Introducing consciousness
Introducing consciousness

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Introducing consciousness

1 Consciousness

Consciousness: The having of perceptions, thoughts, and feelings; awareness. The term is impossible to define except in terms that are unintelligible without a grasp of what consciousness means.… Consciousness is a fascinating but elusive phenomenon: it is impossible to specify what it is, what it does, or why it evolved. Nothing worth reading has been written about it.

(Sutherland 1995, 95)

Consciousness is at once the most important and most baffling aspect of the mind. It is the very heart of our existence – our ‘self of selves’ as Julian Jaynes puts it – yet it is extraordinarily difficult to describe and explain. This course is an introduction to this slippery phenomenon and the problems it presents. It is in three main sections. The first explains what contemporary philosophers usually mean when they talk about consciousness; the second examines the phenomenon in more detail and highlights some of its puzzling features; and the third sets out the central philosophical problem surrounding consciousness – the so-called ‘hard problem’ of explaining how it arises and whether it is a physical phenomenon.

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