Philosophy of Perception
Philosophy of Mind
Department of Philosophy, Western University
Robert Foley is a philosopher with research interests in the areas of neuroscience, neuropsychology, and the philosophy of mind and perception. His current research is focused on experimental methodologies for the attribution of awareness of an object in the scientific study of consciousness. He is also interested in how results from lesion studies in neuropsychology can inform our understanding of the relationship between consciousness and intentional action. His research in this area focuses on blindsight and visual form agnosia. Robert’s work in these areas is motivated by the idea that careful philosophical analysis of empirical methodologies and data can yield important theoretical and experimental insights.
The question of which criteria justify the attribution consciousness of an object to a subject is of vital significance to both philosophical and empirical investigations of consciousness. Historically, both philosophical and empirical investigations recognise two broad approaches to attributing consciousness to a subject: behaviour and introspective report. While there are significant problems with the use of either of these criteria for the attribution of consciousness, introspective measures are often taken to be the ‘gold standard’ for the attribution of consciousness.
The preferencing of introspective report is often motivated by appeal to a dissociation between awareness and behavioural (e.g., above chance performance in forced choice detection or discrimination tasks) capacities in brain damaged subjects (e.g., blindsight and visual form agnosia) as well as normal subjects (e.g., meta-contrast masking). These cases have been said to undermine our intuitive understanding of the relationship between consciousness and action. However, with the exception of certain ‘intentional accounts’ that argue for the important relationship between spontaneous behaviour and consciousness, it is rarely considered whether a subset of more complex behavioural capacities can provide a criterion for the attribution of awareness.
My research involves developing an account on which if a subject exhibits the capacity to use information about an object to guide their goal-directed actions in an object appropriate and flexible fashion, they are conscious of that object. Defending this ‘flexible intentional’ sufficient criterion involves in-depth analysis of the philosophical and empirical literature for two broad lines of argumentation: a) That, following a broadly Rylean criteriological approach, flexible intentional action holds at least as strong an intuitive link to consciousness as introspective report. b) That this account is not undermined by the empirical literature on unconscious visual processing (e.g, blindsight, sleepwalking and absence seizures, meta-contrast masking, and the two-pathways hypothesis).
In addition, I am developing a series of experiments to test subjects (including hemianopes, neglect patients, and normals) for the dissociability of reportability and flexible intentional action.
In a broader context: Providing a behavioural criterion for the attribution of consciousness offers the potential for new discoveries regarding the partial accessibility of information to higher cortical functioning; the relationship between levels of consciousness and kinds of access; the reliability of introspection; and the different unity relations in consciousness. Much current thinking on these issues depends on research that is reliant on introspective report as the sole criterion for the attribution of consciousness, and can be further informed by the development of new methodologies. By addressing a fundamental assumption and relating it to the philosophical and empirical literature, my research seeks to make an important contribution to the scientific study of consciousness.
“Type-2 Blindsight, Self-Attribution and Qualia: a problem for qualia based accounts of blindsight.” Philosophical Writings, 2012.
Blindsight: A Doorway to Consciousness. (PhD. Dissertation. Supervisor: James O’Shea) An analysis of the significance of the psychological and neuroscientific literature for philosophical arguments about blindsight and its relation to questions about visual experience and consciousness.
The Case for Type-2 Blindsight as a Genuinely Visual Phenomenon. Type-2 Blindsight: empirical and philosophical perspectives (May, 2013).
Rethinking Blindsight. Trinity Metaphysical Society’s Annual Philosophy of Mind Symposium (2013).
The Complex Action Criterion for Consciousness. The Society for Philosophy and Psychology (June 2013).
Blind-Sight? Is Blindsight a Genuinely Perceptual Phenomenon? Vision(s) TCD/UCD Philosophy and Literature Symposium (2013).
Grasping the Horns of the Neural Correlates of Consciousness. Consciousness and Volition, First Cognitive Science Conference, Krakow (2012).
The Two-Pathways Hypothesis and the Assumption of Experience Based Control.
European Society for Philosophy and Psychology (2012).
TV Watching Zombies: the two-pathways hypothesis and the contents of experience. Perception and Action workshop, Dublin (2012).
Type-2 Blindsight, Self-Attribution and Qualia. The British Postgraduate Philosophy Association. Reading (2011).
Blindsight Unbound. Joint session, Joint Sessions of the American and European Societies for Philosophy and Psycholgy. Montreal (2011).
X-ing Williamson’s Phi. UBC Graduate Colloquium (2010).
The Curious Case of a Blind Man Walking. Joint Session, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society (2010).
University College Dublin
Phil.20370: Reading seminar on the problem of other minds and folk psychology.
Philosophy of Language: A final year course focusing on analytic philosophy of language in the twentieth century.
Philosophy of Science. A second year course, focusing on major issues in the philosophy of science. Using Curd & Cover Philosophy of Science (1998) as the core text.
Philosophy of Truth. A final year course, focusing on Wolfgang Kunne’s Conceptions of Truth.
Philosophy of Mind. A final year course, focusing on contemporary issues in the philosophy of mind.
Introduction to the Problems of Philosophy. A first year course, focusing on Knowledge, Ethics, Scepticism and Freewill.
Hume and Kant. A second year course, focusing on Hume’s ‘Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding’ and Kant’s ‘Critique of Pure Reason.’
Rathmines Community College
The End of Thought: Introduction to the history of western philosophical thought through key philosophical problems: knowledge, personal identity, consciousness, freewill and morality.