, Volume 36, Issue 1, pp 17–30 | Cite as

The Problem of Consciousness: Easy, Hard or Tricky?

  • Tom McClellandEmail author


Phenomenal consciousness presents a distinctive explanatory problem. Some regard this problem as ‘hard’, which has troubling implications for the science and metaphysics of consciousness. Some regard it as ‘easy’, which ignores the special explanatory difficulties that consciousness offers. Others are unable to decide between these two uncomfortable positions. All three camps assume that the problem of consciousness is either easy or hard. I argue against this disjunction and suggest that the problem may be ‘tricky’—that is, partly easy and partly hard. This possibility emerges when we recognise that consciousness raises two explanatory questions. The Consciousness Question concerns why a subject is conscious rather than unconscious. The Character Question concerns why a conscious subject’s experience has the phenomenology it has rather than some other. I explore the possibility of one or other of these explanatory challenges being hard and the other easy, and consider the dialectical ramifications this has for all sides of the debate.


Consciousness The hard problem Subjectivity Qualitative character 



This paper was completed with the support of ERC grant 313552 - "The Architecture of Consciousness". I am grateful for the detailed comments of Tim Bayne, Donnchadh O'Connail and two anonymous referees. Thanks also to the audience at the inaugural iCog conference at the University of Sheffield for comments on an early presentation of this material.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of ManchesterManchesterUK
  2. 2.Arthur Lewis BuildingUniversity of ManchesterManchesterUK

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