Article Summary: “On a confusion about a function of consciousness”

This essay is a summary of Ned Block’s article ‘’Confusion about Consciousness’’ and was submitted as an assignment for my course PHIL 417: Philosophy of Mind/Nature of Consciousnes, during the 2018 Spring Term.

“Confusion about Consciousness,” is an article written by Ned Block that discusses the existence of a confusion regarding the function of consciousness. Block claims that consciousness is a hybrid concept which includes two types of consciousnesses: phenomenal consciousness and access-consciousness –a term created by Ned Block.

The article is consisted of seven sections. In introduction, Block introduces the aim of the article and underlines the confusion regarding the function of consciousness. The confusion is exemplified by a case where blind-sighted patients are shown certain objects. Results of these experiments showed that these patients are good at guessing the objects‘ form, motion, and location. He quotes from Barrs, Flanagani Marceli, and van Gulick; concluding that because in blindsight there is no consciousness, it must have a function of “enabling information represented in the brain to be used in reasoning, reporting, and rationally guiding action” (p. 228). He presents a second argument that suggests consciousness has to do with flexibility and creativity, and that its function is to support them. This argument is concluded based upon observations of epileptics who have seizures during mechanical or creative actions, such as driving or playing the piano. It‘s been observed that during the seizures, people continued their actions. The article is built upon these two arguments.

The second part continues with the presentation of Schacter’s model. This model holds importance, since it’s what Block uses to support the idea that access-consciousness is related with reasoning and guided action, and that it contrasts with phenomenal consciousness.

In the third part, Block mainly criticizes the concept of phenomenal consciousness which is simply explained as the state of wakefulness, because that kind of consciousness actually includes numerous consciousnesses. He defines it –which he calls P-consciousness- as experiences that include sensations like tasting and seeing. He sees these kinds of properties different from cognitive processes that include properties like thinking and rationality. And because a distinction is not presented clearly, we often tend to confuse P-consciousness with something else.

In the fourth part, the author explains what A-consciousness is. He suggests a state is access consciousness if it is used for reasoning, rational control of action, and rational control of speech. The article continues to examine models and the differences between P-consciousness and A-consciousness in the subparts. If, the author concludes, we are able to make the correct distinctions, we can examine the concept more clearly and will, at the end, be able to come to agreed-upon conclusions.


Block, N. (1995). On a confusion about a function of consciousness. Brain and Behavioral Sciences, 18, pp. 227-287.