What is it that makes a mental state conscious ? Conscious states are simply mental states ... we are conscious of being in, says D. Rosenthal, who agrees that a strong intuitive sense of the self-reference of consciousness exists, but he requalifies it in favor of a meta-representational theory which stipulates that a mental representation becomes conscious when it is the object of an other unconscious intentional mental state, under appropriate circumstances.
Meta-representational theories offer a reductive explanation of conscious states through the intentional « meeting » of unconscious states, but they raise important intuitive, logic, or epistemic difficulties.
If the self-reference intuition for consciousness is taken seriously, then a scheme substituting meta-representation with self-representation becomes plausible. Consciousness is no longer an extrinsic property following from some representational relations, but is instead an intrinsic one owing to the self-representational structure of some mental states.
It must be shown that this scheme is intelligible, that it does not involve the risk of infinite regression for the representational capacities of consiousness, and that it sheds light on robust intuitions like the structuration of consciousness between foreground and background and the link between background and selfconsciousness.
(And for those curious about what I did in my previous life, here is a short CV.
Degrees in mechanical, electrical and nuclear reactor engineering (1960 – 61)
I have conducted my entire professional career (from 1962 to retirement in year 2000) inside the Joint Research Centre (JRC) of the European Commission at Ispra (near Milano), Italy. I was first involved in neutronic core reactor calculations. Successively, from 1973 to retirement, I was involved in European research and development programs in the field of environment protection, and more precisely in the field of remote sensing of Earth resources, by using the data gathered from Earth observation satellites. Two main research directions ; on the one hand methods of analysis of numerical (digital) images (pattern recognition, automatic classification and cartography, physical data interpretation, etc.), on the other hand thematic applications of those methods to various practical domains (catography of forests, monitoring of soil and natural vegetation degradation, monitoring of desertificaton in mediterranean ecosystems, etc.). My duties evolved from research engineer to head of the Environment and Geo-information Unit, within the Space Applications Institute of the JRC.)