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  • Greg Janzen is Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Calgary. His primary research interests are in philosophy of mind and philosophy of religion. He is the author of The Reflexive Nature of Consciousness (John Benjamins, 2008).


It is common parlance among philosophers who inquire into the nature of consciousness to speak of there being something it is like for the subject of a mental state to be in it. The popularity of the ‘what-it-is-like’ phrase stems, in part, from the assumption that it enables us to distinguish, in an intuitive and illuminating way, between conscious and unconscious mental states: conscious mental states, unlike unconscious mental states, are such that there is something it is like for their subjects to be in them. The ‘what-it-is-like’ phrase, however, has not gone unopposed; some very clever philosophers have vigorously disputed it. Peter Hacker, for example, argues that the phrase should be abandoned because it is ungrammatical, and Paul Snowdon argues that it should be abandoned because the propositions expressed by its usage are either trivial or false. This paper mounts a case for the claim that neither of these conclusions is warranted. Against Hacker, it is argued that the arguments he produces for the ungrammaticality of the phrase are unpersuasive; and, against Snowdon, it is argued that he fails to consider a plausible and independently motivated interpretation of the phrase and that on this interpretation, the propositions expressed by its usage are nontrivially true.