Philip Goff (philosopher)

From Infogalactic: the planetary knowledge core
Jump to: navigation, search
Philip Goff
File:Philip Goff.jpg
Nationality British
Alma mater University of Leeds (MA), University of Reading (PhD)
Spouse(s) Emma Goff
Era 21st-century philosophy
Region Western philosophy
School Analytic philosophy
Main interests
Philosophy of mind
Notable ideas

Philip Goff is a British author, philosopher and consciousness researcher, specializing in philosophy of mind at Durham University, UK. His research focuses on integrating consciousness into the scientific worldview. He holds that materialism is incoherent and that, on the other hand, dualism leads to “complexity, discontinuity and mystery”[1] Instead he supports a “third way”, a version of Russellian idealist monism which attempts to account for the intrinsic nature of reality by positing that consciousness is itself a fundamental and ubiquitous feature of the physical world. “The basic commitment is that the fundamental constituents of reality—perhaps electrons and quarks—have incredibly simple forms of experience.“[2][3][4][5]


Early life and education

Goff wrote that he was obsessed with the problem of consciousness as long as he could remember. He declined to be confirmed Catholic at the age of fourteen and came to negatively associate philosophical dualism with his religious upbringing. As a philosophy undergraduate at Leeds, he felt he had to choose between only two options: dualism and materialism, so he became a committed materialist.[6]:93 He passionately debated religious dualists by defending the idea that the mind and the brain are entirely the same thing. However, he began to doubt the coherence of this position, because it failed to make a place in the world for personal experiences whose subjective qualities we all know firsthand[citation needed]. This cognitive dissonance finally peaked one evening in a bar when the thrum of vivid sensations clashed with his assumed worldview. “I couldn't deny it anymore. I'd already accepted that if materialism was true, then I was a zombie. But I knew I wasn't a zombie; I was a thinking, feeling human being. I could no longer live in denial of my consciousness.”[6]:93 Yet he had to finish his studies, so Goff became a “closet dualist”, while continuing to write his final year dissertation in which he argued that the problem of consciousness was irresolvable. Disenchanted with Philosophy, Goff went on to teach English in Poland. Later, when he happened across Thomas Nagel’s article “Panpsychism” he discovered a neglected third way, and his interest in academic philosophy was rekindled. He took up graduate study at the University of Reading, UK, under Galen Strawson, one of the few proponents of panpsychism at that time who was rediscovering Bertrand Russell and Arthur Eddington’s earlier work on monism.[6]:97


Prior to teaching at Durham, Goff was at the Department of Philosophy, University of Birmingham, The University of Hertfordshire, and King's College London. He did postdoctoral work at the Centre for Consciousness at the Australian National University, and got his PhD at University of Reading. He was an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Central European University.[3]

In 2014, Goff attended the Consciousness Cruise off Greenland sponsored by Dimitri Volkov and the Moscow Center for Consciousness Studies. It was a floating conference on one sailboat that featured prominent philosophers of mind such as David Chalmers, Paul Churchland, Patricia Churchland, Andy Clark, Daniel Dennett, Keith Frankish, Nicholas Humphrey, Jesse Prinz, and Derk Pereboom. Goff gave a talk about his developing position on and defense of panpsychism.[7][8]

Goff and Keith Frankish, a colleague who defends the opposing view of illusionism, started the YouTube channel "Mind Chat” in 2021, interviewing scientists and philosophers of consciousness, such as Tim O'Connor, Janet Levin, Christof Koch, Anil Seth, and Helen Yetter-Chappel.[9]



Goff explained that Galileo inaugurated modern science by dividing the world into the quantitative realm of science and, on the other hand, the qualitative realm of the soul. While this division ushered in the modern scientific era, Goff argues, it likely made it impossible that scientific naturalism could ever account for consciousness without either eliminating its qualitative aspects or falling victim to the liabilities of dualism. Goff was unconvinced by David Chalmers’ and Kelvin McQueen's attempt to establish a type of naturalistic dualism based on quantum mechanics. Though Goff thinks the idea deserves more attention, he concluded that even if dualism ends up being compatible with science, we should be wary of it on the grounds that it is less simple than other theories of consciousness. [6]:43

Goff argued that the qualities of consciousness cannot be captured in the purely quantitative vocabulary of physical sciences. Though the optimistic materialist may hope that further or more detailed quantitative descriptions might someday explain why and how a purely physical brain produces intrinsic personal experiences, Goff used a series of a priori thought experiments to argue that this is likely a false hope.[2] In his book, Galileo's Error, Goff used Frank Jackson's Knowledge Argument to show that a purely physical description of the world is not complete. Next Goff used David Chalmers’ Conceivability Argument to argue that materialism cannot possibly be true. Goff concluded that: “Materialists who claim both that reality can be exhaustively described in the objective vocabulary of physical science and that there are subjective properties are quite simply contradicting themselves.”[6]:59

Instead Goff supports a “third way”, a version of Russellian monism which attempts to account for the intrinsic nature of reality by positing that consciousness is itself a fundamental and ubiquitous feature of the physical world. “The basic commitment is that the fundamental constituents of reality—perhaps electrons and quarks—have incredibly simple forms of experience. “[2][3][4] Because the claim is that consciousness itself is fundamental, Goff's view does not provide a reductive account of consciousness that is composed of something else. However, Goff counters that “it is a prejudice of materialism to suppose that this is obligatory.”[6]:96

Though the idea of electrons having experience is counter-intuitive to most people, Goff clarified that most modern panpsychists do not believe just any clump of matter results in complex consciousness. “Most panpsychists will deny that your socks are conscious, while asserting that they are ultimately composed of things that are conscious.”[6]:94


While panpsychism remained a minority view amongst professional philosophers, since the work of Galen Strawson and Goff in the 21st century and their rediscovery of Bertrand Russell and Arthur Eddington's 1920's work on consciousness, it's become more widely discussed and debated. Goff has debated panpsychism against thinkers as diverse as physicalist Massimo Pigliucci and idealist Bernardo Kastrup.[10][11]

In 2021, the Journal of Consciousness Studies published 20 essays by scientists, philosophers, and theologians responding to Goff's work. Goff published a response essay in the same issue.[12]


Goff sees hope in panpsychism to solve human indifference to the climate crisis. Noting that Naomi Klein places the blame for our degradation of the environment at the foot of dualism, Goff speculates that children reared in a panpsychist tradition would be less indifferent to and more protective of the environment. [6]:153,155

Other interests

Goff writes on religion and politics, identifying as a “practicing agnostic”. He is a “vigorous opponent of neoliberalism" and a “huge fan of taxation.” He has argued against the Libertarian idea that taxation is theft, because you don't own your pre-tax income.[13] He plays in an obscure rock band.[3] In 2011 Goff instigated a protest of singer Bono which involved inflating a balloon in the front row of his concert to draw attention to Bono's tax dodging and the general problem of the siphoning off of hundreds of billions of dollars from the developing world to wealthy tax havens.[14]


Goff has published over forty-six academic papers, ten book reviews, guest edited an issue of Philosophy Now and written over thirty-five articles in the popular press in outlets such as The Guardian, The Times Literary Supplement. He has appeared in seventy podcasts and various debates.[3] In 2021, the Journal of Consciousness Studies featured Goff's work as the topic of 20 essays by scientists, philosophers, and theologians. Goff in turn responded to their essays in the Journal.[12]


  • Consciousness and Fundamental Reality (2017) ISBN 0190677015
  • Galileo's Error: Foundations for a New Science of Consciousness (2020) ISBN 0525564772


  1. Goff, Philip. "Panpsychism is crazy, but it's also most probably true". Aeon.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Cook, Gareth. "Does Consciousness Pervade the Universe?". Scientific American. Retrieved August 1, 2021.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Goff, Philip. "Philip Goff Philosophy". Retrieved August 1, 2021.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 Goff, Philip; Seager, William; Allen-Hermanson, Sean (July 18, 2017). "Panpsychism". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "Staff Profile Dr Philip Goff". Retrieved August 13, 2021.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6 6.7 Goff, Philip (2019). Galileo's Error: Foundations for a New Science of Consciousness. Vintage, Pantheon. ISBN 0525564772.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Goff, Philip. "Presentation of Philip Goff on consciousness. Greenland cruise 2014". YouTube. YouTube. Retrieved 11 November 2019.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "Greenland cruise". Center for Consciousness Studies. Retrieved 11 November 2019.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Goff, Philip; Frankish, Keith. "MindChat". YouTube. Retrieved July 29, 2021.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Pigliucci, Massimo; Goff, Philip (2020). "Panpsychism and the Science of Consciousness".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Goff, Philip (July 9, 2020). "A conscious universe: Panpsychism vs idealism". IAI.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. 12.0 12.1 Goff, Philip (August 1, 2021). "19 Essays on 'Galileo's Error'". Conscience and Consciousness Academic Philosophy for a General Audience. Retrieved August 18, 2021.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Goff, Philip (September 21, 2017). "Is taxation theft? The assumption that you own the contents of your pay-packet, although almost universal, is demonstrably confused". Retrieved August 11, 2021.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Goff, Philip (November 7, 2017). "Tax rogues like Bono are harming the world's poorest people". The Guardian. Retrieved August 10, 2021.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>