Progress in Understanding Consciousness? Easy and Hard Problems, and Philosophical and Empirical Perspectives

Acta Analytica (forthcoming)
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David Chalmers has distinguished the “hard” and the “easy” problem of consciousness, arguing that progress on the “easy problem”—on pinpointing the physical/neural correlates of consciousness—will not necessarily involve progress on the hard problem—on explaining why consciousness, in the first place, emerges from physical processing. Chalmers, however, was hopeful that refined theorizing would eventually yield philosophical progress. In particular, he argued that panpsychism might be a candidate account to solve the hard problem. Here, I provide a concise stock-take on both the empirical-neuroscientific and philosophical-conceptual progress on consciousness. It turns out that, whereas empirical progress is indisputable, philosophical progress is much less pronounced. While Chalmers was right, I argue, in distinguishing distinctive types of problems of consciousness, his prediction of progress on the hard problem was overly optimistic. Empirical progress and philosophical progress are essentially uncoupled; a more skeptical perspective on progress in philosophy in general is appropriate.

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Tobias A. Wagner-Altendorf
University of Lübeck


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