The Ins and Outs of Conscious Belief

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What should advocates of phenomenal intentionality say about unconscious intentional states? I approach this question by focusing on a recent debate between Tim Crane and David Pitt about the nature of belief. Crane argues that beliefs are never conscious. Pitt, concerned that the phenomenal intentionality thesis coupled with a commitment to beliefs as essentially unconscious embroils Crane in positing unconscious phenomenology, or qualia, counter-argues that beliefs are essentially conscious. I examine and rebut Crane’s arguments for the essential unconsciousness of beliefs, some of which are widely endorsed. On the way I sketch a model of how belief states could participate in the stream of consciousness. I then consider Pitt’s position, arguing in reply, along Freudian lines, that we should posit not just dispositional but occurrent unconscious beliefs. This result, I argue, indeed requires advocates of phenomenal intentionality to posit unconscious qualia to fix these unconscious occurrent thoughts, and I defend the coherence of the notion of unconscious qualia against some common attacks. Ultimately, I claim, the combination of taking seriously the occurrent unconscious, and a commitment to phenomenal intentionality, should lead us to expand William James’s conception of the stream of consciousness to encompass, additionally, a stream of unconscious mental life—or, perhaps better, to posit a single partly conscious partly unconscious qualia-stream of mental goings-on.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)517–548
Number of pages32
JournalPhilosophical Studies
Early online date27 Jun 2021
Publication statusPublished - 28 Feb 2022


  • Consciousness
  • thought
  • Qualia
  • Unconscious (Psychology)


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