Summary of the Conference, Russellian Monism: Time for the Details

August 22, 2017

The puzzles surrounding consciousness are some of the deepest in contemporary science and philosophy. How on earth do electro-chemical processes in brains give rise to feelings, sensations and experiences? Not only do we not have an explanation of this, there is no consensus on how to go about looking for one.

In recent years a new approach to consciousness has emerged, inspired by certain writings from the 1920s by the philosopher Bertrand Russell and (independently) the scientist Arthur Eddington. The resulting view, which has become known as ‘Russellian monism’, has spawned numerous recent publications, including our own Philip Goff’s recent book Consciousness and Fundamental Reality (Oxford University Press). You can read more about Russellian monism in this OUP blog post accompanying the publication of Philip’s book.

On the weekend of 12/13 August, CEU hosted an international conference exclusively on this theme – Russellian monism: Time for the Details – involving 15 speakers from 6 different countries. In addition to the speakers, we attracted 50 participants from many different countries. The conference was funded with a grant from the Templeton Project New Directions in the Philosophy of Mind at the University of Cambridge.

Russellian monism is perhaps better thought of as a family of views, and we wanted to conduct a detailed evaluation of the various forms. To this end, we pursued a unique format for the conference. Rather than individual speakers giving long papers on their specific views, each session had a pair of speakers speaking on a single theme. On the first day we explored the different kinds of Russellian monism, and on the second the problems and challenges associated with the view.

Overall we were left with a feeling that real progress had been made, and that this new and still not well-known view is being transformed into a serious contender. We filmed the final session, in which the internationally renowned philosopher David Chalmers summed up the conference, and our own Howard Robinson raised some (friendly) challenges for Russellian monism, followed by a general discussion involving all of the participants. This, together with podcasts of all the talks, will soon appear on the conference webpage.