-- Excerpts From the Discussion

Ted Honderich's theory is summed up in an opening target paper in a double issue of the Journal of Consciousness Studies  for July and August 2006 and also a separate book.
The target paper is then the subject of argument and judgement in new papers by eleven other philosophers. In each case there is also a paper in reply by Honderich. The book is Radical Externalism: Honderich's Theory of Consciousness Discussed, edited by Anthony Freeman (Imprint Academic, 2006).

The philosophers are Prof. Harold Brown, Prof. Tim Crane, Dr. James Garvey, Dr. Stephen Law, Prof. E. J. Lowe, Dr. Derek Matravers, Prof. Paul Noordhof, Prof. Ingmar Persson, Dr. Stephen Priest, Dr. Barry Smith, Prof. Paul Snowdon.

What follows here are brief excerpts from the target paper and the 22 other papers. These are certainly summaries of the papers, or indications of all their contents. As noted below, you can also turn to all of the target paper and to three of the other papers and the replies to them.

The theory of consciousness in question is the one so condemned by Colin McGinn in his review of On Consciousness, the subject of a reply by Honderich. But skip all that. Remember instead that the whole theory comes to fruition in 2014 in the Oxford University Press book Actual Consciousness.


Target Paper
by Ted Honderich

We ordinarily take it that consciousness is something we have. It is because in seeing the page we don't have the neurons or whatever that the neurons are not part of the consciousness. ... The most useful form of the proposition that consciousness is something we have is this: with respect to consciousness, there is no difference between appearance and reality.

We started, after putting aside your seeing a page,  with the property, fact or affairs that was exactly your consciousness of the page. We now have it that a certain question is crucial. What did your consciousness seem to consist in? An answer can grow on you fast. It was for the page to be there.

That this fact of consciousness necessarily was what it seemed to be, the state of affairs that was the page's being there, a state of affairs outside your head, is one of the several most fundamental propositions of the Radical Externalism that is our subject. More fully, to be perceptually conscious is only for an extra-cranial state of affairs to exist -- for there to be a spatio-temporal set of things with a dependence on another extra-cranial state of affairs and also on what is in a particular cranium. The page's being there, and more generally your world of perceptual consciousness is things being in space and time, with such further properties as colour, and being dependent on a scientific or noumenal world underneath and also dependent on you neurally.

The particular state of affairs in question [your being conscious of the page], and your ongoing world of perceptual consciousness, are different from but also like other states of affairs and worlds. They are different, that is, from other conceptualizations of what there is -- where what there is is whatever it is to which we bring our perceptual, conceptual, theoretical and other schemes, systems and apparatuses, including our perceptual apparatus.

Consciousness is perceptual, reflective or affective -- in brief it has to do with seeing, thinking and wanting. We are as good as never engaged in only one of the sorts of things. There are large problems here.

...the theory [in its three parts] reduces consciousness to things at least close to what other theories and attitudes take to be the contents of consciousness, thereby supposing or implying there is more to it than the contents. But the theory does not take all of consciousness outside the cranium. It does not do so with all of reflective consciousness. Very briefly, what it seems to be to think of home now is for something to exist that has some of the properties of home. That is what a representation essentially is -- something that shares some effects with what is represented. Think of  the exclamation 'Fire!', however that may stand as an effect to a previous cause, say fire.

...it is certainly the determined intention of...Radical Externalism not to be circular. The theory is not and does not include or rest on a non-analysis. It is not the proposition that perceptual consciousness consists in a world's existing of which there is consciousness or awareness.

Do you say that the proposition that what it is for us to be perceptually conscious is for there to be an external state of affairs is an absurd proposition? ... The proposition is not conceptual analysis, not a report of ordinary or specialist usage. ... Rather, in saying that perceptual consciousness consists in an external state of affairs, what we do is propose what it is reasonable to call conceptual revision or even reconstruction -- conceptual revolution if you are being grand... Radical Externalism is the only sort of theory that satisfies what are essential criteria for an acceptable theory of the nature of consciousness. If you will put up with my saying so, the criteria have the demands of reality in them.

Devout physicalism, a true monism, is the belief or perhaps attitude that our consciousness is a fact, property or state of affairs that involves only physical properties...in particular properties in existing and more or less anticipated neuroscience. Devout physicalism, once known as materialism, is thinking of importance on the nature of consciousness in the contemporary philosophy of mind.

What still has the name of dualism, contrary to what is often remarked, is not thinking about consciousness that has been abandoned. In fact, it is in a way the majority view not only in the philosophy of mind and perhaps working neuroscience. I hazard this because it appears certain that a majority of philosophers and scientists are rightly unable to swallow devout physicalism and have nowhere to go but dualism. In brief, it is is the theory, rightly associated with Descartes, that your consciousness is somehow non-spatial and hence not physical. It is in fact only misleadingly called dualism, mainly because its distinctive nature and its problems are not owed to its asserting that consciousness is other than physical but rather to its asserting that consciousness is out of space and in fact of a mysterious nature. ...it is better named spiritualism or mentalism.

For the whole of this target paper, go to Radical Externalism.


by Prof. Harold Brown
Northern Illinois University

I will begin these comments with perceptual consciousness and focus on a class of persistent visual illusions known as subjective contours (see Figure 1).

Honderich writes ‘You are seeing this page. ... What did your consciousness seem to consist in? An answer can grow on you fast. It was for the page to be there’. Well, the contours are also there... ...

The text continues: 'The page's being there, and more generally your world of perceptual consciousness is things being in space and time, with such further properties as colour, and being dependent on a scientific or noumenal world underneath and also dependent on you neurally’. ...most of this holds for subjective contours....

Thus far I have been busily poking a hole in Radical Externalism, but I have been doing so in the service of another of Professor Honderich's themes with which I agree -- to a degree. ... Professor Honderich is proposing a ‘conceptual revision or even reconstruction -- conceptual revolution if you are being grand' ... With this I completely agree....

...Newton introduced the concept of mass as distinct from weight. ...The systematic scientific study of consciousness is a new endeavor and, as we have found in many other instances in the history of science, the modes of thought that we have inherited from our ancestors are likely to be in need of radical replacement.


Suppose you get a lead pencil and draw Harold Brown's Figure 1 on a piece of paper. Then, with respect to the part of your figure on the left, you do whatever is necessary -- just what you do contains the mystery we are concerned with -- not to be conscious of the six-pointed star and so on, and instead only to be conscious of one triangle, the one tilted left rather than right. Or, to try to speak just a bit more exactly, you do what is necessary to attend to that triangle rather than anything else of which maybe you can be said to be less conscious.

Brown...suggests or implies that it is not clear how the visual illusion fits into Radical Externalism's categorizations and conceptual framework, and hence that the visual illusion cannot be well dealt with by Radical Externalism, and that that framework is not adequate for understanding visual perception. He offers a string of quotations and considerations in support of these propositions. The quotations and considerations puzzle me a little. His reference to 'the world of perceptual consciousness' after he gets going...doesn't sound like a reference to one of the many worlds of perceptual consciouness that there are -- as many as there are perceivers. His reference makes me wonder if he is really contemplating Radical Externalism in what I am pleased to call its simple beauty. ...

To come on to the larger part of Brown's paper, which can be considered more quickly, he completely agrees with the proposition that we need conceptual change, maybe a conceptual revolution, in order to deal with the problem of the nature of consciousness. We need to leave behind conceptions in various mind-brain theories and also in such theories of perception as phenomenalism, realisms, and the disjunctive view. This is good to hear in a dark age of philosophy. Friends always welcome. But along with the agreement comes what is claimed to be disagreement, about how far we may need to go, or anyway about the nature of the necessary departure from the orthodoxies in the philosophy and science of mind.


by Prof. Tim Crane
University College London

Honderich’s theory...starts with a good phenomenological observation: that perceptual experience appears to involve external things being immediately present to us. ... But in my view that does not make the whole theory plausible. There are puzzling questions one can raise. ... ...I will focus on what are to me three outstanding weaknesses in Honderich's present paper: the formulation of his theory, his treatment of the most obvious problem for his theory, and his criticisms of opposing views.

Honderich says here that there are two pages, one in the physical world and one in the world of perceptual consciousness. This consequence is surely bizarre -- as bizarre as any of the sense-data views that Honderich ridicules -- and may rob the doctrine of Radical Externalism of any of the pre-theoretical plausibility it initially had. Remember that initially what was appealing about the view was hownatural it is to think that in perceptual (more properly, visual) experience, the world is simply 'open to view'.

What is clear is that it is not the ordinary mind-independent physical page which you see when you see the page. Radical Externalism therefore turns out to be a version of the early 20th century sense-data theory... ... This view is certainly radical, but if I am right it is not new. ...

The philosophy of perception can...be seen as the struggle to square the manifest phenomenology of perception with the apparent possibility of hallucination and plausible naturalistic metaphysical commitments.

Does [Honderich] have in mind the disjunctivist view that not everything that seems like a perceptual experience is an experience of the same kind? The disjunctivist says that although there can be a sufficient neural condition for a state which seems like a state of perceptual consciousness – in the sense that if my retina were stimulated in exactly the same way as it is now but by some cause other than the page, it would seem to me exactly as if I were seeing a page – but is not such a state. Does Honderich accept this view?

His main strategy is to describe certain criteria which any theory of conscious has to meet.... His strategy is certainly a good one, so long as he has considered a good range of alternative views. On this, in my view, he fails badly. ... It's hard to see how progress can be made by discussing philosophical views in this way. ... As it stands, I can see little to recommend Radical Externalism.


Crane...says Radical Externalism starts with the good observation that 'perceptual experience appears to involve things being immediately present to us'. No, Radical Externalism does not begin with that vagueness, presumably including some obscure relation of presentness to something or other. It begins from, or anyway rests on, the proposition that perceptual experience appears to include nothing whatever other than an existence of external things.

Crane ... says, in the engaging style of Samuel Johnson, refuting absurdity by common sense, maybe by a kick, here is a man before us who believes in two pages. Well, I plead guilty to a little audacity in appropriating a physical-object term for another purpose, but it is for a good purpose. I use it for a near-physical thing. On the principal and fundamental point, and to become a little Johnsonian myself, who does not believe there is a difference, a lot of difference, between the physical page and what he now perceives -- what on my view is the the thing that constitutes his perceptual consciousness? Each has properties lacked by the other. There is an awful lot of philosophy on this indubitable difference, most recently labelled by talk of the view from nowhere and the view from here (Nagel, 1986), a little earlier discussed in terms of what was called the construction of the physical world (Ayer, 1973). Earlier than that came British Empiricism. Indeed the difference is in common sense.

Crane slides away from what he has truly reported several times, that the view under discussion takes your world of perceptual consciousness to depend partly on you neurally, your brain. We hear instead that 'it is dependent on experience'. ... This helps him on to the misunderstanding or anyway contentious understanding of Radical Externalism as again something Berkeleian -- version of the early 20th Century sense-data theory. The two theories are alike, of course, in not taking perceptual consciousness to be a relation to a physical object. They are different in that Radical Externalism does not take your being perceptually conscious to include a relation at all -- physical, mental or otherwise. They are different, too, and fundamentally, in that it was indeed essential to the sense-data view that so-called objects of experience are somehow mental. I have no idea why Crane denies this.That was the unswallowable essence of the view.

While it is true that my study of what is called disjunctivism has not been sufficient, I suppose that Radical Externalism is related to it. That is not to say that it is disjunctivism. For a start, it is not a device for dealing with the argument from illusion, but an independently based and independently articulated theory. It has independent strength. It is no fiat or invention, if a clever one, for dealing with an argument that must fail. Its central proposition, that to be perceptually conscious is for something to exist, is certainly not the direct realism or the like that I take it is disjunctivism's account of perception.

I end there -- with the idea about Crane's comment on Radical Externalism that as it stands I can see little to recommend it. Up to you, reader.


by Dr. James Garvey
Royal Institute of Philosophy

Consciousness as Existence or Radical Externalism has a lot to recommend it.... ... I have no desire to drop perfectly respectable naturalistic commitments, but I can’t help thinking that views which are true to them leave out the reality of consciousness. The frustration is just part of the philosophy of mind for some of us.

Is Radical Externalism something new?  The view isn’t reheated Berkeley. Honderich’s worlds contain more than just minds and the ideas in them. The view isn’t Kant’s either.  ... The view isn’t the semantic externalism of Putnam or Burge, as for Radical Externalism it is not just meaning which ain’t in the head. The view isn’t the extended mind of Chalmers and Clark either, as for Honderich it isn’t part of my memory or belief structure that’s out there. Radical Externalism really is new....

Look again at the page and stick your finger in your eye just hard enough to double your vision.  What just doubled?  Traditionally, there is only one answer going.  You can say  ... that what doubled was something mental, a representation or image of the page out there in the world.  This sort of thinking is probably the main motivation or recommendation for representational realism, phenomenalism and other views in the neighbourhood.  What does radical externalism say about the doubling?

Think about a brain in a vat.  Neuroscientists are feeding it electrical impulses or whatever is required to give it the experience of a page, apparently creating a world of perceptual consciousness with no dependency on a page in the noumenal world.  Honderich is alive to the difficulty:  ‘Here, as some have said, is a disaster that finishes off an unlikely idea’. Honderich’s response is to deny the possibility of a real, live brain in a vat having the experience of a page when there is no page in sight. 

There is one last sort of phenomena worth considering, one last aspect of perceptual consciousness which might not sit well with the notion of consciousness as existence.  Sometimes what I have in my world of perceptual consciousness is clearly something which is not there.  When I am looking for my keys, particularly when I am running very late and I’m being told to get a move on, what I see everywhere around me is not the keys. ... Think about Sartre’s talk of nothingness or absence as something experienced on a par with presence. If you arrange to meet the ever-punctual Pierre at the café, you arrive fifteen minutes late, and Pierre is nowhere to be seen, his absence stands out to you, just as his presence would were he there. 

It might be that thoughts along these lines will help Radical Externalism give an account of our experience of these sorts of absences.  Of the other things which seem to involve the experience of what does not exist – illusions, hallucinations, dreams and the experiences of brains in vats – I’m a little less sure.


Speaking for Radical Externalism, you can remain impressed by a theory of perceptual consciousness that works better than any other theory when you are not sticking your finger in your eye. Remember the criteria for an adequate theory of consciousness and how it can be argued that they select Radical Externalism and nothing else.

If this sort of fortitude is possible in reply to Garvey's doubling of the page, it is fortunate that there is something else better to say. You can take the view that more has to be put into the theory of Radical Externalism -- and that it can be. If this is a concession about the past, so be it.

Suppose some advanced neuroscientific tinkering with my retinas and/or cortex has the effect that whenever there is a photo of Blair in front of me, the forehead has a label on it, 'Sincere Guy'. And maybe there is a dead Iraqi in the photo as well. Maybe a lot more than one. Does Radical Externalism commit us to saying that my experience consists in a world of perceptual consciousness? I propose that it does not. For a world of perceptual consciousness, there has to be not only a dependency on the person, but the right kind of dependency. As soon as that is said, it is as obvious as Davidson's proposition that a desire to act in a certain way has to cause a movement in the right way for it to be true that the movement is an intentional action.

To come on quickly to the experience of brains in vats, Garvey correctly reports that such a brain, on my view, is not having that sort of consciousness that is perceptual consciousness. That seems to me a pretty comfortable position. What is not so comfortable is the need for another concession. Maybe there was something in the proud hope that Radical Externalism could be open to empirical test. What seems more defensible is just the position that the theory gives argued grounds for a distinction -- the distinction according to which there can be no world of perceptual consciousness in the case of the brain in the vat or an hallucination, but something else.

If perceptual consciousness consists in existence, what sense can be made of experiencing these absences? The line of thought is inventive, not more of the same. It is also inventive of Garvey to think of the possibility of trying to deal with the phenomenon by means of affective consciousness in particular -- in a word, desiring.



by Dr. Stephen Law
Heythrop College, University of London

Ted Honderich offers an ingenious and radical new solution to the problem of consciousness – a solution that promises, among other things, to do justice to two important features of consciousness – to both its subjectivity and its causal efficacy. According to Honderich, the main alternatives to his own radical externalism are certain forms of dualism or as he puts it 'spiritualism' and 'devout physicalism'. Honderich’s central argument for radical externalism is that it succeeds in respecting those features of consciousness to which these two main alternatives fail to do justice. It is, therefore, the superior theory. But is Radical Externalism superior? Does it have this advantage over its two main rivals? I don’t believe it does. The central argument of this paper is that Radical Externalism falls foul of much the same kinds of problems concerning causal interaction that plague spiritualism. Indeed, ironically, it turns out that Radical Externalism is vulnerable to a similar objection to that which Honderich himself cleverly levelled again [Donald Davidson's] Anomalous Monism almost a quarter century ago. ...

...we appear to face an intractable dilemma so far as consciousness is concerned. We can either favour some form of devout physicalism, but then we fail to do justice to the subjectivity of consciousness. Or we can embrace some variety of spiritualism, in which case we run into the problem of causal interaction - indeed, we may find ourselves unable to prevent a slide into epiphenomenalism.... I’m sure many philosophers of mind would acknowledge that we do at least face something like the dilemma that Honderich presents us with. ... The question is: does Honderich’s new alternative...allow us to resolve the dilemma?

Part of my difficulty here is in identifying precisely what worlds of perceptual consciousness are supposed to include. The suggestion seems to be that they can include real physical objects, as opposed to mere subjective surrogates for them.

Like Honderich, I’m not keen on 'spiritualism' or 'devout physicalism'. I am persuaded that we probably should be looking for a much more radical solution. Honderich’s Radical Externalism is bold, imaginative and, I suspect, a very significant step in the right direction. But I am not persuaded that, as it stands, Radical Externalism really does solve the causal interaction problem, as Honderich claims. Not as it stands.


As against his positive contributions, Law does not make so explicit what can seem to be the principal facet of subjectivity -- that your being perceptually conscious is subjective in exactly the sense that it is different. A world of perceptual consciousness is different from the physical world, or an objective world in a defined sense, or the world of things already admitted to current science or likely to be admitted soon. These are indeed views from nowhere, standardized possessions of no one in particular. So too, despite the remote possibility just mentioned, your world of perceptual consciousness is different from anyone else's world of perceptual consciousness.

...to come to the conclusion of this refutation of Anomalous Monism, the doctrine is an epiphenomenalism, an unbelievable denial of the efficacy of consciousness. Law proposes the irony that Radical Externalism suffers the same awful fate, to my mind suffers as good as a reductio ad absurdum.

One answer is that those lines by Law are a non-sequitur. It does not follow, from the premise of the numerical distinctness of worlds, in particular a world of perceptual consciousness and the physical world, that there are not lawlike connections between them. It does not follow from the premise that the one world there is, as we all recognize, can be categorized in different ways, that things in one cannot be necessary conditions of things in the other. Radical Externalism differs from Anomalous Monism, first of all, in that Radical Externalism does not deny but rather embraces psychophysical lawlike connection in general. In the two propositions of dependency, it already asserts such connections.

His supposition that a world of perceptual conciousness includes physical objects plays another role in the second last section of his paper. If there are physical objects in worlds of perceptual consciousness, these worlds can't be subjective in the ways they were supposed to be. Indeed so, I reply. That is why there are not physical objects included in them.



by Prof. E. J. Lowe
University of Durham

Honderich’s ‘Radical Externalism’ concerning the nature of consciousness is a refreshing, and in many ways very appealing, approach to a long-standing and seemingly intractable philosophical conundrum. ... ...I sympathize with many of his motivations in advancing the theory and share his hostility for certain alternative approaches that are currently popular.

A crucial claim, which seems to have axiomatic status for Honderich, is that ‘with respect to consciousness, there is no difference between appearance and reality’. ... He asks: what does our consciousness in this case seem to consist in? And he answers: it seems to consist in the page’s being there. Ergo, applying the principle, our consciousness of the page just is the page’s being there.... But this argument has the air of sleight of hand about it.... Here is another way of construing the application of the principle concerning appearance and reality to the case of perceiving the page. ...what I may conclude is that there is no difference between the page’s really seeming to me to be there and its merely appearing or seeming to seem to me to be there — that’s all. Construed in this way, the principle doesn’t license any very exciting ontological conclusion....

...when my consciousness of the page ceases to exist (when, for instance, I close my eyes or turn away), the state of affairs in which this consciousness supposedly consists  -- to wit, the page’s being there -- likewise ceases to exist. In short, for objects like this page, esse est percipi. It turns out, or so it would seem, that Honderich’s ‘extra-cranial’ objects of perception are very much like Berkeley’s ideas.

I said earlier that I felt that Honderich is unfair to some of his opponents’ views. His characterization of dualism, in particular, is something of a parody. As Honderich has it, the dualist maintains that ‘consciousness is somehow non-spatial and hence not physical’.

I can’t resist responding to another jibe that Honderich directs at dualism, or ‘spiritualism’ as he scornfully describes it, when he asserts that ‘Spiritualism in its carry-on about a self or subject or the mind faces overwhelming objections’. Of course, if the ‘self’ or ‘subject’ or ‘mind’ is supposed to be some sort of immaterial and spatially unlocated thing or stuff  -- a ‘spirit’ -- it may indeed face overwhelming objections. But I take it that any sensible view of the self holds that selves are no different from persons and that persons are incontestably subjects of experience.

For the whole of Lowe's paper, go to Radical Externalism or Berkeley Revisited?.


Having made those two remarks, I feel an urge to confession. It is that it may possibly have been misleading of me to talk of your being conscious of the page as seeming to be such and such.... It was misleading...to talk of your being conscious of the page as seeming to be only an existing of the page. It was better to propose what preceded this, which was the proposition that what you have in the episode, what is given or what is presented, is only an existing of the page. Are those metaphors? I guess so. Better a decent metaphor than many a literal thing.

I can be about as quick with the objection, heard of before now, that Radical Externalism is reheated Berkeley. The first reply is that the theory is indeed that what it is for your to be perceptually conscious is really for things to be in space and time outside your head. I'm sure Berkeley didn't say or commit himself to that. But if he did, then of course he has been monstrously misunderstood by an awful lot of philosophers, including Lowe, and I am delighted to welcome him to a happy band of brothers and sisters.

Do I also weaken the case for the theory by uncharitable or unfair characterizations of alternative views? Should more time have been spent distinguishing the various items that philosophers have brought into the world as objects of perception as a result of the argument from illusion? Why should that have been done when the point of importance, given my argumentative strategy, was simply the undisputed one that the new objects of perception shared a non-realist character? If somebody says all conservatives are generous, and I think I can show that general proposition is false, do I also have to spend time distinguishing among conservatives? As for my usages, say 'spiritualism', they are defined. And there is a lot to be said, I think, for something less than piety in approaching covertly persisting orthodoxies.

Lowe comes in the end not to be devil's advocate, but advocate of himself, perfectly properly. ... Until I learn some more [of his book], I shall be unhappy in the view that this is a spiritualism in my sense. What is said about it in order to reduce its mystery is that these subjects are in some relation to biological bodies, and bodies have spatial properties. With respect -- I do mean respect -- that seems to go nowhere towards making these subjects either spatial or unmysterious. They're not at all like weight or height. Descartes himself, after all, had his notorious egos in some or other relation with our spatial bodies.

For the whole of this paper, go to Radical Externalism or Berkeley Revisited?


Dr. Derek Matravers
Open University

Honderich offers something like the following: the world-in-itself causes changes in our neural system and something happens -- a WPC comes into existence. The world appears a certain way to me. Why is this not merely an appearance (a mental world)?

We can perform a simple experiment: press your eyeball with your finger and your mental images (so to speak) of the objects around you double. (This ‘experiment’ was first described to me twenty years ago by Mark Sainsbury, although I cannot recall what was being discussed at the time). Here is one way of describing what is going on. At the time you are doing this, the way your experience represents the world as being is that there are two pens in front of you (or one rather weird and discontinuous pen).

...my third question concerns the extent to which this theory is explanatory. Honderich is ambitious: he wants to analyse consciousness in terms of something else. He is critical of attempts (if they are attempts) to give an account of consciousness in terms of locutions such as ‘what it is like to be’ something. As he points out, ‘the analysandum is right there in each of the analysans’ (131). Honderich’s theory looks, prima facie, to escape this by explaining one thing (consciousness) in terms of another (the existence of the world). Let us walk through the steps one more time to see where the burden of the explanation lies.

Honderich is an adventurous and resourceful philosopher. His account, as he has argued, has many advantages, not being one of the standard accounts principal among them. This point needs to be taken seriously: it does seem that progress will be made only with some radical change in direction.


I do indeed want to maintain that the world given to me now as I look down at the back courtyard of this house is also defensibly said to be the one world there is conceived in a certain way -- the one world partially and uniquely related to me now. There is no contradiction between those two descriptions, none whatever. Realities, to put the point rhetorically, are something like choices from reality. That does not make them into concepts or whatever. Something picked out by me as my Land Rover or the automobile industry or a lovely part of Somerset doesn't become just an idea by being picked out.

Sometimes, ... as in the case of a finger in the eye, what it is for us to be conscious is instead to be described at least partly in terms of reflective consciousness. Or, better, what we need to do is think about such cases by way of more categories than just those of perceptual and reflective consciousness. This we can do without coming near to giving up the principal propositions of Radical Externalism. Maybe we can get some help from disjunctivism. Certainly, according to a summary or two if it, it can get some help from us.

On the main point in Matravers' third concern, it doesn't seem to me that in Radical Externalism there is even a whiff of the analysandum being part of the the analysans. You don't get such a whiff, so far as I can sense, from the explanation of how WPCs come about. So the theory has a necessary virtue not had by all theories, most obviously some that try to explain consciousness in terms of intentionality where that is a relation to 'the mind'.


Prof. Paul Noordhof
University of York

...stimulating and provocative theory of consciousness...

Some philosophers..support a certain view of perceptual experience: Disjunctivism (of the Naïve Realist kind – qualification omitted hereafter) According to such philosophers, perceptual experiences are not a common kind of mental state but involve at least two distinct kinds. There are the mental states which involve the world appearing to the subject of experience and there are those which involve mere appearance.

Strikingly, Honderich’s explanation of perceptual consciousness is – in terms of its explanation of the consciousness bit – no different from one which might have been offered by sense datum theorists. ... It would be quite compatible with their approach to suppose that the presence of sense data or qualia is nomically dependent upon a subject’s neural properties. Then, for such theorists by analogy, perceptual consciousness is the existence of sense data or qualia. A natural objection to make against the sense data or qualia theory is that we have here no explanation of consciousness but rather something which presupposes an explanation of it in order to make sense of qualia or sense data. These are understood to be things of which we could not fail to be aware. But what exactly is it to be a thing like that? Precisely the same objection may be raised against Honderich’s theory. The objects of his perceptual world also seem to require characterisation in terms the impossibility of failure of awareness. Of course, Honderich has other reasons to reject sense datum or qualia theories of perceptual consciousness. I don’t want to disagree with him about their force. However, it appears he has no objection to the structure of the theory that such a sense datum theorist would provide, namely in terms of neurally dependent objects, even if he differs over what these are.

It is the fate of stimulating, provocative and paradigm-shifting theories to be criticised. This fate has not escaped Honderich’s theory in the present paper – where normal philosophy (presumably an accompaniment of normal science) has asserted itself.

The plausibility of Honderich’s theory stems from the fact that it states the success conditions of consciousness. Honderich is right that when we are perceptually conscious it seems to us that there is a world. ... However, Honderich’s attempt to derive a substantive theory of consciousness from it is problematic if the reasons given above are sound.


Doubt does not arise in my mind about whether Paul Noordhof's paper is a good one. But I have found it hard to get a hold of all of it. Maybe the reason is a common one -- another philosopher's immersion in a local doctrine or doctrines and hence a use of labels, abbreviations and styles familiar to a group of comrades but not the rest of us, or not yet the rest of us. Does a disbelief in anything else go along with this immersion, indeed an attempt to reform anything else into something akin to local doctrine? If, reader, you take those opening remarks as intended to convey a certain superiority, your impression should be affected by also hearing that I am aware that the labels, abbreviations and styles of Radical Externalism are not exactly a philosophical lingua franca.

Disjunctivism in one main form is a response to the argument from illusion. The doctrine is to the effect that while there may be no difference whatever in consciousness between your seeing a leopard and your really hallucinating one, this does not show that on both occasions your consciousness is to be characterized in terms of sense data or the like. ... Actually seeing a leopard is to be understood somehow along the lines of direct realism or what was once called naive realism. That is, seeing a leopard is to be understood as your somehow being in direct touch with a leopard....

Noordhof  supposes...that disjunctivism does better...in saying what we are given in consciousness. This rating, however, is based on a misapprehension -- that it has ever been a proposition of Radical Externalism that what is given to me when I see a leopard is in part that the experience is dependent on my neural properties. In fact that would surely be remarkable speculation. It puts a cause within an effect.

...I come to the question of whether Radical Externalism's own development of the idea of consciousness is circular. Or, at any rate the question of whether it is involved in a defeatist strategy for philosophy of leaving science to explain something. The answer, for Noordhof, is yes. In explanation of this, he says the crucial difference between Radical Externalism and the account made up of two theories is that Radical Externalism makes the existence of a world dependent on the neural properties of a particular person. Indeed it does. What takes me aback, and does not make me confident in writing this reply, is the conclusion drawn from that premise -- which conclusion would certainly make Radical Externalism circular. The conclusion is the proposition that Radical Externalism, at least in some important respect or bit or other, is no different from the explanation of perceptual consciousness given by sense datum theorists. What Radical Externalism comes to, very briefly, is that to be perceptually conscious is to experience sense data. The proposition just doesn't follow from the premise that Radical Externalism makes perceptual consciousness dependent on neural facts. Or, I'm inclined to guess, it doesn't follow unless the respect or other in which it does follow is not very important.To linger a little longer here, of course a sense datum theory of consciousness is likely to make consciousness neurally dependent. Has there been any half-serious theory of consciousness since 1900, say, that hasn't done so? But that is not the main response that is needed here. It is that Radical Externalism explains what it is for your to be perceptually conscious as the existence of a state of affairs outside of you. Could anything be more remote from the theory of sense data? The latter is indeed a theory of a somehow mental world, an inner world.



Prof. Ingmar Persson
University of Gothenberg

I shall here raise and attempt to answer -- given the constraints of space, rather dogmatically -- some fundamental questions as regards the fertile and far-reaching doctrine Ted Honderich has in the past called Consciousness as Existence. I shall understand this doctrine more narrowly than he presumably does, as simply and solely the claim that ‘what it is to be conscious in any way is for something to exist in a certain way’.

I shall now present the fundamental tenets of [my] neutral monism by means of replies to four questions. In doing so I shall also attempt to relate my replies to Honderich’s Radical Externalism.

With the help of a neutral sense of existence we have then defined physical existence as independent existence and the mental as dependent existence. The concepts of the physical and the mental come out as inter-dependent, then. But it is important to notice that there is no ontological inter-dependence. In contrast to Berkeleyan idealism, my neutral monism does not make the physical ontologically dependent upon the mental (and in contrast to phenomenalism, it does not reduce it to the possible existence of something mental). On the other hand, it makes the mental ontologically dependent upon the physical. I believe this gets our intuitive ontological priorities right.

What is the difference between perceptual consciousness and reflective consciousness? All Honderich that has to say about reflective consciousness — that is, thinking — seems to boil down to that it is ‘for certain representations to occur’ This is right, but it does not take us very far.

Honderich lists affective consciousness alongside perceptual and reflective consciousness. It comprises such phenomena as desires, intentions and emotions. But going by what he says about affective consciousness,  it seems composed of elements of perceptual and reflective consciousness and, so, it does not seem to deserve a place among the fundamental forms of consciousness. Anyway, this is the stance towards them that I adopt; hence, I shall leave affective consciousness on the side.

...the points of disagreement may be more numerous than I suspect. Nevertheless, put against the background of state of the art in the philosophy of mind, it is the overall similarity between our approaches that is most striking.


The philosophy of neutral monism was espoused in different ways by William James, Ernst Mach and Bertrand Russell. Its central idea, according to reports, is that what exists is a single kind of primal stuff, not in itself either physical or mental, but stuff that has in it or about it at least the possibility, indeed something more than the possibility, of both physical and mental aspects, attributes or characters.

Are there similarities between Radical Externalism and historical neutral monism? ... The...similarity, however, seems overwhelmed by differences... ... There are no counterparts whatever in the neutral monism of the past to Radical Externalism's adequacy criteria for for theories of consciousness, its insistence on what is given in consciousness, worlds of perceptual consciousness, its externalism as against neuralism, reflective consciousness as representation in a certain sense, its character of near-physicalism, and its assumption of a reality beyond our ken that did or could have preceded any beginning of consciousness whatever and could or will persist in the absence of any remaining taint of consciousness.

We get to Persson's neutral monism, if I may abstract from some of his terminology, of which my grasp is unsure, by putting a quite different understanding on the sentence CE. As he says, he considers what you get if you take the notion of existence employed in CE to be neutral between the mental and the physical (p.00). As a result of that large change, and a couple of others, if I am right, his neutral monism is to be taken as conveying the following statement. (CE2) To be perceptually conscious of some objects is for those objects, and also a human body or the like, to exist or be related spatially in a primitive and indefinable sense that is neutral between mental and physical existence.

Persson's theory has it that your brain states are sufficient for the existence of objects outside your head. He reiterates this, I take it, when he compares his view with a quoted line of mine denying neural sufficiency for perceptual consciousness. It must seem that the theory has gone badly wrong. Is it really being asserted that what is in your head is sufficient for the existence of objects outside your head?

Do we actually have an externalism in this neutral monism, an escape from cranialism with respect to perceptual consciousness? In this theory, perceptual consciousness consists in objects that exist in a way that is left obscure.

Now to revert too quickly but necessarily to where we began, that was the question of whether Radical Externalism is a form of Persson's neutral monism. You will anticipate that my answer is no. The similarities between Radical Externalism and this neutral monism, and also between Radical Externalism and historical neutral monism, are indeed overwhelmed by differences between them.


Dr. Stephen Priest
Oxford University

Where, pre-theoretically, I think of my own consciousness there seems to be nothing. However, this consciousness is not nothing but no-thing-ness.

Like Sartre, Honderich maintains that it is 'a falsehood...that we can attach sense to talk of a reality-behind with respect to consciousness itself '. Honderich and Husserl share the view that while objects in the external world admit of an appearance/reality distinction..consciousness does not admit of an appearance/reality distinction...

The house is constructed as a whole object though my experiences of it. Because of this, when I see it I take it to be a whole even though I do not see the whole of it at any one time. This is an achievement of consciousness.

Is Radical Externalism true? By adopting a phenomenological view, Honderich has adopted a Cartesian methodological standpoint. The existence with which he identifies consciousness is what is presented to a subject from their own first person singular point of view. Admittedly, this is a huge improvement on the anonymous or wholly third-person materialisms of the industrial age. It is a phenomenology of the screen age, a virtual mentalism for the epoch and the epoche of virtual reality.

Hume missed just about everything that really matters in introspection: the eternal present, absolute interiority, the presence of consciousness as an inside without an outside, the me-ness of my psychological interiority, the infinite inner space of the soul. Of course none of this is given as ‘something else’, as an extra discriminable item available within introspection. It is the subjective space where it all takes place.

...Honderich’s theory of consciousness needs to be enriched to explain the reality of the present, why someone is him, why there is a subjective interiority of his own being, why the contents of consciousness are presented as existence: as though they could be all there is. To answer these questions, Honderich will have to cut the thick mooring ropes that tie him to scientific materialism and realise he is a spiritual substance.

For the whole of Priest's paper, go to Radical Internalism.


Is Radical Externalism in trouble because it reduces what it is to be perceptually conscious to the existence of a world? Well, you can think talk of reductionism, a charge or complaint of reductionism, always needs questioning. Some reductionism is good: the reduction of X to Y when there is nothing more to X than to Y. Some is bad: when there is more to X than to Y.

I admit, without a sense of defeat or indeed much discomfiture, that Radical Externalism is not a developed theory with respect to what can be called conceptual schemes and what they are about. That is not to say that the root idea about worlds of perceptual consciousness and the physical world is intolerably vague.

Is the next idea of kinship more promising? It has to do with what may be the best known piece of Husserl's philosophy. This, I take it, is a step in philosophizing -- the epoche or suspension of belief -- in fact suspension of both belief and disbelief -- with respect to what may include more than what is called the world of the natural attitude, which world has in it physical objects and people. ... ...your being perceptually conscious, that state of affairs as described by Radical Externalism, is pretty close to the last thing that could be exactly your suspending belief and disbelief in the suggested way.

...what the last three sections of Priest's paper come to in an overview is that chosen sentences of Radical Externalism, taken or maybe freely understood as certain propositions, theses or perhaps images, issue in Radical Internalism.... Certainly it is a grand exemplar of what I have called spiritualism.

It is my own view that the Verification Principle of Meaning, notoriously incapable of general proof, is best taken as a cautious generaliation owed to reactions to or reflections on particular metaphysical and other utterances rather than a principle to be brought to bear on kinds of utterances (Honderich, 2004). But, to come to the point, I have some doubt about at least some of Priest's sentences. What is it, with respect to the nature of consciousness, if we put aside banalities, to have the enormous cosmic privilege of being the demarcation between the past the future?

For the whole of the reply to Priest's paper, go to Radical Internalism.


Dr. Barry Smith
Birkbeck College, University of London

I experience buildings in view through the window, the clothes in the corner of the room, the colour of the walls, the plate with breads, the coffee mugs, the smell of fresh laundry, the muffled sounds of someone in the kitchen, the sounds from the street: a sequence of things that in turn capture my attention moment to moment. ... There is an awareness of the world from this point of view and an awareness of my sole experience of enjoying it. I am aware of my consciousness as a unique event, or it being mine.

This interplay between inner and outer, described above, shows the way consciousness depends on both the subject’s physical and internal environment. The world and the people in it have a part to play in shaping our consciousnesses. But the world is not enough. For it is not just what we are aware of but also the fact of our being aware of it (even our awareness of being aware), that we seek to explain.

... it is this feature that is characteristic of the consciousness we care about and deem worthy of philosophical attention...that seems to go missing in Ted Honderich’s radically externalist account of consciousness.

The Nobel Prize winning mathematician, John Nash, like many other schizophrenics reported lucid, stable and persisting hallucinations of people confronting him and talking to him.
These cases are more difficult to deal with than the usual cases of hallucination invented by philosophers.  Here, we are not dealing with a dream world or simulation of reality produced by a brain in a vat. The experiences these schizophrenic patients undergo involve perceptions of their physical surroundings that really do exist and which they successfully negotiate, where these perceived surroundings are augmented by characters who do not actually exist. The consciousness of such patients is a consciousness of a world but one they have added to, and populated, with fictions of their conscious minds. Such experiences can only be explained as episodes in consciousness and talk of their being for a world in a way to exist may make sense, but now the key phrase is being used in a quite different way when it is the real world, or the world populated with imaginary objects, we are talking about. Consciousness is not always about existence and is not always fully captured by what is out there.

Conscious phenomena are so close to us and so familiar and yet the nature of consciousness is so utterly inscrutable. It is a brave philosopher who dares to propose an account of its nature and attempts to satisfy our philosophical qualms that there is no account to be given. Ted Honderich has made such an attempt and should be praised for doing so. He gives us all more material to get to work on.


I take it that while Smith allowed at the start that we are not always and indeed not for the most part not aware of being aware, conscious of being perceptually conscious, that is not the end of the story. The fact that we can do the thing is what is worthy of philosophical attention. It is, it seems, the big fact or what points to the big fact about perceptual consciousness in general.

...within conscious experience, whether or not we are aware of it -- whether or not we attend to it? -- there is a second awareness. The objection to Radical Externalism is not the truism that I can over a couple of seconds or minutes be conscious of the room and then conscious of the prior consciousness. The objection is that being perceptually conscious of the room, in the perfectly ordinarily way, has within it being conscious of that consciousness. This, I take it, is akin to something heard before in philosophy, maybe from Hegel for a start, that all consciousness is self-consciousness.

Is it an embarrassment for the philosophy of mind, and hence for Radical Externalism, that some disputes rest at bottom on what can seem to be ground-level divergences between individual philosophers, what used to be called introspective reports? Well, they are not disputes that consist in nothing but announcements of contradictory propositions. There is a lot in Radical Externalism that goes against the 'inner contribution' or 'inner aspect' or double-awareness view of perceptual consciousness. There is that strong proposition, indeed the overwhelming proposition, that what is in consciousness is what you have -- and, as has to be added, given what we have heard or speculated, that you cannot always have what for the most part you do not have.

I have to admit that the fact that ordinarily, on almost every occasion in human life, we are able to tell the difference between a thing and a representation, has to have added to it the uncomfortable fact that there are some people, like the unfortunate mathematician, who on occasion can't tell the difference. I also need to admit that our ordinary, nearly universal competence, does not in and by itself defeat the argument from hallucination.

That may leave room for a further thought, about a use of the fact of our nearly universal competence. Some philosopher stands up and cites the poor mathematician in support of the conclusion that all of us, or rather each of us, is isolated in his or her sense-data or whatever. That is, each of us in our perceptual consciousness only has stuff of the order of representations. There is a reply. It is that we can tell the difference between representations and things, and as a result we don't think what the philosopher thinks about our ordinary experience. There must be something wonky about the argument from hallucination.

I have to grant that there is a problem for Radical Externalism with hallucinations, as there is for the valourous response of disjunctivism. There is the problem, as Smith puts it, of fictional as well as real characters turning up in some rare perceptual experience -- or some mainly perceptual experience. If there is this problem in Radical Externalism, however, there is also, to my mind, an awful lot of solution elsewhere in Radical Externalism.

You can think that philosophy like the world is imperfect, and that the best theory of something is going to have a problem or two in it. That's life, including the life of thinking. If the Radical Externalist turns his mind to interpretations of Quantum Theory, by the way, he can end up so satisfied with his own theory as to be ecstatic. If he turns his mind to theories of consciousness in terms of Quantum Theory, he can be in danger of needing restraint.


Grote Prof. Paul Snowdon
University College London

...as a first interpretation, let us read [Honderich] as proposing an identity along these lines; S’s seeing the page is identical with the page’s being there. Now, the most natural way to understand the claim that something is there, say a statue, is simply that it exists at the place we mean by ‘there’. ... I call this thesis Radical Externalism 1.

the state of affairs of your being perceptually conscious of some object, say the page, is something that involves the page’s being there and is also a state of affairs the obtaining of which depends on how you are neurally. Let us call this thesis Radical Externalism 2.

Let us suppose that somebody did propose [Radical Externalism 1 -- or Radical Externalism 2] as an account of the nature of visual perceptual experience...  ... A second problem is this. S sees the page, and, of course, the page is there. But also between S and the page is a collection of oxygen atoms.... These are all there, but are not seen. The...theory quite fails to explain why amongst the things there it is the page and not the rest that is seen, since all it says is that to be seen is to be there.

...[Radical Externalism 2] is not a new thesis. It has some claim to be what the defenders of naïve realism in the philosophy of perception were claiming. ... What then is the conceptual revolution? ... I confess then that I have to end with an expression of bafflement. ... Professor Honderich is moving himself to a place I do not properly understand and in relation to which I would welcome more elucidation.

I want now to engage with a second interesting theme in his account....This is...that consciousness should be conceived of as not having any ‘neurons in it’ and as not having ‘your visual cortex in it’.    I suspect that Honderich regards these conclusions as a rejection of the currently dominant materialist accounts of consciousness, and as, therefore, of some significance.

For the whole of Snowdon's paper, go to Honderich's Radical Externalisms.


...Radical Externalism 1 is absolutely definitely not Radical Externalism. After all, back there at the start [of the target paper], there was that declaration: 'A world of perceptual consciousness is not the physical world'.

I am happy enough with Radical Externalism 2 as a statement of Radical Externalism in so far as that theory concerns perceptual consciousness, but feel the need to add a relevant confession. It is that Radical Externalism has not come complete with a contained theory of space and time.

The second objection ... is that there are lots of spatio-temporal things, here meaning physical things, external to the person, and these in no way enter into the person's consciousness. Say a collection of oxygen atoms between him or her and a page. But there is no objection to the real Radical Externalism here. The collection of oxygen atoms is not dependent neurally on the person and so is not something of which the person is conscious according to the theory.

...naive realism indubitably characterizes perceptual consciousness itself in terms of exactly a physical object. It is thereby already different indeed from Radical Externalism -- a world away, you could say. Remember too,  and I trust conclusively, that naive realism if it is taken as reducing its account of an episode of perceptual consciousness to just the existence of a physical object, is absurd. Not all physical objects are in somebody's perceptual consciousness. Remember, finally, that it is clear that naive realism can be taken as consistent with devout physicalism -- one of the two main things that Radical Externalism, to say the least, is not. It is impossible for me to think, then, that Radical Externalism can be assigned the fate of really being the thin old broth of naive realism, not even warmed up.

The first premise of the argument for Radical Externalism, now to turn to it, in my quoted lines, was that 'consciousness is something we have'... ... Snowdon is not specific but he first takes this, I gather, as something like the following named thing. Positive Seems Principle: What there seems to be in consciousness is what in the natural or normal idea there is -- if something seems to be, in consciousness, it exists. ... I'm surprised again. Surprised to hear myself saying so, but it really seems that you find out what [this mouthful] comes to when Snowdon refutes it, to his very proper satisfaction, by citing somebody's hallucination of a gigantic pink rat. The refutation, more particularly, is that there isn't a gigantic pink rat there in the room in front of the poor fellow. There isn't a physical rat there.

That refutation assumes an understanding of the...principle that commits somebody who holds it to the conclusion not only are that there no hallucinations as ordinarily understood, which is bad enough, but no false beliefs in human life either. ... In short, the principle as undrstood would have us believe that all of what are called contents of consciousness, including all beliefs, are true. Well, something has gone awfully wrong. It's a good thing that this is only the first exchange in a longer conversation. Whatever my quoted lines come to, they can't usefully come to this stuff. I take it Snowdon will do me the small compliment, however quick my lines were, of allowing that you have to try to find another way of understanding them. I pay him the compliment of having got to me to try to think some more, making myself more explicit and distinguishing two kinds of givenness.

...return now from a general policy about anything's apparent nature, and hence the nature of consciousness, to what is certainly distinct, the idea and hope relevant only to consciousness. As already remarked, I have felt the need to try to think again about this as a result of  Snowdon's piece in particular but also those of Brown Brown, Tim Crane, James Garvey, Jonathan Lowe, Derek Matravers, Paul Noordhof, Stephen Priest and Barry Smith. Must have been a plot.

Snowdon finishes his piece by in effect defending or anyway being tolerant of materialism or devout physicalism, which he surprisingly describes as the 'currently dominant' account of consciousness. Really? Dominant where? ... And not, arguably, in our English-language philosophy of mind. Almost all current philosophers of mind in our language mix a little mystery into their reasonable commitment to the reality of consciousness, sometimes taking care to stick to cooler metaphors, as in the case of Searle and his lines about levels. What you need to mix in, according to Radical Externalism, is the recognition of subjectivity and more that comes with worlds of perceptual consciousness. What you need is that near-physicalism. And to revert to Snowdon's declaration of a dominance of materialism -- to which materialism, incidentally, I myself have no emotional resistance owed to religion, high humanism, literary sensitivity, personality or the like -- there is also need for another of those doses of psychology or sociology on or of philosophy, this time on the insecurity of our line of life, its hopeful assumption of comrades on every side. Wish I was entirely free of it.

For the whole of this reply to Snowdon, go to Honderich's Radical Externalisms.

For two book reviews of On Consciousness, go to Barbara Hannan and Paavo Pylkkanen. Or, as already remarked, to Colin McGinn. For still more exposition of Radical Externalism, go to the entries on consciousness in the index of this website, and in particular the paper Consciousness as Existence, Devout Physicalism, Spiritualism. The theory is of course a departure from traditional and still orthodox accounts of consciousness, the mind-brain relation, and the explanation of such mental events as thoughts, feelings and decisions. For an argued survey of these various traditional and orthodox accounts, prior to Radical Externalism, go to Mind Brain Connection and Mind and Brain Explanation. Also the first six chapters of On Consciousness.

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