Consciousness and Criterion: On Block's Case for Unconscious Seeing

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Colleges, School and Institutes


Block (2012) highlights two experimental studies of neglect patients which, he contends, provide ‘dramatic evidence’ for unconscious seeing. In Block's hands this is the highly non-trivial thesis that seeing of the same fundamental kind as ordinary conscious seeing can occur outside of phenomenal consciousness. Block's case for it provides an excellent opportunity to consider a large body of research on clinical syndromes widely held to evidence unconscious perception. I begin by considering in detail the two studies of neglect to which Block appeals. I show why their interpretation as evidence of unconscious seeing faces a series of local difficulties. I then explain how, even bracketing these issues, a long-standing but overlooked problem concerning our criterion for consciousness problematizes the appeal to both studies. I explain why this problem is especially pressing for Block given his view that phenomenal consciousness overflows access consciousness. I further show that it is epidemic—not only affecting all report-based studies of unconscious seeing in neglect, but also analogous studies of the condition most often alleged to show unconscious seeing, namely blindsight.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)419-451
Number of pages33
JournalPhilosophy and Phenomenological Research
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 14 Aug 2015