The Real Combination Problem: Panpsychism, Micro-Subjects, and Emergence

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Panpsychism harbors an unresolved tension, the seriousness of which has yet to be fully appreciated. I capture this tension as a dilemma, and offer panpsychists advice on how to resolve it. The dilemma, briefly, is as follows. Panpsychists are committed to the perspicuous explanation of macro-mentality in terms of micro-mentality. But panpsychists take the micro-material realm to feature not just mental properties, but also micro-subjects to whom these properties belong. Yet it is impossible to explain the constitution of a macro-subject (like one of us) in terms of the assembly of micro-subjects, for, I show, subjects cannot combine. Therefore the panpsychist explanatory project is derailed by the insistence that the world’s ultimate material constituents (ultimates) are subjects of experience. The panpsychist faces a choice of abandoning her explanatory project, or recanting the claim that the ultimates are subjects. This is the dilemma. I argue that the latter option is to be preferred. This needn’t constitute a wholesale abandonment of panpsychism, however, since panpsychists can maintain that the ultimates possess phenomenal qualities, despite not being subjects of those qualities. This proposal requires us to make sense of phenomenal qualities existing independently of experiencing subjects, a challenge I tackle in the penultimate section. The position eventually reached is a form of neutral monism, so another way to express the overall argument is to say that, keeping true to their philosophical motivations, panpsychists should really be neutral monists.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)19-44
Issue number1
Early online date31 Jan 2013
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2014


  • consciousness, panpsychism, combination problem, neutral monism


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