Timetable information in the Course Catalogue may be subject to change.

University Homepage
DRPS Homepage
DRPS Search
DRPS Contact
DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences : Philosophy

Undergraduate Course: Consciousness, Life and Mind (PHIL10238)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 10 (Year 4 Undergraduate) AvailabilityNot available to visiting students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThis course will explore philosophical issues in consciousness studies, with particular attention to recent approaches that foreground the roles of life, biological organisation, and embodied activity in their explanations of the character or emergence of conscious experience. The first weeks of the course will introduce students to the functionalist and computationalist approaches to consciousness of the late 20th century, and the philosophical puzzles that those approaches raise. The remainder of the course will introduce students to several different approaches within recent science and philosophy of consciousness that emphasise the importance of life, activity, embodiment, or some combination of these, and consider whether and/or how they help us to explain how consciousness fits into the natural world.
Course description How does consciousness fit into the natural world? Philosophical and scientific thinking about this question is in an exciting period of transition. The emergence of modern neuroscience and the computational theory of mind in the 20th century aroused hopes of a rigorous, scientifically-informed and materialist explanation of consciousness: what it is, how it arises, and what sorts of things have it. But that explanatory project appears to face stubborn in-principle obstacles - how can any amount of physical, structural, or functional information about a system tell us anything about what it is like to *be* that system? In recent years, theorising about consciousness has increasingly turned to considering its potential links to life - to the evolutionary history of conscious organisms, to the particular ways in which conscious organisms interact with their environments, to the distinctive organisational structure of living systems, or to some combination of these. In this course we will start by looking at the 20th century scientific and philosophical origins of consciousness studies, before turning to more recent 'biological' approaches and considering whether they make old philosophical puzzles about consciousness go away, or look easier. Readings will be a mixture of philosophy and accessible, philosophically-inflected, cognitive science. Each week, after a brief introductory presentation by the seminar leader, class time will be mostly devoted to group discussion of questions about the readings for that week.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2024/25, Not available to visiting students (SS1) Quota:  0
Course Start Semester 2
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Seminar/Tutorial Hours 22, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 174 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 100 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Additional Information (Assessment) Midterm Essay 35%«br /»
Final Essay 65%
Feedback Not entered
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the distinctive conceptual and empirical problems involved in explaining the emergence and character of conscious experience.
  2. Demonstrate a critical understanding of different scientific and philosophical approaches to explaining the emergence and character of conscious experience.
  3. Critically evaluate the claim that human consciousness must be explained with reference to biological organisation.
  4. Argue for or against particular claims about the presence of consciousness in non-human animals or inorganic systems.
Reading List
Specific readings will change from year to year. Indicative readings covering key topics on the course include:

Akins, Kathleen (1993). What is it like to be boring and myopic? In B. Dahlbom (ed.), Dennett and His Critics. Blackwell.
Birch, Jonathan ; Ginsburg, Simona & Jablonka, Eva (2020). Unlimited Associative Learning and the Origins of Consciousness: A Primer and Some Predictions. Biology and Philosophy 35 (6):1-23.
Birch, Jonathan ; Schnell, Alexandra K. & Clayton, Nicola S. (2020). Dimensions of Animal Consciousness. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 24 (10):789-801.
Block, Ned (1995). On a confusion about a function of consciousness. Brain and Behavioral Sciences 18 (2):227-247.
Godfrey-Smith, Peter (2016). Mind, Matter, and Metabolism. Journal of Philosophy 113 (10):481-506.
Godfrey-Smith, Peter (2019). Evolving Across the Explanatory Gap. Philosophy, Theory, and Practice in Biology 11 (1):1-13.
Hurley, Susan (2001). Perception and action: Alternative views. Synthese 129 (1):3-40.
Jackson, Frank (1982). Epiphenomenal qualia. Philosophical Quarterly 32 (April):127-136.
Keller, Evelyn Fox (2008). Organisms, Machines, and Thunderstorms: A History of Self-Organization (I). Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences 38 (1):45-75.
Keller, Evelyn Fox (2009). Organisms, Machines, and Thunderstorms: A History of Self-Organization (II). Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences 39 (1):1-31.
Lewis, David K. (1990). What experience teaches. In William G. Lycan (ed.), Mind and Cognition. Blackwell. pp. 29--57.
Nagel, Thomas (1974). What is it like to be a bat? Philosophical Review 83 (October):435-50.
Nave, Kathryn (2022). Boundaries and borders gone! But life goes on. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 45:e202.
Thompson, Evan (2022). Could All Life Be Sentient? Journal of Consciousness Studies 29 (3-4):229-265.
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Enquiry and lifelong learning
This course will foster students' propensity to seek personal and academic learning that makes a
positive difference to themselves and to the world around them. Inspired by their exposure
to world-leading research, the course will increase their likelihood of becoming innovative and lifelong learners.

Aspiration and personal development
This course will foster students' propensity to draw on their initiative and experience to expand and fulfil their potential. The course will increase their likelihood of being able to make the most of a confident and reflective approach, and to take personal responsibility for pursuing their goals and opportunities to grow.

Research and enquiry
This course will put students in a position to use their highly-developed skills in research and enquiry to identify and creatively tackle problems, and to seek out opportunities for learning.

Personal and intellectual autonomy
This course will put students in a position to use their personal and intellectual autonomy to
critically evaluate ideas, evidence and experiences from an open-minded and reasoned

Personal effectiveness
This course will foster students' development as effective and proactive individuals, skilled in
influencing positively and adapting to new situations with sensitivity and integrity.

This course will foster students' ability to use skilled communication to enhance their
understanding of a topic or context and to engage effectively with others.
KeywordsNot entered
Course organiserDr Dave Ward
Tel: (0131 6)50 3652
Course secretary
Help & Information
Search DPTs and Courses
Degree Programmes
Browse DPTs
Humanities and Social Science
Science and Engineering
Medicine and Veterinary Medicine
Other Information
Combined Course Timetable
Important Information