Dr Ole Koksvik

Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Department of Philosophy, University of Bergen

The Department of Philosophy is hosting two workshops on consciousness in August, 2013: koksvik.net/ws.


ole.koksvik [at] gmail.com or fof.uib.no

Doctoral Dissertation

  • Intuition [Abstract] [5p summary] [pdf] [pdf - links in colour]
    Accepted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy with no revisions.
    • In this thesis I seek to advance our understanding of what intuitions are. I argue that intuitions are experiences of a certain kind. In particular, they are experiences with representational content, and with a certain phenomenal character.
    • In Chapter 1 I identify our target and provide some important preliminaries. Intuitions are mental states, but which ones? Giving examples helps: a person has an intuition when it seems to her that torturing the innocent is wrong, or that if something is red it is coloured. We can also provide an initial characterisation of the state by saying that it has representational content, often causes belief, and appears to justify belief. In addition, there is something it is like to have an intuition: intuition has a certain phenomenal character.
    • Some argue that intuition does not explain anything which cannot be explained by other mental states. One version of this view takes intuition to reduce to belief. In Chapter 2 I argue that this entails that agents are rationally criticisable in situations where we know they are not, and that such views are therefore untenable. A parallel argument shows that the corresponding approach to perception fails. This suggests a similarity in nature: both intuition and perception are experiences.
    • Others take intuition to reduce to a disposition to have a belief. In Chapter 3 I consider a line of argument against such views, find it unsuccessful, and present two new arguments. One is likely to be dialectically ineffective. The other suffers no such weakness: it shows that the proposed reduction fails. As before, the argument also applies to perception, and suggests that intuition and perception are both experiences.
    • In the remainder of the thesis I develop an account of intuition as an experience. I distinguish between content-specific and attitude-specific phenomenology, and argue that intuition lacks the former (Chapter 4), but has the latter (Chapter 5). This allows us to say what intuition is: it is is an experience with representational content and with attitude-specific phenomenology of a certain kind.
    • In Chapter 6 I put this account of intuition to use. When a person has a perceptual or intuitional experience, I argue that simply having the experience is what makes the subject justified in believing what the experience represents. Moreover, what explains that intuition and perception can justify belief in this way is precisely their phenomenal character.

Published Papers

  • Intuition and Conscious Reasoning [Abstract] [pdf]
    • Forthcoming in The Philosophical Quarterly.
    • This paper argues that, contrary to common opinion, intuition can result from conscious reasoning. It also discusses why this matters.
  • Metaphysics of Consciousness [Abstract] [www]
    • In A Companion to Philosophy in Australia and New Zealand.
    • Australasian philosophers have made important contributions to the philosophical understanding of consciousness in many areas. This entry is exclusively concerned with the philosophical treatment of certain metaphysical questions about consciousness, in the analytic tradition, and in particular with the questions: what kind of thing is consciousness, and how does it fit in with the rest of the world?
  • Conservation of Energy is Relevant to Physicalism [Abstract] [pdf]
    • In Dialectica 61(4), 573 - 582.
    • I argue against Barbara Montero's claim that Conservation of Energy (CoE) has nothing to do with physicalism. I reject her reconstruction of the argument for physicalism from CoE, and offer an alternative reconstruction that better captures the intuitions of those who believe that there is a conflict between interactionist dualism and CoE.

Papers under review

  • Phenomenal Contrast: A Critique [Abstract] [pdf]
    • Phenomenal experience is important to us at a personal level: we care greatly about the character of our experiences. Phenomenal experience is also important in our attempts to find out about the world, it plays important roles in many philosophical theories, for example.
    • A lot hinges on subtle details about what, exactly, the character of our phenomenal experience is. Unfortunately, we lack good methods for answering such questions. While phenomenal experience seems to have the potential for important insights in a wide range of areas, there is a real danger that all this potential will fail to be realised.
    • In recent years an optimistic consensus has begun to arise, according to which use of phenomenal contrast can provide answers about the character of experience. Against the growing consensus I argue that important facts about human mental lives systematically block a large class of uses of phenomenal contrast from achieving their aim. These minimal pair arguments therefore fail, quite generally. If the arguments presented are successful, the growing optimistic consensus is to a large extent unwarranted.
  • Intuition, Belief and Rational Criticisability [Abstract] [pdf]
    • Can intuition be reduced to belief? That an agent who intuits that p sometimes believes that p is false is often thought to demonstrate that it cannot. I show that this case is inconclusive, but also that a rigorous argument for the same conclusion can be rebuilt using the notion of rational criticisability. Reductionist accounts entail that agents are rationally criticisable in cases when we know they are not. They are therefore untenable. Interestingly, the considerations that show this are are precisely parallel to those that show that attempts to reduce perception to belief fail. Using the notion of rational criticisability I show that an intuition that p is also not reducible to the acquisition of a belief that p, to a partial belief that p, or to the acquisition of a partial belief that p. Most significantly, however, we can also show that neither intuition nor perception is reducible to a belief that q, for any q. This, I argue, suggests lessons about the nature of intuition, perception, and the mind generally.

Works in progress

  • Single Author
  • The Phenomenal Character of Intuition and Perception [Abstract]
    • Based on Chapter 5 of my doctoral dissertation, this paper explores similarities in the phenomenal character between intuition and perception. At issue is attitude-specific phenomenology: aspects of phenomenal character that are in common between different instances of the same propositional attitude (or other type of mental state), but which can differ between different attitudes.
    • I argue that intuition and perception both have phenomenology of objectivity: the phenomenal character an experience has when the fact that it purports to be about subject-independent facts is itself an aspect of the experience. Not only can we recognise this aspect of the character of intuitional and perceptual experience, but it also explains features of the content of these experiences, and it explains the transparency of perceptual experience.
    • Intuition and perception also both have phenomenology of pushiness: the phenomenal character an experience has when the fact that it pushes its subject to accept its content is itself an aspect of the attitude-specific character of the experience. Not only can we recognise this aspect of the character of intuitional and perceptual experience, but it also explains why perception and intuition appear to inform the subject about the ways things are.
    • This account answers what I call the absent experience challenge against intuition: the clam that in the case of intuition, no experience is even a candidate to play the role of justifying belief which perceptual experience is often thought to play in the case of perception. The account also explains why the challenge was raised in the first place: those who raise it—among them, Ernest Sosa and Timothy Williamson—do so because they are looking for an experience with content-specific phenomenology. Unlike perception, intuition does not have such phenomenology. But it does have attitude-specific phenomenology, and so qualifies as an experience, properly speaking.
  • Phenomenology of Objectivity Explains Transparency [Abstract]
    • In recent years, an alleged feature of perceptual experience described as its 'transparency' has received much attention. This can be taken to be a fact either about attention, or about awareness.
    • Construed as a fact about attention, I take the transparency datum to be that focusing attention on features of experiences apparently does not come easily, and that it often appears to us that we focus attention on features of experiences by focusing attention on something else, namely on that which we experience. Taken as a fact about awareness I construe the transparency datum to be that awareness of features of our experiences apparently does not come easily, and that we are apparently usually aware principally of features of that which we experience.
    • Phenomenology of objectivity is the phenomenal character an experience has when the fact that it purports to be about subject-independent facts is itself an aspect of the experience. I argue that on either interpretation of what transparency is, the fact that perception has phenomenology of objectivity explains the datum.
  • Liberalism about Intuition [Abstract]
    • Based on Chapter 6 of my doctoral dissertation, this paper is about liberalism for intuition. Liberalism is the position that, when certain necessary conditions are met, a subject having an intuitional experience is what makes her justified in believing the content of the experience. I argue that reflection on the phenomenal character of intuition and perception makes it clear that these two are on a par with respect to liberalism, and, moreover, that liberalism should be accepted in both cases.
    • I also briefly discuss the view that, aside from defeaters being absent, there are no further necessary conditions (a view often called dogmatism), and argue that some of the prominent objections to this view fail.
  • The Composition Question for Phenomenal Experience [Abstract]
    • At any given time, a person's global (or overall) phenomenal experience has a certain particular character. Some mental states also have phenomenology: there is something it is like to have a throbbing headache, and something different it is like to taste an apple. When a person is in such a state, this makes a difference to the character of her overall experience. But exactly what kind of difference? How does overall experience arise out of individual conscious experiences? Answering this composition question will be crucial to understanding the role of phenomenal experience in a range of areas, for example in representation, justification, and in general in human rational and moral agency.
    • In this paper I develop a set of constraints on acceptable answers to this question, and apply them to different models of how the composition takes place. For example: I know what it is like to have a headache, so acceptable answers must render this fact intelligible.
    • The dominant view—often implicitly rather than reflectively endorsed—is that the character of overall experience results from simple 'addition' of individual experiences. On this view, overall experience can be understood as a mosaic onto which tiles of different colours are placed; red for headache, blue for tasting an apple, etc. If a person has a headache at two different times, on this view it is guaranteed that the character of her overall phenomenal experience will be exactly similar in at least some respect: the mosaic will contain a red region each time.
    • There are other possible views, however. Each mental state might instead be associated with a colour determinable, for example, in such a way that which determinate colour goes onto the mosaic depends on which other mental states are instantiated at the time. This view guarantees similarity between instantiations of the same mental state, but not exact similarity: there will be a red region each time, but the shade may vary.
    • Finally, overall experience might instead be like a pool of water, into which a vial of powder is poured whenever a certain mental state is instantiated. The powder colours the water through a chemical reaction, and different powders colour the water in different ways. This view does not guarantee similarity in any respect between different times when a particular mental state is instantiated: the pool may not even contain the same colour determinable from instance to instance.
    • Having discussed which model is recommended by the list of constraints, I end by tracing the consequences of accepting the preferred model for the role of phenomenal experience in various domains of philosophical inquiry.
  • Co-authored
  • Conscious Belief (with Dr Tang) [Abstract]
    • The class of conscious beliefs is often treated as uniform and well understood. We argue, however, that many different kinds of mental states answer to the term—states which have importantly different properties, and which can play very different theoretical roles.
  • Against Practice Dependence (with Dr Southwood) [Abstract]
    • We consider whether answers to moral questions can correctly be seen to hinge on actual practice—on what moral agents actually do—and present arguments for a negative conclusion.
  • Global Poverty and the Petroleum Fund (with Dr Øverland) [Abstract]
    • The Norwegian Petroleum Fund is a very large sovereign wealth fund—it is currently valued at around 558 billion US dollars—which is owned by the Norwegian people. The fund has attracted some attention from moral philosophers, but most of it has been focused on questions such as what the fund's responsibility is to avoid investing in companies with unsafe working practices or child labour. Very little attention has been paid to the question of whether the fund is even morally legitimate to begin with: whether it is legitimate for the Norwegian people to save this money for future generations of Norwegians, when there are so many people currently living who suffer severe deprivation.
    • We argue that very weak formulations of Peter Singer's principle of assistance—formulations that it is very difficult to reject—force the conclusion that the Norwegian people are morally obliged to spend most of the wealth in the fund on poverty eradication.
  • Is Profiting from Poverty Illicit? (with Dr Øverland) [Abstract]
    • We consider whether and under what conditions it is morally illicit to profit from poverty. We argue, first, that when profit counterfactually depends on poverty in certain ways, there is a very strong case for subjecting that profit to further scrutiny. Second, we argue that in many cases the agent making the profit is morally obliged to relinquish it, either by changing her behaviour (so that she no longer profits), or by redirecting the funds to other agents. Finally, we argue that the people to whom the profit should be redirected are those on whom it counterfactually depends.

Masters Thesis

  • In Defence of Interactionism [pdf]

I am Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Bergen. Previously I was a postdoc at The Australian National University, and before that I was a doctoral candidate there. My principal supervisor was David Chalmers.

Prior to arriving in Canberra, I completed a Master of Arts and an Honours degree in philosophy at Monash University. I did my undergrad in Bergen.
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I carry out research both in philosophy of mind, and in global justice. In the former area I concentrate on conscious experience, especially on its role in human rationality. In my doctoral dissertation I argue that intuition is a type of experience, and that having such an experience can justify belief in its content for precisely the same reason as why perceptual experience justifies belief.

In global justice I focus on the obligations of the affluent to the global poor. Central questions are whether associative duties justify giving priority to compatriots over the greater need of the distant needy (and if so, to what degree), and whether certain business relationships give rise to significant obligations to alleviate poverty.

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