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Sam Coleman on Unconscious Qualia and the Epiphenomenalist Threat

When philosophers talk about consciousness, they often mention qualia, the special qualitative properties we encounter in being conscious of various things, e.g. the redness we experience when looking at a ripe tomato. Does it mean that qualia are necessarily conscious, or could they exist unconsciously? This is one of the questions raised by Sam Coleman (Herts) in his upcoming paper Unconscious Qualia and the Epiphenomenalist Threat that we shall discuss at the next session of Mind Readings, our project seminar. The seminar will be a read-ahead session that will take place online on Monday, April 26, 11 a.m. (BST). Please e-mail Jakub Mihálik at if you wish to receive the paper and participate in the seminar.


We normally think of our sensations and feelings, or qualia, for example pains, itches, felt anger, as causing or contributing to the production of our actions and activities. This sort of causal story is routine in everyday life (e.g. 'I scratched my leg because it itched'). But philosophers, as well as scientists and laypeople, are exceedingly reluctant to entertain the existence of unconscious feelings (aka unconscious qualia). In this paper, via a case study involving 'restless leg syndrome', I aim to show that the causal efficacy of conscious qualia or feelings is threatened unless we posit causally efficacious unconscious feelings/qualia as well. So our choice is to embrace an unwelcome epiphenomenalism about feelings/qualia across the board, or to endorse the existence of unconscious qualia. It seems clear that the second alternative is preferable, so this is an argument for the existence of unconscious feelings/qualia.

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