Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

M.A. in Philosophy


Philosophy and Religion

First Advisor

Donovan Wishon

Second Advisor

Robert Barnard

Third Advisor

Timothy P. Yenter

Relational Format



Consider the tragic case of four circus clowns whose pie-to-the-face gag effectively knocks each one into a cream-pie coma. In each of the four cases, motor capacities (voluntary speech, limb movement, etc.) Are not available to the patient's conscious control. Although none of our apparently comatose clowns have voluntary motor capacities, each has a unique set of internal and external activity going on. In other words, each of our clowns (bozo, chuckles, wiggles, and krusty, respectively), now sits in a vegetative state. Now, there's a problem. Sometimes comatose patients are conscious, so there's a big philosophical and empirical issue going on here: how can we tell which patients are conscious and which ones aren't? Different neuroscientists and philosophers use the concept 'consciousness' in a variety of ways and have proposed different tests based on what they take 'consciousness' to stand for. To solve this problem, we'll need to figure out the best conception of ‘consciousness’ and the test it corresponds to. To figure out if there's a way to free conscious patients from their confounding bodies, I will: (1) examine four promising proposals in the scientific and philosophical literature about the conditions under which patients have vegetative consciousness and how to test for it; and (2) consider whether the proposed tests are efficient or accurate measures of detecting the kind of consciousness they are trying to test for. Based on how (1) and (2) turn out, I’m going to argue that one of the four theories- the integrated information theory of consciousness (or iitc)- gives both the best account of consciousness and the most reliable test for it, and therefore offers the most promise for detecting consciousness in vs patients.

Included in

Philosophy Commons



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.