Philosophical Studies

, Volume 151, Issue 2, pp 299–327 | Cite as

Two conceptions of subjective experience

  • Justin SytsmaEmail author
  • Edouard Machery


Do philosophers and ordinary people conceive of subjective experience in the same way? In this article, we argue that they do not and that the philosophical concept of phenomenal consciousness does not coincide with the folk conception. We first offer experimental support for the hypothesis that philosophers and ordinary people conceive of subjective experience in markedly different ways. We then explore experimentally the folk conception, proposing that for the folk, subjective experience is closely linked to valence. We conclude by considering the implications of our findings for a central issue in the philosophy of mind, the hard problem of consciousness.


Phenomenal consciousness Folk concept of subjective experience Experimental philosophy Hard problem of consciousness 



The first author did most of the work on this article. We would like to thank Dave Chalmers, David Danks, Tony Jack, Joshua Knobe, Jonathan Livengood, Shaun Nichols, Peter Pagin, and Philip Robbins for their comments on previous versions of this article. We also would like to thank Eric Schwitzgebel for his reply to a talk based on this article at annual meeting of the Society for Philosophy and Psychology in 2008. Thanks also to the audiences in Santa Cruz, Stockholm, Lund, and Gothenburg.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of History and Philosophy of ScienceUniversity of PittsburghPittsburghUSA

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