Physicalism and Consciousness

June 14, 2024
Munich Center for Mathematical Philosophy, Ludwig Maximilians Universität, München

Geschwister-Scholl-Platz 1

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University of Sheffield
Ludwig Maximilians Universität, München
Ludwig Maximilians Universität, München
Université de Fribourg
Australian National University

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The aim of this workshop is to discuss foundational questions in debates about physicalism and consciousness, broadly construed.

Would anyone who is interested in participating please email us at [email protected], stating your affiliation?


Christian List, “A Quadrilemma for Theories of Consciousness”: I will argue that no theory of consciousness can simultaneously respect four initially plausible metaphysical claims – namely, ‘first-person realism’, ‘non-solipsism’, ‘non-fragmentation’, and ‘one world’ – but that any three of the four claims are mutually consistent. So, theories of consciousness face a ‘quadrilemma’. Since it will be hard to achieve a consensus on which of the four claims to retain and which to give up, we arrive at a landscape of competing theories, all of which have pros and cons. I will briefly indicate which kinds of theories correspond to the four horns of the quadrilemma. 

Johannes Kleiner, “Supervenience, Consciousness and Scientific Practice”:  Supervenience is an important concept to delineate physicalism from other metaphysical frameworks. And it plays a major role in guiding and constraining the development of scientific theories of consciousness in consciousness science. The goal of this talk is to show that if “the physical” is taken to denote the subject matter of the natural sciences (consciousness science excluded), then supervenience of consciousness on the physical cannot be taken to hold. That is the case because such supervenience violates a necessary condition for engaging in a science of consciousness: that theories of consciousness can be distinguished empirically. This result, if true, has various implications for how to build scientific theories of consciousness, which I will briefly discuss. Among other things, it shows that we cannot assume that the subject matter of the natural sciences forms a “closed system”. And it shows that, as far as scientific theories are concerned, there is no major difference between physicalist and non-physicalist ideas. Both need to explain what consciousness “does” based on their account of what consciousness “is”. The general upshot is that supervenience should not play a major role in guiding and constraining the development of scientific theories of consciousness.

Keith Frankish, “Illusionism and Dennett's Hard Question”: Before David Chalmers articulated the Hard Problem of consciousness, Daniel Dennett had identified the Hard Question. The former concerns how contents get to be conscious, the latter what happens once they have become conscious. What are the downstream causal consequences of a content 'entering consciousness’? ‘And then what happens?’ as Dennett asks. Philosophers have paid less attention to Dennett's question than to Chalmers's problem, but it is the key to thinking constructively about consciousness. In this talk I shall reflect on the Hard Question and show how it motivates and underpins the approach to consciousness known as illusionism.

Daniel Stoljar, “How to be a Rationalist About Introspection”: The rationalist approach to introspection can easily seem implausible.  Doesn’t it entail that we have some sort of rational insight into empirical matters?  Even if it can be worked out, isn’t it limited to psychological states of a specific sort—e.g. those we can have a reason to be in or not to be in?  And isn’t the development of it by Sydney Shoemaker (its most famous exponent) subject to well-known objections?  This paper sets out and defends a version of the rationalist approach that is in the spirit of Shoemaker’s but also avoids these problems.  The central difference is that, on the view proposed, introspective belief is primarily understood as a manifestation of a rational disposition, and not, as in Shoemaker’s view, something necessitated by the property of being rational.

Martine Nida-Rümelin, TBC 

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June 13, 2024, 9:00am CET

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