Woodruff (2017) claims to have identified the neural correlates of phenomenal consciousness (“p-consciousness”) in fishes, and argues that these neurological data, along with behavioral evidence, suggest that teleost fishes are in all probability sentient organisms. Woodruff’s case may be strengthened by challenging key assumptions behind a common criticism of accounts such as his: that fishes cannot be p-conscious because they lack the cortical structures necessary for p-consciousness. A more serious objection to Woodruff’s proposal would be that his evidence for p-consciousness establishes only that fishes are “access-conscious” (“a-conscious”), where a-conscious states are cognitive representations that are made available to cognitive processing. This criticism calls into question his inference from certain cognitive states to the presence of p-consciousness, and may have significant implications for the moral standing of fishes and their treatment in fish welfare policy, since p-consciousness, but not a-consciousness alone, is typically thought to ground moral standing. I conclude that this criticism does not raise a decisive objection to Woodruff’s argument, or to its usefulness for ethics and policy.

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Department of Philosophy (CLA)


RIT – Main Campus