Journal of Consciousness Studies, July-August 2006 Special Issue, edited by Anthony Freeman, and also the book Radical Externalism: Honderich's Theory of Consciousness Discussed (Imprint Academic, 2006), also edited by Anthony Freeman

The nature of consciousness is one of the greatest problems of science and philosophy. It is an irresistible and live problem. It has survived the announcement of many solutions. It is still doing so.

What is it for you to be perceptually conscious of the room you’re in?
What is it for you now to be thinking of home?
What is it for you to want to be there?

More generally, what is perceptual consciousness, reflective consciousness and affective consciousness?

The Journal of Consciousness Studies, the foremost journal in the subject, has given over a double issue (July-August 2006) to a new theory that is different and very arguable. It is Radical Externalism and is debated by twelve leading philosophers including its proponent, Prof. Ted Honderich, Grote Professor Emeritus of the Philosophy of Mind and Logic, University College London, and Visiting Professor at the University of Bath.

The discussion is also published as a book. Radical Externalism: Honderich’s Theory of Consciousness Discussed (Imprint Academic, 2006).

Radical Externalism stands out against two familiar rivals.

1. In the 17th Century Thomas Hobbes said all consciousness is nothing other than physical matter. He has many successors in the flourishing science and philosophy of mind today, some newly inspired by the computer, some by Quantum Theory. They are called devout physicalists by Honderich. Only faith can sustain their position, because nobody can really believe, when they are not theorizing, that our consciousness is just neurons in our brains. Neuroscientists themselves don’t believe it. Nobody believes the conscious mind is just cells, however fancily wrapped up in scientific or other theory.

2. There are many other scientists, philosophers and the rest who are not devout physicalists. They take brain and mind to be two things. Almost all dualists follow another 17th Century philosopher, Rene Descartes, he of  ‘I think, therefore I am’. They are numerous but lying low, because they must grant that if consciousness is something not in space, it surely cannot interact causally with physical things, as it does. It is mysterious. Honderich calls these dualists spiritualists.

There is in fact wide agreement in philosophy and science that neither of these theories or attitudes will do, that we need a new theory, a conceptual change, some kind of revolution — as has happened often enough in the history of science. We have to see things differently.

Radical Externalism meets that need. In a nutshell, it says that what it is for you to be conscious of the room you’re in is what it seems to be —  it is for the room somehow to exist. It is for there to be something real outside your head. It is literally for there to be a definable near-physical state of affairs outside your head. So Radical Externalism departs from internalism or cranialism, further than other externalisms.

Unlike devout physicalism and spiritualism, this idea can be argued to satisfy all the criteria for an adequate theory of consciousness — subjectivity, causal interaction, being true to what you have, which is all of your consciousness, being a reality, being effective itself, and so on. This basic idea of near-physicalism nevertheless makes conscious things different. The idea of what it is to be conscious of the room you’re in is also the basis for an understanding of reflective consciousness, say thinking of home, and affective consciousness, say wanting to be there. Here there is room for some cranialism — locating consciousness in the head.

For a review copy, send an email to:  Anthony@imprint.co.uk


Preface — Anthony Freeman

Radical Externalism — Ted Honderich, Grote Professor Emeritus Philosophy of Mind and Logic, University College London, Visiting Professor University of Bath

Comment on Radical Externalism — Prof. Harold I. Brown, Northern Illinois University
Reply to Brown

Comment on Ted Honderich’s Radical Externalism — Prof. Tim Crane, University College London, Institute of Philosophy of the University of London
Reply to Crane by Honderich

Consciousness and Absence — Dr. James Garvey, Royal Institute of Philosophy
Reply to Garvey

Honderich and the Curse of Epiphenomenalism — Dr. Stephen Law, Heythrop College, University of London
Reply to Law

Radical Externalism or Berkeley Revisited? — Prof. E. J. Lowe, University of Durham
Reply to Lowe

Some Questions about Radical Externalism — Dr. Derek Matravers, Open University, Jesus College Cambridge
Reply to Matravers

The Success of Consciousness — Prof. Paul Noordhof, University of York
Reply to Noordhof

Consciousness as Existence as a Form of Neutral Monism — Prof. Ingmar Persson, University of Gothenberg
Reply to Persson

Radical Externalism — Mr. Stephen Priest, University of Oxford
Reply to Priest

Consciousness: An Inner View of the Outer World — Dr. Barry Smith, Birkbeck College, University of London
Reply to Smith

Honderich’s Radical Externalisms — Prof. Paul F. Snowdon, Grote Professor, University College London
Reply to Snowdon