Which aspects of consciousness are most often addressed by philosophers of mind?

Philosophy Asked by goodham on October 10, 2020

What are the most discussed parts of consciousness according to philosophers?

Epistemologists cite perception, memory, reason, and testimony as frequent objects of philosophical discourse in respect to an understanding of consciousness. Are there other elements of consciousness that are important to philosophers, and have psychologists or other scientists suggested other important topics? Which parts are most important? Is there an authoritative list of parts of the mind related to consciousness?

4 Answers

(Edit note: From the comments I’ve received, it seems that the paragraph beginning with “On the other hand” was not clear enough and can be misunderstood, so I add some clarifying sentences at the end of the paragraph – they are the italic sentences after (5).)

Q (the original question): Which aspects of consciousness are philosophically most important?

A: In philosophy, the most important issue about consciousness seems to be about its phenomenal part – the part that consciousness exhibits what it is like to see the red color, to hear the music, to feel pain, to be happy, to recall a past event, to …, and, most of all, to be conscious. (1-4)

The really hard problem of consciousness is the problem of experience. When we think and perceive, there is a whir of information processing, but there is also a subjective aspect. As Nagel (1974) has put it, there is something it is like to be a conscious organism. This subjective aspect is experience. When we see, for example, we experience visual sensations: the felt quality of redness, the experience of dark and light, the quality of depth in a visual field. Other experiences go along with perception in different modalities: the sound of a clarinet, the smell of mothballs. …

… It is widely agreed that experience arises from a physical basis, but we have no good explanation of why and how it so arises. Why should physical processing give rise to a rich inner life at all? It seems objectively unreasonable that it should, and yet it does.

If any problem qualifies as the problem of consciousness, it is this one. In this central sense of "consciousness", an organism is conscious if there is something it is like to be that organism, and a mental state is conscious if there is something it is like to be in that state. Sometimes terms such as "phenomenal consciousness" and "qualia" are also used here … Chalmers 1995 (1)

Regarding the other parts, the integrative/command parts of consciousness – detecting stimuli; directing and maintaining attention to the stimuli; analyzing and binding information from the stimuli; distributing, storing, and retrieving information (the memory functions you queried about); creating awareness of self and non-self; planning and making decisions; commanding motor, verbal, and other responses; etc. – AI (computers, robots, etc.) can have these parts of consciousness in its central processing units (CPUs) as we do, and it can be even be better at these tasks than we are. So, none of these consciousness parts differentiates us from AI. (5)

On the other hand, it is definite that present-day computers and robots do not and cannot have phenomenal consciousness as we do. This is because phenomenal consciousness is an additional function and has additional information. So, computers and robots need a specific, dedicated circuit and a specific, dedicated program to perform this specific function and manage the new information that occurs in the process. But there is no such a circuit and program in the present-day computers and robots; all the circuits and programs in their motherboards or mainboards are created to do some specific tasks else that are already predetermined (such as the summation of two digits, the computation of transcendental functions of some digits, and the generation of signals to control other parts: screen monitor, disc drive, mechanical motor, etc.). None is produced to create phenomenal consciousness, i.e., to be aware of and experience something with the awareness and experiences of what that thing is like occurring. (At present, we do not know how to design such circuits and programs yet.) Therefore, it is definite that present-day computers and robots, with the only circuits and programs that they have now, do not and cannot have phenomenal consciousness (5). (However, this does not mean that computers or robots will never be able to have phenomenal consciousness. If they are equipped with circuits and programs that can create phenomenal consciousness, they will have phenomenal consciousness. The problem is, currently, we do not know how to build such circuits and programs yet.)

At this point, some may argue that phenomenal consciousness is a non-material phenomenon and may just occur in the computer without the function of any circuit. However, if it occurs without the function of any computer circuit, it will not and cannot have any physical effects on the computer. This is because physical effects in the computer occur via the functions of their circuits only. Such a physical-effect-deprived phenomenal consciousness is physically irrelevant and is different from phenomenal consciousness that occurs in humans, because phenomenal consciousness that occurs in humans has physical effects on humans – our behaviors are definitely affected by phenomenal consciousness. For example, we think, talk, and write about it; we have conferences and debates on it; and we do researches and experiments on it. We even physically discuss it right here right now. Therefore, although physical-effect-deprived phenomenal consciousness in computers/robots is theoretically or philosophically possible, it is not the kind of phenomenal consciousness that we have and that we are discussing here. (5)

In conclusion, because the consciousness parts other than the phenomenal part do not differentiate us from AI and, without the phenomenal part of consciousness, even the most intelligent and capable brain will function just like the CPUs of present-day AI and because present-day AI do not and cannot have the phenomenal part of consciousness as we do, the phenomenal part of consciousness is unique for us and is the hallmark of our consciousness. Therefore, philosophically, it can be considered that the phenomenal part is the most important part of consciousness.

Q (the edited question): Which aspects of consciousness are most often addressed by philosophers of mind?

A: From the references below and its references inside, and the abundance of philosophical literature about the hard problem of consciousness, the explanatory gap, and the mind-body problem, I think the phenomenal aspects and these three aspects of consciousness are most often addressed by philosophers of mind. (6-10)


  1. Chalmers DJ. Facing up to the problem of consciousness. J Conscious Stud. 1995;2(3):200-219.

  2. Van Gulick R. Consciousness. In: Zalta EN, editor. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

  3. Velmans M. How to define consciousness – and how not to define consciousness. J Conscious Stud. 2009;16(5):139-156.

  4. Rosenthal D. Concepts and Definitions of Consciousness. In: Banks WP, editor. Encyclopedia of Consciousness. Amsterdam: Elsevier; 2009:157-169.

  5. Ukachoke C. Chapter 6: Consciousness In: The Basic Theory of the Mind. 1st ed. Bangkok, Thailand; Charansanitwong Printing Co. 2018.

  6. Brogaard B, Electra Gatzia DE. What Can Neuroscience Tell Us about the Hard Problem of Consciousness? Front Neurosci. 2016;10:395.

  7. Chalmers DJ. Moving forward on the problem of consciousness. J Conscious Stud. 1997;4(1):3-46.

  8. Weisberg J. The hard problem of consciousness. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

  9. Nagel T. What is the mind-body problem? Ciba Found Symp. 1993;174:1-7; discussion 7-13.

  10. Smart JJC. The mind/brain identity theory. In: Zalta EN, editor. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Correct answer by user287279 on October 10, 2020

This may be sketchy as to how it relates to consciousness, since it is arguably unconscious, but it shouldn't be overlooked...

From Thomas Sheehan: 3. Human being is the world of meaning.

Heidegger argues that we primarily live in the world of meaning – in fact, we are that world, the realm of meaningfulness. What Aristotle called mind or reason (nous, logos) is interpreted by Heidegger not as a faculty embedded in our souls but rather as a field of meaningfulness that precedes us and illuminates everything we encounter, analogous to the way a coalminer’s headlamp sheds light ahead of him, illumining what otherwise would be unseen and unknown. But this field of meaningfulness is not a “tool” that we “use” (like the miner’s headlamp). Rather, it is what we are: a “lit up” arena of intelligibility within which we can make sense of whatever we encounter.

... Heidegger calls this prior field of meaningfulness “the clearing,” on an analogy with a clearing in the forest that lets in the sunlight so that people can see and understand whatever they encounter within that space.

And in a nod to Gregory's answer, from 6. How should one relate to the clearing?

Heidegger connects the unfathomable fact of the clearing with the equally unfathomable fact of our mortality — indeed, the two are fundamentally the same mystery.

Ref. Thomas Sheehan's online articles

Answered by Chris Degnen on October 10, 2020


Here in this answer I used a special type of reasoning (I don't know whether you'd agree or not).

Since consciousness is a special case, 'A' is considered as an inseparable combination of 'B', 'C' & 'D'. So I treated each two of 'B', 'C' & 'D' as the part of the other.

If spiritual leaders can also be treated as philosophers of mind, I wish to consider a word in the eastern philosophy and try to explain it as mentioned above.


Sri Ramakrishna used to say, "Brahman is the only thing which has never become 'ucchiṣṭa' (leftover), that is, defiled by human mouth". If so who can confine it in each entity and announce that 'This one is the most important part of consciousness'?

I don't know whether there is anything in a nutshell more than this--Satcitananda.

Just go through the following link and verify whether any of the two attributes given can be treated as insignificant and can be discarded.

You may verify whether the most important thing you proposed --'memory', would be absorbed by any of the two attributes in the link. If so you could discard it.

If consciousness is its inevitable 'part', Other two attributes must also be its main attributes.

Even if inversion may not be possible in many cases, in this case inversion is possible.

This word is considered as the compact form.

Since consciousness itself is not a familiar thing like other things, its 'parts' are also difficult to be realized/found out.

Answered by SonOfThought on October 10, 2020

Different philosophers claim slightly different views the only thing they really agree on is that we do indeed experience consciousness. Some say that it arises from the brain because there are many millions of neurons firing . Other say that it is emergent from our fear of death or the fact that we have language. I personally believe that it is impart due to language but also the fact that we are around other human beings all the time.

Answered by Gregory on October 10, 2020

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