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Dr Bryony Pierce

Dr Bryony Pierce

Dr Bryony Pierce

Research Associate

Area of research

The role of consciousness in action

Cotham House,
Cotham Hill, Bristol BS6 6JL
(See a map)


My PhD dissertation presents a naturalistic account of the role of consciousness in action, arguing that consciousness has the function of enabling goal-directed behaviour that is grounded, in more than one way, in affective valence.  It begins by rejecting libertarian and compatibilist free will and establishing that goal-directed action, although a matter of degree, is a philosophically interesting category of behaviour.  It then presents empirical evidence in support of an interface theory of consciousness, in which consciousness has the function of acting as an interface between cognitive and motivational systems, enabling goal-directedness and grounding reasons for action in biological utility.  Additional philosophical arguments are given for a different type of grounding, involving meaningfulness to oneself, to support the stronger claim that consciousness is necessary for goal-directed action as we understand it, and a naturalistic account of the normativity of reasons for action is presented.  It is argued that a revised taxonomy of action is needed, and, finally, it is proposed that all action should be viewed as a kind of first- or higher-order reaction.

My plans now that I have finished my PhD are to continue my research in the area of consciousness studies; develop 'panabstractism', a theory I am working on in which the implications of taking abstract relations to be a fundamental feature of the world are explored in relation to the nature of consciousness; do further work on different types of grounding; continue my work in experimental philosophy; and pursue other topics related to or arising from my previous work.


Activities / Findings

‘The Role of External Objects in Perceptual Experience’, Open Peer Commentary on ‘Sensorimotor Direct Realism: How We Enact Our World’ by Michael Beaton (2016), Constructivist Foundations, Vol. 11 (2), 285-287

‘Investigating Somatic Consciousness: Review of the 17th Annual Conference of the Consciousness and Experiential Section of the British Psychological Society’ (2014), Journal of Consciousness Studies 21: 149-154(co-author: Susan A J Stuart)

‘Neurophenomenology - A Special Issue’ (2013), Constructivist Foundations 8 (3), 265-268 (co-authors Michael Beaton and Susan A J Stuart)

‘Experimental Philosophy’ (2013), In Runehov, A. & Oviedo, L. (Eds.) Encylopedia of Sciences and Religions, Springer Netherlands

‘Is the function of consciousness to act as an interface?’ (2012), In F. Paglieri (Ed.), Consciousness in interaction: the role of the natural and social context in shaping consciousness. Amsterdam: John Benjamins

‘Panabstractism crashes x-phi (maybe)’, Interview with Richard Marshall, 3:AM Magazine, 19 June, 2012, URL=

'Are you any more rational than your cat?'  (2008), In Steven Hales (Ed.), What Philosophy Can Tell You About Your Cat, Open Court

'Is the concept of rational agency coherent?' (2006), Philosophical Writings, 33 


Have taught Personal Identity and Philosophy of Mind.

Not currently teaching.


  • Consciousness
  • experimental philosophy
  • free will
  • action
  • philosophy of mind



Department of Philosophy

Honorary staff

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