Browse/search for people

Dr Bryony Pierce

The role of consciousness in action

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.


Research keywords

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