How have philosophers tried to argue for qualia?


What is the difference between the intuition that there is something it is like, qualitative experience, and faith in it?

Is it possible to convince someone who doesn't believe there is something it is like, that there is? How have philosophers tried to do this, without begging the question?


Posted 2014-08-25T22:22:42.050


Only if there is qualitative experience is there 'something it is like', and if there is then there is no need for faith, so I struggle with the question. It is not possible to convince someone there is 'something it is like' but no need to do so since they already know this. – None – 2019-01-13T13:41:47.647

Dropping in from the TM conscious question since this was linked. I know an exposition on Qualia as faith-based was requested but I don't see that being relevant to the question at hand. Let me know if I'm misunderstanding it somehow. – Calvin – 2014-08-28T19:18:19.583

ah it SHOULD be so obvious that that's what i'm asking that it doesn't warrant clarification. i'm sorry. – None – 2014-08-28T19:23:56.087

I guess I'm unclear what provisional definition of qualia you are functioning under. – Calvin – 2014-08-28T20:09:31.237

I don't see how the intuition, qualitative experience and faith in respect to qualia are different? Don't they all refer to the subjective experience of qualia? Or did I misinterpret your sentence? – infatuated – 2014-08-29T17:20:13.140



I'll follow up with some references below, but first consider these ideas that I, arguably a philosopher, would use to try to convince someone that qualia exist:

  1. at the day to day level we seem to experience and talk about qualia,
  2. the mental phenomena referred to are sufficiently distinct from the raw sensory experience that they are conceptually different things.

therefore, for some levels of discussion, qualia exist.


There is empirical support for the existence of qualia: my own mental states usually include features like "perceiving red" etc. I suspect that you find the same to hold for your mental states. In addition people in general report about their mental states in a way that is consistent with all of them having qualia. Thus at the common-sense day to day (i.e. pre-theoretic) level, qualia exist. The main question is whether these apparent qualia are in some way fundamental, or otherwise irreducable to other mental or physical characteristics. (The idea that objects have an intrinsic tendency to slow down in Aristotles' physics seems like a rough analog. everybody sees that this is the case in their day to day lives, but it is not an irreducable feature of a more accurate theory)

Another empirical fact is that our qualia are influenced by things other than what would seem to be the most obvious physical determinant: our perception of color depends on what is around a given object (numerous optical illusions depend on this), our perception of volume depends on pitch, memory can play a role (the "color-reversals after staring" type of optical illusions), people literally "seeing red" when angry etc. These features indicate that, at the very least, the connection between physical stimuli and the resulting qualia is very complex; perhaps so complex that it is worth identifying qualia as being conceptually distinct entities from the stimuli.

This level of discussion does not pin down the features of qualia in sufficient detail to be considered a theory of the phenomenon, however, it indicates that qualia need to be addressed, in one way or another, in any complete theory of mind.

Edit: Additional Reference

Although he does not explicitly reference qualia, Thomas Nagel follows essentially this line of thought in What Is It Like to Be a Bat?: humans, and bats, and other organisms have subjective experiences, it's unclear how these relate to physical phenomena, thus there is a problem in reductionistic approaches to mind. Namely, they do not address this issue of qualia -- how qualia arise, what their connection to the physical is etc. His own proposal for addressing this is to more completely, and objectively, pin down the features/characteritics of qualia (my interpretation), in his words "we can pursue a more objective understanding of the mental in its own right", and only by doing so can we resolve questions about physicalism.

As far as I can tell, David Chalmers takes it as self evident: e.g. "It is undeniable that some organisms are subjects of experience." (That is, I'm unaware of any explicit argument aimed at convincing someone who is skeptical of the idea of qualia).


Posted 2014-08-25T22:22:42.050

Reputation: 4 599

is empirical evidence - in your first sentence, the right terminology?

"our perception of volume depends on pitch" thanks! – None – 2014-08-27T16:49:52.893

1How is this answer related to the question? – nir – 2014-08-27T16:56:30.197

I interpret these ideas as a way to argue for the existence of qualia: qualia are apparent phenomena (at least at the day to day, high level description of things) and they are sufficiently distinct from the stimuli themselves to warrant differentiation as distinct entities. – Dave – 2014-08-27T17:01:38.613

1Did the OP ask for arguments that qualia exists? – nir – 2014-08-27T17:24:40.363

"How have philosophers tried to do this [convince someone who doesn't believe there is something it is like, that there is], without begging the question?" seems to ask for arguments that qualia exist; Note that in response to the preceding comment I have edited this answer to ensure that it addresses (my interpretation of) this aspect of the OP's question directly and explicitly. – Dave – 2014-08-28T21:37:21.840

Would you consider the awareness of thinking one own thoughts as a qualia? – Mozibur Ullah – 2014-08-30T15:08:14.080


I (and maybe you, dear reader) am convinced that qualia exist simply because I a have a subjective experience right now. Someone who deny their existence is either a zombie or insane. I cannot see any other explanation. In the case of the zombies, there is no way you can describe qualia to them ; thus you will never convince them. As for insane people, I would not waste my time trying to convince them of anything.


Posted 2014-08-25T22:22:42.050

Reputation: 179


Question: Is it possible to convince someone (who doesn't believe that there are qualia) that there are qualia?

The answer is yes.

But first we should be clear what we mean by “qualia”. Although it is well known that the term quale and qualia are the terms that derive from a Latin word meaning for “what sort” or “what kind, there is no standard definition for contemporary use of these words. However, from current references (1-8), it can be concluded that the terms refer to mental phenomena (A) that have phenomenal characteristics (B) that can be consciously experienceable (C).

For example, the red color qualia are mental phenomena (A) that have phenomenal characteristic of “red” (B), and this phenomenal characteristic “red” can be consciously experienceable in our mind (C). Practically, because it is consciously experienceable, a person who experiences a quale, if he/she is not disabled, must be able to report that he/she experiences the quale.

Now, let’s ask a person who doesn’t believe that there are qualia several questions.

  1. Ask him/her if he/she knows that he/she is experiencing the blood levels of sodium all the time. The answer is, of course, “no”. This is because although he/she experiences the blood levels of sodium all the time, it is unconscious experiences, not conscious experiences.

  2. Let him/her see a red color plate; then ask him/her if he/she knows that he/she is experiencing the red color in his/her mind. The answer must be “yes” if he/she is truthful.

  3. Let him/hear listen to a musical sound; then ask him/her if he/she knows that he/she is experiencing the musical sound in his/her mind. The answer must be “yes” if he/she is truthful.

  4. Ask him/her if what he/she experiences in his/her mind in 2. and 3. are different. The answer must be “yes, they are different” if he/she is truthful.

  5. Point out to him/her that the phenomena that he/she experiences in his/her mind in 2. and 3. are what we called qualia. They are qualia because

(A) They are mental phenomena, which definitely occur when seeing the red color and hearing musical sound but do not occur when experiencing the blood levels of sodium.

(B) They have phenomenal characteristics, which help him/her differentiate the phenomena in 2. and 3.

(C) They are consciously experienceable, that’s why he/she can report that he/she is experiencing them in 2. and 3.

(Adapted from 4.4. How to test qualia’s occurrences in people)

If he/she calls these phenomena something else or continues to deny them outright, it will be just a matter of stubbornness. But, behaviorally, he/she already accepts that there indeed are mental phenomena that have phenomenal characteristics that can be consciously experienceable occurring in his/her mind.


  1. Kanai R, Tsuchiya N. Qualia. Current Biology. 2012 May;22(10):392–396.
  2. Tye M. Qualia. Zalta EN, editor. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

  3. Kind A. Qualia. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

  4. Qualia. Wikipedia.

  5. Ukachoke C. Chapter 3 – Qualia, Conscious Awareness, and Conscious Experiences. In: The Basic Theory of the Mind. 1st ed, 2018. Bangkok, Thailand.

  6. Byrne A. Inverted qualia. Zalta EN, editor. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

  7. Chalmers DJ. Absent Qualia, Fading Qualia, Dancing Qualia. In Metzinger T, editor. Conscious Experience. Ferdinand Schoningh. pp. 309--328 (1995).

  8. Ramachandran VS, William Hirstein W. Three laws of qualia. What neurology tells us about the biological functions of consciousness, qualia and the self. J Conscious Stud. 1997;4(5-6):429–458.


Posted 2014-08-25T22:22:42.050

Reputation: 840