, Volume 79, Issue 1, pp 19–44 | Cite as

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

  • Sam ColemanEmail author
Original Article


Taking their motivation from the perceived failure of the reductive physicalist project concerning consciousness, panpsychists ascribe subjectivity to fundamental material entities in order to account for macro-consciousness. But there exists an unresolved tension within the mainstream panpsychist position, the seriousness of which has yet to be appreciated. I capture this tension as a dilemma, and offer advice to panpsychists on how to resolve it. The dilemma is as follows: Panpsychists take the micro-material realm to feature phenomenal properties, plus micro-subjects to whom these properties belong. However, it is impossible to explain the generation of a macro-subject (like one of us) in terms of the assembly of micro-subjects, for, as I show, subjects cannot combine. Therefore the panpsychist explanatory project is derailed by the insistence that the world’s ultimate material constituents are subjects of experience. The panpsychist faces a choice of giving up her explanatory ambitions, or of giving up the claim that the ultimates are subjects. I argue that the latter option is preferable, leading to neutral monism, on which phenomenal qualities are irreducible but subjects are reducible. So panpsychists should be neutral monists.


Combination Problem Phenomenal Quality Phenomenal Property Phenomenal Consciousness Substantial Identity 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Thanks to Gregg Rosenberg in particular for helpful comments on this paper, as well as the attendees of the ‘Panpsychism on the Reef’ conference of July 2012 organised by David Chalmers, and an anonymous referee for this journal.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of HertfordshireHatfield, HertfordshireUK

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