Philosophical Studies

, Volume 160, Issue 2, pp 223–235 | Cite as

Does Mary know I experience plus rather than quus? A new hard problem



Realism about cognitive or semantic phenomenology, the view that certain conscious states are intrinsically such as to ground thought or understanding, is increasingly being taken seriously in analytic philosophy. The principle aim of this paper is to argue that it is extremely difficult to be a physicalist about cognitive phenomenology. The general trend in later 20th century/early 21st century philosophy of mind has been to account for the content of thought in terms of facts outside the head of the thinker at the time of thought, e.g. in terms of causal relations between thinker and world, or in terms of the natural purposes for which mental representations have developed. However, on the assumption that consciousness is constitutively realised by what is going on inside the head of a thinker at the time of experience, the content of cognitive phenomenology cannot be accounted for in this way. Furthermore, any internalist account of content is particularly susceptible to Kripkensteinian rule following worries. It seems that if someone knew all the physical facts about what is going on in my head at the time I was having a given experience with cognitive phenomenology, they would not thereby know whether that state had ‘straight’ rather than ‘quus-like’ content, e.g. whether the experience was intrinsically such as the ground the thought that two plus two equals four or intrinsically such as to ground the thought that two quus two equals four. The project of naturalising consciousness is much harder for realists about cognitive phenomenology.


Consciousness Hard problem The knowledge argument Cognitive phenomenology Phenomenal intentionality 



I would like to thank David Papineau, Barry Smith, Meredith Williams, David Chalmers, Robert van Gulick, William Seager, Chris Schriner, Emma Bullock, Kirk Surgener, Constantine Sandis, Stephen Boulter, Holly Lawford-Smith and Rory Madden for comments and discussion. I wrote this paper as a Research Fellow with the AHRC project ‘Phenomenal Qualities’.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of HertfordshireHertfordshireUK
  2. 2.King’s College LondonLondonUK

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