Seminar Series in Analytic Philosophy 2023-24: Session 27

The Copernican Argument for Alien Consciousness: the Mimicry Argument Against Robot Consciousness

Eric Schwitzgebel (University of California, Riverside)


11 June 2024, 11:00 (Lisbon Time – WET)

Faculdade de Letras de Lisboa

Sala Mattos Romão [C201.J] (Departamento de Filosofia)


Abstract: On broadly Copernican grounds, we are entitled to default assume that apparently behaviorally sophisticated alien species would be conscious. Otherwise, we humans would be inexplicably, implausibly lucky to have consciousness, while similarly behaviorally sophisticated species elsewhere would be mere non-conscious “zombies”. However, we are not similarly entitled to default assume that apparently behaviorally sophisticated robots would be conscious, at least in the present and near-term future. This is because such robots (unlike, we conjecture, most aliens) are normally designed to mimic superficial features associated with consciousness in humans. The Copernican and Mimicry Arguments jointly defeat a parity principle that one might have thought to be plausible, according to which we should apply the same types of behavioral or cognitive tests to aliens and robots, attributing or denying consciousness similarly to the extent they perform similarly. Our approach, instead of grounding speculations about alien and robot consciousness in metaphysical or scientific theories about the physical or functional bases of consciousness, appeals directly to the epistemic principles of Copernican mediocrity and inference to the best explanation. This permits us to justify default assumptions about consciousness while remaining to a substantial extent neutral about such metaphysical and scientific theories. (This is joint work with Jeremy Pober.)