The Problem of Consciousness in Philosophy, Or What’s All the Fuss About?

This is an excerpt from one of the presentations featured in the Pari Center’s event Re-Visioning Consciousness, in Pari from June 6 to 12, 2022.

with William Seager

Over the last half century almost, the problem of consciousness has gained increasing significance in the Philosophy of Mind, and this has spilled over across many disciplines, to a large extent because of the work of David Chalmers.

In his presentation William Seager will express why he thinks the problem of consciousness is a special problem, and requires a distinctive solution. Mainstream Philosophy of Mind remains stoutly physicalist, but the role of physicalism and confidence in it has been eroding. It’s worth thinking about why that has happened, and what the upshot of this shift in view might be.

Distinctive, perhaps peculiar alternatives to physicalism try to address the problem of consciousness in radically different ways. Seager will consider, in particular, various forms of panpsychism (the view that consciousness is fundamental and ubiquitous) and a theory that goes back (at least) to William James which has come to be called ‘Neutral Monism.’ Thinking about consciousness from these perspectives completely recasts the problem of consciousness, but forces a reformation in a host of metaphysical theses about the nature of the world.

William Seager is Professor of philosophy at the University of Toronto Scarborough. He has been working on the the philosophy of mind and especially the problem of consciousness for about 45 years, but still hasn’t gotten very far. Two recent books of his are Theories of Consciousness (2nd ed. 2016) and The Routledge Handbook of Panpsychism (2020).