Perception, Thought and Consciousness

Course Requirement Areas: 
Metaphysics and Epistemology
Course Description: 

The two main features of our conscious mental life are perception and thought. In this course we shall deal with both.

Perception: It is perception that enables us to build up our picture of the physical world. We will be looking at how it does this, and how it must be constituted in order to carry out this task. One fashionable school of thought, represented by John McDowell, John Campbell, Mike Martin and Bill Brewer, claims that perception puts us in direct contact with the world. Others think experience represents the physical world, or in some other way mediates our connection with it. We will explore arguments for and against these various options. We will also examine how to characterise the contents of perceptual experience more generally.

Thought: By far the dominant view in the 20th century was that thought had nothing to do with consciousness. We can see this as the main theories of thought, e.g. by Donald Davidson and Jerry Fodor, were silent on the subject of consciousness. In the twenty first century a growing number of philosophers have been arguing that thought and consciousness are intimately connected. Proponents of cognitive phenomenology believe that there is a distinctive kind of consciousness involved in thought. Some even believe that thought is identical with, or grounded in, certain forms of consciousness. These views suggest a research programme for explaining thought radically different to that pursued in the twentieth century. We will examine the arguments for and against these views, as well as exploring their implications for how we account for the metaphysical reality of thought.

Learning Outcomes: 

By the end of the course, students will be able to:

  • demonstrate a clear understanding of some of the main positions in contemporary philosophy of mind on perception and the relation between thought and consciousness,
  • charitably reconstruct arguments the arguments of others, and summarise them clearly and succinctly
  • explain some of the strengths and weaknesses of different positions in contemporary philosophy of mind
  • formulate and evaluate arguments for and against positions in philosophy of mind, both orally and in writing
  • draw connections between philosophy of mind and other subfields of philosophy

30% Tutorial. Midway through the term, each student will meet one to one for 15 minutes with one of the course instructors, for the purpose of assessing the student’s knowledge and understanding of the first half of the course. 

70% Final paper.

Participation in the seminar will be taken into consideration in cases of borderline grades for the written assignment, and may result in a higher or lower grade.

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