Eric Schwitzgebel

Eric Schwitzgebel is Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Riverside, and the author of Perplexities of Consciousness (MIT Press). His short, accessible essays on philosophical topics have appeared in a range of publications and on his popular blog, The Splintered Mind.

  • A Theory of Jerks and Other Philosophical Misadventures

    A Theory of Jerks and Other Philosophical Misadventures

    Eric Schwitzgebel

    A collection of quirky, entertaining, and reader-friendly short pieces on philosophical topics that range from a theory of jerks to the ethics of ethicists.

    Have you ever wondered about why some people are jerks? Asked whether your driverless car should kill you so that others may live? Found a robot adorable? Considered the ethics of professional ethicists? Reflected on the philosophy of hair? In this engaging, entertaining, and enlightening book, Eric Schwitzgebel turns a philosopher's eye on these and other burning questions. In a series of quirky and accessible short pieces that cover a mind-boggling variety of philosophical topics, Schwitzgebel offers incisive takes on matters both small (the consciousness of garden snails) and large (time, space, and causation).

    A common theme might be the ragged edge of the human intellect, where moral or philosophical reflection begins to turn against itself, lost among doubts and improbable conclusions. The history of philosophy is humbling when we see how badly wrong previous thinkers have been, despite their intellectual skills and confidence. (See, for example, “Kant on Killing Bastards, Masturbation, Organ Donation, Homosexuality, Tyrants, Wives, and Servants.”) Some of the texts resist thematic categorization—thoughts on the philosophical implications of dreidels, the diminishing offensiveness of the most profane profanity, and fatherly optimism—but are no less interesting.

    Schwitzgebel has selected these pieces from the more than one thousand that have appeared since 2006 in various publications and on his popular blog, The Splintered Mind, revising and updating them for this book. Philosophy has never been this much fun.

    • Hardcover $27.95 £22.50
  • Perplexities of Consciousness

    Perplexities of Consciousness

    Eric Schwitzgebel

    A philosopher argues that we know little about our own inner lives.

    Do you dream in color? If you answer Yes, how can you be sure? Before you recount your vivid memory of a dream featuring all the colors of the rainbow, consider that in the 1950s researchers found that most people reported dreaming in black and white. In the 1960s, when most movies were in color and more people had color television sets, the vast majority of reported dreams contained color. The most likely explanation for this, according to the philosopher Eric Schwitzgebel, is not that exposure to black-and-white media made people misremember their dreams. It is that we simply don't know whether or not we dream in color. In Perplexities of Consciousness, Schwitzgebel examines various aspects of inner life (dreams, mental imagery, emotions, and other subjective phenomena) and argues that we know very little about our stream of conscious experience.

    Drawing broadly from historical and recent philosophy and psychology to examine such topics as visual perspective, and the unreliability of introspection, Schwitzgebel finds us singularly inept in our judgments about conscious experience.

    • Hardcover $27.95 £19.95
    • Paperback $18.95 £14.95
  • Describing Inner Experience?

    Describing Inner Experience?

    Proponent Meets Skeptic

    Russell Hurlburt and Eric Schwitzgebel

    A psychologist and a philosopher with opposing viewpoints discuss the extent to which it is possible to report accurately on our own conscious experience, considering both the reliability of introspection in general and the particular self-reported inner experiences of "Melanie," a subject interviewed using the Descriptive Experience Sampling method.

    Can conscious experience be described accurately? Can we give reliable accounts of our sensory experiences and pains, our inner speech and imagery, our felt emotions? The question is central not only to our humanistic understanding of who we are but also to the burgeoning scientific field of consciousness studies. The two authors of Describing Inner Experience disagree on the answer: Russell Hurlburt, a psychologist, argues that improved methods of introspective reporting make accurate accounts of inner experience possible; Eric Schwitzgebel, a philosopher, believes that any introspective reporting is inevitably prone to error. In this book the two discuss to what extent it is possible to describe our inner experience accurately.

    Hurlburt and Schwitzgebel recruited a subject, "Melanie," to report on her conscious experience using Hurlburt's Descriptive Experience Sampling method (in which the subject is cued by random beeps to describe her conscious experience). The heart of the book is Melanie's accounts, Hurlburt and Schwitzgebel's interviews with her, and their subsequent discussions while studying the transcripts of the interviews. In this way the authors' dispute about the general reliability of introspective reporting is steadily tempered by specific debates about the extent to which Melanie's particular reports are believable. Transcripts and audio files of the interviews will be available on the MIT Press website.

    Describing Inner Experience? is not so much a debate as it is a collaboration, with each author seeking to refine his position and to replace partisanship with balanced critical judgment. The result is an illumination of major issues in the study of consciousness—from two sides at once.

    • Hardcover $8.75 £6.95
    • Paperback $30.00 £24.00