Philosophy Consciousness
Darragh Byrne
  • LAST REVIEWED: 02 September 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 10 May 2010
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0025


The psychological phenomenon that many regard as the most perplexing is consciousness, or, very roughly defined, the property of certain mental states—paradigmatically, sensations and perceptual experiences—in virtue of which (as Thomas Nagel influentially put it) there is “something it is like” to have them. These phenomenal qualities seem especially difficult to reconcile with physicalist metaphysics; at least prima facie, it is hard to believe that phenomenal properties are physical, or that science will ever explain what it is like to have a sensation or perceptual experience. This metaphysical problem is a traditional one, and it arises repeatedly, in different ways, in the entry titled “Metaphysics of Mind.” Recently, various forms of this objection to physicalism have been taxonomized more carefully than before, and three of these are explored in Anti-Physicalist Arguments. A reply to these worries that has been particularly conspicuous recently in the work of several leading physicalists is considered in Phenomenal Concepts. Although the question of reconciliation with physicalism is important, it is not the only issue here of interest to philosophers, and general theories of consciousness have been developed that attempt to go beyond it. In Representational Theories, Higher-Order Thought Theories, and Contemporary Dualism and Neo-Russellian Views, four examples of such general theories are considered.

General Overviews

As with other areas of the philosophy of mind, a great many resources exist to guide and to assist philosophical research into consciousness. Presented in this section are the eight that seem most useful. Güzeldere 1997 and Van Gulick 2009 are excellent article-length introductions, and each includes very useful suggestions for further reading. Bayne, et al. 2009, McLaughlin, et al. 2009, and Velmans and Schneider 2007 are three anthologies of specially commissioned entries. The first of these is, in effect, an encyclopedia of relevant terms and concepts, while the other two collect longer survey articles. McLaughlin, et al. 2009 is on the philosophy of mind generally, but a large section covers the philosophy of consciousness. Velmans and Schneider 2007 is entirely devoted to consciousness but covers scientific topics as well as philosophical ones. PhilPapers: Philosophy of Mind; Philosophy of Consciousness, edited by David Chalmers, and EpistemeLinks: Philosophy of Mind,edited by Thomas Stone, are useful online resources; the former is a huge register of academic papers available online on the philosophy of consciousness, while the latter is a heterogeneous directory of online resources on the philosophy of mind—many of which involve consciousness. Chalmers 2002 is merely an article and much less extensive than a book, but it is an excellent introduction to the issues.

  • Bayne, Tim, Axel Cleeremans, and Patrick Wilken, eds. The Oxford Companion to Consciousness. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

    Effectively an encyclopedia of issues pertaining to consciousness, this huge volume comprises around 250 short new survey pieces on the philosophy, psychology, and neurophysiology of consciousness.

  • Chalmers, David. “Consciousness and Its Place in Nature.” In The Blackwell Guide to Philosophy of Mind. Edited by Stephen P. Stich and Ted A. Warfield, 102–142. Oxford: Blackwell, 2002.

    DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631217756.2002.00005.x

    Probably the best article-length introduction to the philosophical issues about consciousness, for two reasons. First, the structured taxonomy of theories and arguments Chalmers presents is widely accepted among leading researchers; second, he gives more attention to unorthodox anti-materialist views than most.

  • Chalmers, David, ed. Philosophy of Mind; Philosophy of Consciousness. PhilPapers.

    This resource, a subsection of PhilPapers: Philosophy of Mind is an invaluable catalogue of papers on the philosophy of consciousness available online (many of them free), meticulously organized into more than seventy categories. A huge number of important recently published papers are available, and it is also a place for scholars to stay on the cutting edge by finding high-quality unpublished work on their research topics.

  • Güzeldere, Güven. “Introduction: The Many Faces of Consciousness.” In The Nature of Consciousness: Philosophical Debates. Edited by Ned J. Block, Owen J. Flanagan, and Güven Güzeldere, 1–68. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1997.

    A detailed overview of philosophical work on consciousness, this long survey essay is much more than an introduction to the anthology in which it appears. A detailed bibliography and guide to further reading is also included.

  • McLaughlin, Brian P., Ansgar Beckermann, and Sven Walter. The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Mind. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

    DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199262618.001.0001

    A huge, innovative collection of specially commissioned critical surveys of work, written by leading philosophers of mind. The eleven essays in Part 2 are especially relevant here.

  • Stone, Thomas Ryan, ed. EpistemeLinks: Philosophy of Mind.

    This is a useful directory of various online philosophy of mind resources, many concerning consciousness.

  • Van Gulick, Robert. Consciousness Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. Stanford, CA: Stanford University, 2009.

    A comprehensive, up-to-date survey and extremely useful as a source of further reading advice. The Stanford Encyclopedia also features further entries on more specific topics in the philosophy of consciousness, including most of those discussed in this entry.

  • Velmans, Max, and Susan Schneider, eds. Blackwell Companion to Consciousness. Oxford: Blackwell, 2007.

    DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405120197.2007.x

    A huge collection of specially commissioned state-of-the-art survey articles on consciousness, covering approaches in cognitive psychology and neuroscience as well as philosophy.

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