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Philosophy 236: Consciousness and Phenomenal Concepts

Where: Philosophy seminar room (H&SS 7077)
When: Fridays 1-3:50

Instructor: Jonathan Cohen
'joncohen' followed by the at sign, followed by ''
office: (858) 534 6812

Office hours: Tuesdays 10-11:30, in H&SS 8072 (and by appointment; please feel free to call/email)

This graduate seminar in philosophy of mind will be devoted to a class of strategies for understanding some of the puzzles about phenomenal consciousness that has come to be called the Phenomenal Concepts view (PC). Roughly, PC is the view that the persisting puzzles about the phenomenal character of conscious experience --- as revealed by the knowledge argument, the explanatory gap, the apparent possibility of zombies, etc. --- do not reveal a significant metaphysical difference between phenomenally conscious mental states and other things, but instead reveal a significant difference between the concepts by which we think about the phenomenally conscious mental states and the concepts by which we think about other things. This view has become extremely popular in the last decade. However PC has more recently been criticized by some of its former proponents (inter alia), and it may be that the consensus behind it is now beginning to fracture.

This seminar will trace out the rise (and possible fall?) of PC and attempt to assess its significance. In the first half of the seminar we'll review some of the classic worries about consciousness, and explore a few versions of the PC strategy for responding to these worries. In the second half of the seminar we'll read two recent books that challenge PC and offer interesting rival views: Tye's Consciousness Revisited: Materialism without Phenomenal Concepts (MIT, 2009), and Hill's Consciousness (Cambridge, 2009).

This seminar counts toward the distribution requirement in the area of philosophy of mind; it is not a core seminar.


The seminar requirements are of two main kinds: presentations, and a medium length (15 page) final paper.

Presentation: All attendees (including auditors) will be required to lead a seminar discussion (or maybe more than one, depending on our numbers). A presentation should be a critical discussion rather than a summary or book report (the presenter can assume that other participants have done the reading, and the other participants will make it the case that such an assumption is correct!), and should contain a thesis and arguments for that thesis. It can concern any topic connected with the week's reading that is of interest to the presenter. You must discuss your presentation with me sometime before the session in which you present, just to make sure we're on the same page. Seminar presentations may be given using notes or slides, but they may not be read aloud from a pre-written paper.

Final Paper: Students taking the course for credit will pass in a single 15 page paper by the end of the quarter (extensions will be granted only in cases of extreme emergency), on a topic of their own choosing that relates to the subject matter of the course.

All such papers must be pre-approved in conversation with me. I mean it. Really.


I will determine your grade based on the following breakdown:
25% seminar presentations and participation
75% final paper

Tentative Schedule

NB: I will be out of town on Friday 4/15 so we will have to arrange an alternative meeting time for that week's session. Optional readings are marked with an asterisk.
1Introduction, background, planning Jonathan
2-3Phenomenal Concepts Introduced Jasmeen, Ben (Loar); Gil, Andrew (Balog); Dan, Brandi (Papineau)
4-5The Plot Thickens: Phenomenal Concepts Revisited Amy, Chris (Stoljar); Matt, Titus (Chalmers); Mason (Levin); Chris (Balog); Max (Ball)
  • Tye, Consciousness Revisited: Materialism without Phenomenal Concepts, ch3-5.
Peter (3); Damon (4); Chris (5)
7Tye Brandi (6); Mason (7); Dan (8)
  • Hill, Consciousness, ch1-3
Ben (1); Andrew (2); Amy (3)
  • Hill, Consciousness, ch4-6
Titus (4); Chris S. (5); Gil (6)
10Hill Ben (7); Max (8); Matt (9)

Last modified: Sun May 8 11:32:18 PDT 2011