a unique sense, p-consciousness is what we as the subjects of consciousness take it to be. Furthermore, the notion of consciousness as a social construction does not depend on the view that the concept of consciousness somehow precedes the occurrence of consciousness as such. In sum, consciousness can plausibly be seen as a social construction, and this view can promote a dissolution of the explanatory gap problem.