Introducing consciousness
Introducing consciousness

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Introducing consciousness

5 Conclusion

This course has laid the groundwork for a study of consciousness. We have identified the phenomenon in which we are interested, looked at some of its mysterious features and considered the problems it poses. You may have been wondering exactly what philosophers have to contribute here. Isn't explaining consciousness a matter for scientists – requiring the formation and testing of empirical hypotheses, not conceptual analysis and a priori reasoning? There are at least three aspects to the answer.

First, in posing a challenge to strong naturalism and physicalism, consciousness raises questions that go beyond science. Can everything be reductively explained? Are we capable of understanding all natural phenomena? Is physicalism true? Can there be a science of consciousness? These are metaphysical and epistemological questions – questions about the fundamental nature of reality and about the limits of our knowledge – and as such they fall squarely within the province of philosophy.

Secondly, even if a reductive explanation of consciousness is possible, there are some very general theoretical questions that need to be addressed at an early stage. What overall shape should the explanation take? What kind of mechanisms should it postulate? Could phenomenal consciousness be a form of access-consciousness? Does it involve inner awareness of some kind? These questions, too, are ones that philosophers are currently trying to answer. They see themselves as working in conjunction with scientists, helping to establish an outline theory of consciousness that will provide a framework for future empirical work. This does not require detailed scientific knowledge – though philosophers of mind do draw on empirical work. Rather, it involves thinking at a very general level about the facts of consciousness and how best to explain them.

Thirdly, it may be necessary to rethink the very way we pose the problem of consciousness. Some philosophers believe that our commonsense view of consciousness involves serious misconceptions, which blight philosophical and scientific work on the subject, and that philosophers have a role to play in exposing these and developing a better conception of the phenomenon.

This OpenLearn course provides a sample of Level 3 study in Arts and Humanities [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .The material is derived from an Open University course (AA308) that is no longer available. The content has been used as the basis for a section of Part 1 of the MA in Philosophy (A853) qualification.

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