The Value of Consciousness and the Consciousness of Value

The ancients thought that of all the challenges to our understanding of the universe, three stand out as genuine mysteries: Why is there something rather than nothing? Why is some of what there is alive? And why is some of what is alive conscious? Implicit in this agenda is a rudimentary hierarchy of beings, featuring two “quantum leaps.” First, live beings bring with them a special kind of value and significance, as compared to inanimate beings; the notion of “the sanctity of life,” which reappears in many moral traditions, may be taken to express this idea. Second, conscious beings bring with them a further, yet greater value and significance, as compared to mindless live beings — what we might call “the dignity of consciousness.” The purpose of this seminar is to explore both the underpinnings and consequences of this special value which consciousness injects into the world. Its organizing questions may be framed as follows: What is it about conscious awareness that bestows on its possessor this special kind of value? What exactly is the nature of the special value thus bestowed, and how is it distinguished from other types of moral status? In what ways, if any, does our conscious experience (in perception, emotion, and thought) of conscious beings disclose their distinctive value?



Uriah Kriegel, Professor of Philosophy

Charles Siewert, Robert Alan and Kathryn Dunlevie Hayes Chair in Humanities, Professor of Philosophy

Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellows

Anna Giustina, Institut Jean Nicod/École Normale Supérieure

Andrew Lee, Ph.D. Philosophy, New York University

Graduate Student Fellow

Darren Medeiros, Department of Philosophy


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