Experience and Consciousness
This course is expected to run but has not yet been scheduled.
We typically enjoy a rich, conscious mental life: there's a subjective feel to experiencing the smell of fresh brownies, to be stuck with a pin, or to go on a first date. Conscious experience is such a fundamental part of what it is to be a creature like us that we often take it for granted, but some of philosophy's most fascinating and difficult questions revolve around conscious experience precisely because it is so fundamental. What is this conscious experience? Are the sciences on the right track in accounting for it? What is the relationship between conscious experience and what it is to be you, the experiencer?
The distinctive, qualitative aspects of one's conscious experience, sometimes called one's "phenomenal consciousness," are the topic of this course. The course will critically exam various positions on a number of questions about phenomenal consciousness, drawing from contemporary philosophy, psychology, and cognitive science.
Our primary focus will be on discussing just what phenomenal consciousness is. Is it something that can be given a physical explanation, or is there reason to think that this may leave out something irreducible (perhaps even immaterial)? We will explore and evaluate some of the arguments that philosophers have brought to bear on this issue: including arguments from hypothetical examples like Mary, the brilliant color-vision scientist raised from birth in a gray room, as well as arguments from real cases, like blind-sight patients who appear to have low-level functioning vision even though they claim to have no visual experience whatsoever. We will also consider the claim that one is never actually directly aware of any phenomenal features of experience at all!
In addition, we will discuss what it is to be you, the "subject" that "has" your conscious experiences. What is it to "have" conscious experience? What is a "subject" in this sense? Is it something best understood biologically? Psychologically? Or perhaps some other way?
By the end of this course, students will:
• Have a better understanding of the central philosophical issues surrounding conscious experience
• Come away either with a well-reasoned position of support for one or another view on these issues, or a well-reasoned decision that, as things stand, one ought not lean any particular way
• Come away with an improved ability to engage difficult and abstract subjects critically, carefully, and logically, using the methods of analytical philosophy.
• Have an improved ability to write clear, illuminating expository work, as well as critical work, which is not only convincing, but convincing because of the rational force of its content.