PHIL 467W Seminar II: Qualia
PHIL 803 Selected Topics in Metaphysics: Qualia

Fall Semester 2013 | Evening | Burnaby


INSTRUCTOR: M. Hahn, WMC 4627 (mhahn at


Since at least Thomas Reid, philosophers have believed that in order to describe our experience, particularly our perceptual experience, it is not enough to speak of what the experience represents. It has long been acknowledged that an organism could have perceptual information about the world around it without being conscious of it. To be conscious, to have a perceptual experience, for it to be like something to be in that state, we also have to have sensations – the raw feels of perception. In the 20th century, these sensations came to be called qualia and there does not seem to be a better term for them. This is unfortunate, because there are quite a few philosophers who agree that what makes perception into experience are, indeed, sensations just as Reid said, but who do not see themselves as “qualia freaks”, to use Ned Block’s self-description. 

In this course, we will explore the nature of these alleged items, the arguments in their favour (Frank Jackson’s knowledge argument being the main one), and the alleged consequences of admitting or denying their existence.


  • There’s Something About Mary:  Essays on Phenomenal Consciousness and Frank Jackson’s Knowledge Argument, by Peter Ludlow, Yujin Nagasawa and Daniel Stoljar.  MIT Press, ISBN:  978-0262621892.

    We are not going to use all the readings in the book, and the readings we will use are almost all available in electronic form, free of charge, through the library. But the book is a very good collection of papers on the topic. Additional articles will be assigned and made available during the class.


  • This is a W course, so the focus will be on producing a polished seminar paper. A draft of the paper will be required, followed by a version revised in response to comments. 15% of the grade will be based on class participation.

Prerequisites (467W):  Two 300-level PHIL courses.