From Key Terms in Philosophy of Mind (Continuum, 2010):
first-order representationalism, a theory of CONSCIOUSNESS that explains state consciousness (see CONSCIOUSNESS, STATE) in terms of having a certain kind of MENTAL REPRESENTATION (crucially, a representation that need not be represented by any other representation, thus “first-order”) and explains QUALIA or the “WHAT IT IS LIKE” aspects of consciousness (see CONSCIOUSNESS, PHENOMENAL) in terms of the CONTENT of the relevant mental representation. The main distinctive feature of first-order representationalism is that unlike higher-order representationalisms, such as the HIGHER-ORDER THOUGHT THEORY OF CONSCIOUSNESS or the higher-order PERCEPTION theory of consciousness, it does not make it a requirement on a state’s being conscious that it be represented by itself or any other state. One consideration that first-order representationalists raise in support of this part of their view is that it appears, or so it is claimed, that we cannot become aware of the features of an EXPERIENCE itself as opposed to features of what the experience is an experience of. For example, when I attend to my experience of a blue rectangle, it seems that I am only aware of the blueness and the rectangularity—properties presumably instantiated not by my experience but by some physical object in the external world: a blue rectangle. See TRANSPARENCY (OF EXPERIENCE).