Theories of Consciousness, Philosophical Replication and Inferring to the Best Explanation on the Bases of Empirical Support Asger Kirkeby-Hinrup (Department of Philosophy, University of Lund, Lund, Scania, Sweden) P1
The explosive evolution of neuroscience and cognitive science in the recent decades has opened the door for developing and comparing theories of consciousness from a new, viz. empirical, perspective. Claiming support from the empirical domain is a growing practice especially in debates between competing theories of consciousness. Similarly, contesting claims of empirical support or debunking empirically based criticism, or arguing against philosophical claims on empirical grounds is becoming increasingly popular. A central assumption driving this empirical turn, is that the more empirical evidence a particular theory can explain, the better it fares when weighed against competitors. By showing that a philosophical hypothesis can account for a wide range of empirical data, the suggestion is that this hypothesis is the best explanation overall. This can viewed as a variant of the classical notion inference to the best explanation. I present a rational reconstruction of the process of inferring to the best explanation when it is applied to competing theories of consciousness based on their respective empirical support. The process consists in four phases: Assimilate, Compile, Validate, and Compare. The assimilation phase consists in the proponents of each theory assimilating empirical evidence they think supports their theory. Assimilation, by and large, makes up the vast majority work carried out up until now by participants in the debate. The compilation phase consists in compiling every piece of empirical support claimed by each of the theories. The validation phase of inferring to the best explanation on the bases of empirical support consists in assessing each piece of empirical evidence claimed by each of the competing theories with the aim of validating, correcting or rejecting it on a case by case basis. Finally, with the empirical support of each theory compiled and validated, the fourth phase is comparing the theories on the bases of their respective empirical support. Given that the assimilation phase is already well under way, and the comparison phase still too far into the future, I focus on the compilation and validation phases. With respect to the former, I present novel work in relation to the so-called recurrency theories. With respect to the latter, I introduce the notion of philosophical replication, and argue that it has a crucial role to play in the interdisciplinary work on consciousness. Philosophical replication has counterparts in the notion of replication in empirical sciences and fact checking in public discourse. Like its extra-disciplinary counterparts, this has received relatively little attention. Briefly, neglecting the validation phase is detrimental to the overarching project of understanding consciousness through application of empirical data to philosophical theory, as well as the particular debates in which the arguments figure. To move forward philosophical debates through the application of empirical evidence, philosophical replication is necessary to validate the specific instances of application, and the overall methodology. Absent validation, any comparison of theories based on empirical plausibility will be contentious, and it remains unclear how empirical evidence can move forward a debate, let alone allow an inference to the best explanation.