Can the functionalists account for qualia?

I am a serious philosophy student currently doing a dissertation on “Can the functionalists account for qualia?”. I would appreciate any informed, intelligent discussion on the matter, from either philosophy under/graduates or academic philosophers. Below is my general line (thesis as yet being undeveloped.)

Chalmers asks us to distinguish the ‘hard’ and ‘easy’ problems of consciousness. The easy problems conscern how to explain the various functional aspects of ‘consciousness’; such as the difference between being awake and being asleep. However, the ‘hard’ problems of consciousness to not concern the explanation of how the various functions are performed, but ask: why are these functions associated with conscious experience? No amount of explanation in terms of function can detail/ reveal an answer to this question, as at greater levels of functional complexity, the same question is still lurking.

The type-A materialist wants to say that once we have explained how the various functions are performed, there is NO further ‘hard’ QUESTION. This seems to deny the obvious however. Type-B materialism tries to say that we will be able to give a functional definition of consciousness, but we just lack the mental concepts currently.(see Nagel, 1974). This seems to be at best a HOPE, and In my view philosophy shouldn’t rest on hopes.

Overall, there so not seem to be any actual ARGUMENTS for why once we have explained the functions, we have explained everything in the vicinity, with regard to consciousness. If anyone can tell me of any, that would be interesting to consider.

In addition to problem for functionalis/physicalism brought on as a result of the distinction between the two types of problem, there are many other problems. But I will leave it there for now, so that my interlocuters can have more of a focus for there contributions. I will try to respond promptly, and within 1 day. Many thanks.


Hi David

I don’t envy you with this project. My own experience with the majority of the “educated” in these matters is that the closer you get to something true, the greater will be their growls. That’s why I’ll give you some ideas from Prof. Needleman who teaches philosophy at San Francisco State University. His “credentials” are hard to sneer at.

I’m going to take some ideas from Jacob Needleman’s Chapter One: The Universe reproduced in part on the following link:

Just click on “What is Consciousness?”

Qualia deals with the “contents of consciousness”. Is it more fruitful to consider the connection between consciousness and its contents from the point of view of its contents or from the conscious experience?

Instead of asking why consciousness is necessary, it may be more fruitful to ask why mechanics are necessary in our universe and its effect on consciousness.

From the perspective of its effects, Prof Needleman suggests:

The Functionalist cannot explain consciousness simply because being absorbed in its contents deprives a person of the conscious experience. However, becoming present to functionalism from the intentional search for consciousness, reveals the connection.

So, IMO, qualia must be seen as something that diminishes consciousness. But Man, as a microcosm, unites mechanics and consciousness by freeing himself of the imagination that takes the place of conscious attention introducing qualitative relativity to qualia.

I hope some of this helps in your efforts to understand this essential question of our being.


“Overall, there so not seem to be any actual ARGUMENTS for why once we have explained the functions, we have explained everything in the vicinity, with regard to consciousness. If anyone can tell me of any, that would be interesting to consider.”

I don’t believe there are any standing physicalists on this forum, and I am not one. Davidson’s Anomalous Monism to me seems as clear a division as is necessary between the physicalist descriptions and the products of mental events. What you are asking for is a kind of transcendence of the horizon of language use. A physicalist simply seems to assume that the record of causal effects “contain” the consequences produced, whatever they may be. I personally see these two things operating on two different descriptive causal planes. Good luck on your search though.


Since you are a SERIOUS student…(with a name like phl2dcs how could you be anything else?) I think the key may lie with Daphne in this case, and not Velma. (Or is it Thelma?) Daphne doesn’t believe in ghosts and she’s right, but her belief is unjustified, because she’s something of an airhead. Velma DOES believe in ghosts and is wrong, but her belief IS justified, because like Davidson, she wears oversized glasses. You will have a hard time arguing with Velma, or Davidson, to be sure. But let’s consider Freddy for a moment. Freddy does not believe in ghosts and he KNOWS his belief is not justified yet…or is it? Perhaps Freddy figures that if ghosts exist and are in the universe, then they are not really ghosts at all and are OF the universe. Scooby and Shaggy are more concerned with stacking sandwiches. No matter how high you stack the sandwich they will be able to fit it into their mouth…it’s almost as if the sandwich is not real. When you figure out how Shaggy eats a fifty-decker sandwich in one bite and never gets fat you begin to understand the fabric of qualia. In a cartoon universe anything’s possible…and you with your little dissertation have become one of those “meddling kids.” You’ve got some work to do now. I hope you earn yourself a Scooby Snack with this dissertation. In the meantime go out and play…take a break from the piteous undulating toward omniscience you’re exhibiting. Or as Dunamis said shorter (he’s good at that): good luck.

LOL :smiley: