Consciousness and the Physical World

Course Requirement Areas: 
Metaphysics and Epistemology
Course Description: 

Mind and matter don’t seem to fit in the same world; this is the essence of the mind-body problem. Space-filling solid stuff doesn’t seem to belong with invisible inner-experiencing. The neural processing of the brain is best known through third-person scientific investigation; whilst the subjective first-person perspective of the mind is arguably best captured in literature. How are we to make sense of these seemingly incongruous things being unified aspects of a single reality? In this course we consider in detail two options:

  • Physicalism: The view that fundamental reality is wholly physical, and that consciousness is grounded in physical processes.
  • Panpsychism: Matter is in its fundamental nature consciousness-involving. The complex consciousness of humans and animals arises from the more simple consciousness of inanimate physical entities.
Learning Outcomes: 

By the end of the course, students will gain:

  • an understanding of various metaphysical theories of the relationship between consciousness and the physical world, including and with a special focus on physicalism and panpsychism.
  • the ability to deploy the philosophical techniques and argumentative strategies that can be used to discuss those problems
  • the ability to explain the strengths and weaknesses of different positions in this area of philosophy of mind

the transferable skill of formulating and evaluating arguments for and against various philosophical positions, both orally and in writing


For students taking the class for credit there will be an essay assignment of 4,000 words due at the end of the semester. Students are to formulate their own essay questions based on anything relevant to the topics covered in the module. 

Though the class grade is based on the final paper, all course requirements must be completed in a satisfactory manner in order to earn a grade for the class. Should the final essay receive a borderline mark, the student’s overall mark will be adjusted in light of the student’s in-class performance and participation.

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