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Michael Tye

Michael Tye is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin. He is the author of Ten Problems of Consciousness (1995), Consciousness, Color, and Content (2000), and Consciousness and Persons (2003), all published by the MIT Press.

Titles by This Author

Materialism without Phenomenal Concepts

We are material beings in a material world, but we are also beings who have experiences and feelings. How can these subjective states be just a matter of matter? To defend materialism, philosophical materialists have formulated what is sometimes called "the phenomenal-concept strategy," which holds that we possess a range of special concepts for classifying the subjective aspects of our experiences. In Consciousness Revisited, the philosopher Michael Tye, until now a proponent of the the phenomenal-concept strategy, argues that the strategy is mistaken.

A rejection of phenomenal concepts leaves the materialist with the task of finding some other strategy for defending materialism. Tye points to four major puzzles of consciousness that arise: How is it possible for Mary, in the famous thought experiment, to make a discovery when she leaves her black-and-white room? In what does the explanatory gap consist and how can it be bridged? How can the hard problem of consciousness be solved? How are zombies possible? Tye presents solutions to these puzzles—solutions that relieve the pressure on the materialist created by the failure of the phenomenal-concept strategy. In doing so, he discusses and makes new proposals on a wide range of issues, including the nature of perceptual content, the conditions necessary for consciousness of a given object, the proper understanding of change blindness, the nature of phenomenal character and our awareness of it, whether we have privileged access to our own experiences, and, if we do, in what such access consists.

Unity and Identity

In Consciousness and Persons: Unity and Identity, Michael Tye takes on the thorny issue of the unity of consciousness and answers these important questions: What exactly is the unity of consciousness? Can a single person have a divided consciousness? What is a single person? Tye argues that unity is a fundamental part of human consciousness—something so basic to everyday experience that it is easy to overlook. For example, when we hear the sound of waves crashing on a beach and at the same time see a red warning flag, there is an overall unity to our experience; the sound and the red shape are presented together in our consciousness. Similarly, when we undergo a succession of thoughts as we think something through, there is an experience of succession that unifies the thoughts into a conscious whole. But, Tye shows, consciousness is not always unified. Split-brain subjects, whose corpus callosum has been severed, are usually taken to have a divided or disunified consciousness. Their behavior in certain situations implies that they have lost the unity normal human subjects take for granted; it is sometimes even supposed that a split-brain subject is really two persons.

Tye begins his account by proposing an account of the unity of experience at a single time; this account is extended over the succeeding chapters to cover bodily sensations at a single time and perceptual experience, bodily sensations, conscious thoughts, and felt moods at a single time. Tye follows these chapters with a discussion of the unity of experience through time. Turning to the split-brain phenomenon, he proposes an account of the mental life of split-brain subjects and argues that certain facts about these subjects offer support for his theory of unity. Finally, addressing the topic of the nature of persons and personal identity, Tye finds the two great historical accounts—the ego theory and the bundle theory—lacking and he makes an alternative proposal. He includes an appendix on the general representational approach to consciousness and its many varieties, because of the relevance of representationalism to the theory of unity being adanced.

Experiences and feelings are inherently conscious states. There is something it is like to feel pain, to have an itch, to experience bright red. Philosophers call this sort of consciousness "phenomenal consciousness." Even though phenomenal consciousness seems to be a relatively primitive matter, something more widespread in nature than higher-order or reflective consciousness, it is deeply puzzling.

In 1995 Michael Tye proposed a theory of phenomenal consciousness now known as representationalism. This book is, in part, devoted to a further development of that theory along with replies to common objections. Tye's focus is broader than representationalism, however. Two prominent challenges for any reductive theory of consciousness are the explanatory gap and the knowledge argument. In part I of this book, Tye suggests that these challenges are intimately related. The best strategy for dealing with the explanatory gap, he claims, is to consider it a kind of cognitive illusion. Part II of the book is devoted to representationalism. Part III connects representationalism with two more general issues. The first is the nature of color. Tye defends a commonsense, objectivist view of color and argues that such a view is compatible with modern color science. In the final chapter, Tye addresses the question of where on the phylogenetic scale phenomenal consciousness ceases, arguing that consciousness extends beyond the realm of vertebrates to such relatively simple creatures as the honeybee.

Michael Tye untangles the complex web of empirical and conceptual issues of the newly revived imagery debate in psychology between those that liken mental images to pictures and those that liken them to linguistic descriptions. He also takes into account longstanding philosophical issues, to arrive at a comprehensive, up-to-date view and an original theory that provides answers to questions raised in both psychology and philosophy.Drawing on the insights of Stephen Kosslyn and the work on vision of David Mart, Tye develops a new theory of mental imagery that includes an account of imagistic representation and also tackles questions about the phenomenal qualities of mental images, image indeterminacy, the neurophysiolgical basis of imagery, and the causal relevance of image content to behavior.Tye introduces the history of philosophical views on the nature of mental imagery from Aristotle to Kant. He examines the reasons for the decline of picture theories of imagery and the use of alternative theories, the reemergence of the picture theory (with special reference to the work of Stephen Kosslyn), and the contrasting view that mental images are inner linguistic descriptions rather than pictorial representations. He then proposes his own theory of images interpreted as symbol-filled arrays in part like pictures and in part like linguistic descriptions, addresses the issue of vagueness in some features of mental images, and argues that images need not have qualia to account for their phenomenological character. Tye concludes by discussing the questions of how images are physically realized in the brain and how the contents of images can be causally related to behavior.Michael Tye holds appointments in Philosophy at both Temple University and Kings College, London.

A Representational Theory of the Phenomenal Mind

Can neurophysiology ever reveal to us what it is like to smell a skunk or to experience pain? In what does the feeling of happiness consist? How is it that changes in the white and gray matter composing our brains generate subjective sensations and feelings? These are several of the questions that Michael Tye addresses, while formulating a new and enlightening theory about the phenomenal "what it feels like" aspect of consciousness. The test of any such theory, according to Tye, lies in how well it handles ten critical problems of consciousness.

Tye argues that all experiences and all feelings represent things, and that their phenomenal aspects are to be understood in terms of what they represent. He develops this representational approach to consciousness in detail with great ingenuity and originality.

In the book's first part Tye lays out the domain, the ten problems and an associated paradox, along with all the theories currently available and the difficulties they face. In part two, he develops his intentionalist approach to consciousness. Special summaries are provided in boxes and the ten problems are illustrated with cartoons.

A Bradford Book. Representation and Mind series


A BIT of Consciousness Revisited

The philosopher Michael Tye, reversing his previous position, rejects the phenomenal concept strategy (which holds that we possess a range of special concepts for classifying the subjective aspects of our experiences) and formulates another approach for defending materialism. In this BIT, he examines one puzzle of consciousness that philosophical materialism must confront after rejecting the phenomenal concept strategy.