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Michael Tye’s Precis of Ten Problems of Consciousness

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Philosophy
Wordcount: 1828 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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Panic over PANIC

 Several accounts of consciousness have attempted to close any epistemic and ontological gaps between the mental and physical realms. Michael Tye, a philosopher, believes a representational theory he concocted can bridge the gap. Representationalism is the belief that consciousness is made up of representational contents. The theory is named PANIC. In Kriegel’s opposition to the use of PANIC, he defines each part of PANIC (Poised, Abstract, Non-conceptual, Intentional Content) and then delves into the issues of each type of content and how PANIC concedes to functionalism more than representationalism. I hope by utilizing Kriegel’s essay to define PANIC theory and note the potential flaws in the theory proceeding forward. Kriegel’s essay will strengthen my argument that the flaws in Tye’s representational theory are evident.

  1. A Synopsis and Explanation of Michael Tye’s Precis of Ten Problems of Consciousness

 In Michael Tye’s Precis to the 10 Problems of Consciousness, Tye briefly introduces what he believes are 10 problems of consciousness, but the focal point of the essay is introducing his representationalist PANIC theory. PANIC theory was designed to answer the 10 problems he believes all theories of consciousness need to solve in order to be successful. I will define these terms shortly. Tye delves into the differences between basic perceptual experiences and beliefs. He believes the difference between the two is a sharp distinction to note one which challenges most representational theories and causes them to fail. In an overview, Tye believes phenomenal character, the “what it is like” aspect, is to be understood in nature of its representational contents. (Tye 197) For example, vision is our eyes representing shapes and lines into figures, furniture or another inanimate/animate objects. (Tye 198) This “what it is like” aspect, meaning phenomenal character, can be accounted for using Tye’s PANIC theory. PANIC theory, according to Michael Tye, is the necessary qualities mental states must have before being considered phenomenally conscious. He believes nothing can fulfill these requirements in accordance with his theory.

 I would now like to define key terms. The most important would have to be the acronym, PANIC. PANIC stands for necessary traits for an experience to be conscious: Poised, Abstract, Non-conceptual, Intentional Content. Tye believes any phenomenal character contains all the traits in the acronym. Poised means being readily available to the cognitive system to guide behavior. Basic perceptual experiences, when ready to form beliefs via higher-level cognitive systems, are considered poised. Abstract means that its content need not be present to represent a particular concrete object.  Non-conceptual refers to the fact that representational states do not have to have the concepts matching and intentional content is another word for representational content (Tye 198-202). For example, the reader smells a foul odor while reading this paper. The reader believes they smell a skunk. The content was poised because it was ready to guide you to believe the odor came from a skunk. The content was abstract because it did not require a skunk to be present for you to form the believe it was a skunk. The content of the experience is non-conceptual in the case it is your belief it is a skunk, but your concept of the event does not match its contents; meaning,  you believe it is a skunk you smell, but it is, in fact, the sweaty socks in the backseat of your car. Any experience containing all of these qualities is considered phenomenal. Tye believes any object satisfying PANIC’s requirements also satisfies the 10 problems of consciousness.

  1. The Disagreement: PANIC as a functional, not representational, theory

 In “PANIC theory and the prospects for a representational theory of phenomenal

Consciousness”, Uriah Kriegel address the faults he believes lie with PANIC. Kriegel believes Tye’s PANIC theory is a representational theory of mind disguised as functionalism when you define the key terms. Keep in mind functionalism is the belief that mental states are explained by their causal roles instead of whether they are comprised of physical/non-physical phenomena. (Alter & Howell 1)

 Kriegel also presents the PANIC Theory of Mind in a premise-conclusion form.

“(1) Two mental states S1 and S2 have different phenomenal character iff S1 and S2 have different PANICs; and, (2) S1 has a phenomenal character and S2 does not have a phenomenal character iff S1 has a PANIC and S2 does not have a PANIC.” (Kriegel 58) Kriegel states PANIC theory’s first premise as establishing two separate mental states, S1 and S2, as having different phenomenal characters if and only if S1 and S2’s PANICs are different and the second premise as establishing that S1 has a phenomenal character and S2 does not if and only if S1 has fulfilled the requirements of PANIC and S2 does not fulfill the requirements of PANIC. He believes Tye’s goal of establishing the first two premises was to lay a foundation for the argument that all phenomenal facts are representational. Kriegel then believes Tye’s argument rests on another 2 premises. “(3) For any states S1 and S2, the fact (when it is a fact) that S1 and S2 have different phenomenal characters is a fact about the representational properties of S1 and S2; and, (4) For any states S1 and S2, the fact (when it is a fact) that S1 does and S2 does not have phenomenal character at all is a fact about the representational properties of S1 and S2.” (Kriegel 56) For the third premise, Tye seeks to establish that if there is a difference in the phenomenal characters of S1 and S2, it is a fact about the representational properties of each. For the fourth, Tye states a lack of phenomenal character in S1 and S2 is also a fact about the representational properties of each significant state. Kriegel believes Michael Tye stretching too far to have premises 1-3 account for premise 4. (Kriegel 58) When reflecting on PANIC theory’s concepts and noting them as more functional than representational, premise 4 is unacceptable.

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   Kriegel defines PANIC in his own terms and explains why they are more functional than representational. Representationalism is the belief all mental facts are representational. (Kriegel 57). To Kriegel, an experience contains poised content if it plays a specific functional role in the creation of a belief or desire. An experience is abstract if only non-concrete entities can permeate it.  Non-conceptuality means our experiences do not have to match the concepts they represent. Kriegel believes intentional content is more complicated; he states Tye tries to define it parallel to how it is defined for propositional content.

  1. Explanation of the Flaws with PANIC Theory

 I believe Kriegel’s argument helps one see the deficits of PANIC theory and I see his argument as acceptable. Kriegel believes PANIC theory is inadequate and more functional than representational. When individually explaining PANIC’S concepts, Kriegel sees the ideals ‘abstractness’ and ‘intensionality’ as failing to account for the two distinct forms of mental properties. Abstract content is meant to cover the idea of misrepresentations. Misrepresentations occur when what one experiences is not what is directly in front of them. An example of misrepresentation might be a hallucination; PANIC, however, is non-conceptual and therefore non-propositional (Kriegel 59). Tye attempts to account for this shortcoming by using the notion of experiential intensionality. ‘Experiential intensionality’ is Tye’s idea of how intentional content in experiences is akin to analogous logical features (Kriegel 58). Kriegel believes that whether or not experiential intensionality works does not matter because the content of basic perceptual experiences and/or beliefs is still intensional in a propositional sense, not a non-propositional one. After establishing this, Kriegel discusses the concepts of “Poised” and “non-conceptuality.” An experience is poised, according to Tye, if the content is ready to influence beliefs or desire. Kriegel believes the mental state which carries the content may be poised, but not the content itself; he believes Tye has made a mistake. If what Kriegel says is true, then what “carries” the content is poised, which is a functional role, not a representational one; the same could be said of non-conceptuality.

  1. Concluding Remarks

 PANIC theory leaves room for doubt and unanswered questions once one receives an account for what each concept of PANIC means. Upon recalling the premise-conclusion argument explained earlier, I also see an issue with establishing premises 3 and 4 accurately. Premises 3 and 4 account for representational facts, but if PANIC is more functional in nature, one cannot accept all four of Tye’s premises. Kriegel attends to each concept of PANIC; he notes the concepts “poised” and “non-conceptual” as acceptable functional properties. Being poised can be seen as a functional property when what is poised is the mental state carrying specific content.  The concept of ‘non-conceptuality’ can also be a functional property. I believe Uriah Kriegel’s argument against the acceptance of PANIC as a valid argument.


  • Block, Ned. “Is Experiencing Just Re-Experiencing.” Consciousness and the Mind-Body Problem, Oxford University Press, 2011, pp. 203–207.
  • Kriegel, Uriah. “PANIC Theory and the Prospects for a Representational Theory of Phenomenal Consciousness.” Philosophical Psychology, vol. 15, no. 1, 2002, pp. 57–63. PhilPapers, doi:10.1080/09515080120109414
  • Levin, Janet. “Functionalism.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, The Metaphysics Research Lab Center for the Study of Language and Information Stanford University Stanford, CA 94305-4115 , 20 July 2018, plato.stanford.edu/entries/functionalism/.
  • Lycan, William. “Representational Theories of Consciousness.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, The Metaphysics Research Lab Center for the Study of Language and Information Stanford University Stanford, CA 94305-4115, 17 Apr. 2015, plato.stanford.edu/entries/consciousness-representational/.
  • Tye, Michael.  “Precis of Ten Problems of Consciousness.” Published in Consciousness and the Mind-Body Problem, Oxford University Press, 2012, pp. 197–203.


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