In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Panpsychism

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Anthologies
  • Opposing Views

Philosophy Panpsychism
David Skrbina
  • LAST REVIEWED: 12 January 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 November 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0327


Broadly speaking, panpsychism is the view that everything has a mind, or at least some mindlike quality or aspect. Such a definition is naturally open to a wide variety of interpretations—owing, if nothing else, to the ambiguity involved with such terms as “everything” and “mind.” The word dates back to the late 1500s, deriving from pan (“all”) and psyche (“mind” or “soul”). But the concept itself is much older, being found, in primitive form, in the indigenous animism of most ancient societies. In a sense, then, we have never been without panpsychism; it has a long and noble philosophical legacy, in both Western and Eastern civilizations. Most of the pre-Socratics were panpsychists; and in a subtler way, so were Plato and Aristotle. It was strongly defended by such Renaissance philosophers as Telesio, Bruno, and Campanella, and it featured prominently in the theories of Spinoza and Leibniz. Several major German philosophers of the 19th century were panpsychists, including Schopenhauer, Fechner, Haeckel, Mach, and Nietzsche. Modern, “scientific” versions were defended by the likes of Peirce, James, and Whitehead. Having been subsumed for much of the 20th century by a dominant analytical philosophy, panpsychism is currently experiencing something of a revival and is once again the subject of serious philosophical debate. Its strength largely derives from the implausibility of the emergence of mind from a non-mental reality, and from the various problems with conventional materialism, although a number of other arguments have been advanced in its favor.

General Overviews

Surprisingly, until relatively recently there were no general overviews of panpsychism. Prior to the late 1990s, one could only find arguments by individual philosophers, or partial (and often hostile) accounts in encyclopedias. Griffin 1998 is the first extended formal study, and Skrbina 2005 is the most comprehensive to date. McDougall 1911 is relevant as an assessment of the topic from that time period. Clark 2003 and de Quincey 2002 offer process philosophy perspectives, and Seager 2009 gives a brief analytical treatment.

  • Clark, David S. Panpsychism and the Religious Attitude. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2003.

    Concise examination of the intersection between panpsychism and theology. Emphasis is on Whitehead, Hartshorne, and process philosophy generally, which limits the scope of this study.

  • de Quincey, Christian. Radical Nature. Montpelier, VT: Invisible Cities, 2002.

    An informal but still useful introduction to the topic. Relatively brief but helpful historical discussion. Like Clarke 2004 (cited under Anthologies), this work is heavily oriented toward a process approach.

  • Griffin, David Ray. Unsnarling the World-Knot. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.

    An excellent overview and defense of panexperientialism, which is a functional equivalent to panpsychism. Another process-oriented approach. Good discussion of arguments, pro and con. Limited historical assessment.

  • McDougall, William. Body and Mind: A History and a Defence of Animism. New York: Macmillan, 1911.

    Though not, strictly speaking, a study of panpsychism, this is perhaps the earliest systematic study of the related concept of animism. The author’s main theme is the immateriality of the mind, but along the way he touches upon many panpsychist views. Useful for investigations into early-20th-century approaches to the subject.

  • Seager, William. “Panpsychism.” In The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Mind. Edited by Ansgar Beckermann. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

    A brief but useful chapter on the subject, with an emphasis on pro and con arguments.

  • Skrbina, David. Panpsychism in the West. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2005.

    The most comprehensive historical study to date. Cites all major panpsychist philosophers in history and many present-day figures, with a focus on specific arguments.

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