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Panpsychism

DOI
10.4324/9780415249126-N079-2
Versions
Published
2019
DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-N079-2
Version: v2,  Published online: 2019
Retrieved March 28, 2020, from https://www.rep.routledge.com/articles/thematic/panpsychism/v-2

Article Summary

Panpsychism is the view that consciousness is a fundamental and ubiquitous feature of the natural world. In a standard form of the view, the fundamental constituents of the physical world – perhaps electrons and quarks – have incredibly basic forms of conscious experience, and the consciousness of a human or animal brain is derived from the consciousness of its most basic parts.

The main attraction of panpsychism is its promise to provide a place for consciousness in our scientific story of the universe, and to do so in a way that avoids the deep difficulties associated with the more conventional options of physicalism and dualism. We know that consciousness is real – nothing is more evident than the reality of our feelings and experiences – and so we must find a way of fitting it into our overall theory of reality. The physicalist tries to account for consciousness in terms of purely physical processes in the brain, but there are powerful philosophical arguments against the coherence of this approach. The dualist posits consciousness as a non-physical feature of reality, outside of the physical workings of the body and brain, but this leads to challenges explaining how the non-physical mind causally impacts on the physical world given the common assumption that physical events form a causally closed system. The panpsychist hopes to avoid both of these problems by taking consciousness to be fundamental and yet part of physical world.

Opponents of panpsychism, however, argue that these supposed advantages cannot be had. According to constitutive panpsychism, facts about human and animal consciousness are nothing over and above facts about consciousness at the fundamental level. Critics argue that this form of panpsychism faces many of the same challenges as physicalism in trying to construct animal consciousness from consciousness postulated at the fundamental level. According to emergentist panpsychism, in contrast, human and animal consciousness causally arises from consciousness at a more fundamental level, and hence the facts about human and animal conscious minds cannot be reduced to facts at a more fundamental level. Critics argue that this form of panpsychism faces similar challenges to the dualist in trying to explain how irreducible animal consciousness impacts on the physical world. Either way, it is claimed, panpsychism offers no theoretical advance. I will respond to these criticisms, arguing that, in either constitutive or emergentist form, panpsychism is to be preferred over its rivals.

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Citing this article:
Melnyk, Andrew. Panpsychism, 2019, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-N079-2. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis, https://www.rep.routledge.com/articles/thematic/panpsychism/v-2.
Copyright © 1998-2020 Routledge.

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