Sebastian Watzl

Associate Professor - IFIKK
Image of Sebastian Watzl
Norwegian version of this page
Phone +47-228-41672
Room 434
Visiting address Georg Morgenstieres Hus Blindern 0315 Oslo
Postal address Postboks 1020 Blindern 0315 OSLO

About me

I am a philosopher. My work focuses on the philosophy of mind, and my specialties are philosophical issues about attention.

Here is what I do in simple words:

I study attention. What is attention? What does attention feel like? Attention is the way the mind focuses. I look at attention as an organization of the mind. With attention, we bring order to our minds. With that order, we can use our mind better when we do things. And we feel that it is OUR mind because we have ordered it. I also study whether some forms of attention are good and other forms are bad. I think that attention is important for good actions and for what we believe. And sometimes attention is just good or bad itself. Finally, I am interested in social attention. Sharing attention, I believe, is important for living well together. Attention is also sometimes bought and sold. I study whether this is a problem.

My research engages central philosophical topics about the nature of the mind, perception, consciousness, freedom and action, individual and society, rationality and ethics (see here for a topical overview of my work). My approach involves philosophical reflection in close dialogue with other disciplines including biology, neuroscience, psychology, economics and other social sciences, and literary studies. Currently, the main focus of my work is connecting questions of how attention works with questions of what deserves our attention, and what good and bad forms of attention are. I lead the ERC Consolidator Grant funded project called ‘GOODATTENTION’, and also manage the project Salient Solutions. Responding ethically to the attention crisis funded by the Norwegian Research Council. In addition, I co-lead an interdisciplinary Convergence Environment at UiO:Life Science on Consciousness, and I am involved in research on Artificial Intelligence.

After an MA in biology at Humboldt University Berlin (focusing on honey bee navigation and computational neuroscience), I received an MA in philosophy from New York University and a PhD in philosophy from Columbia University. I came to Oslo after a postdoc at the interdisciplinary Mind-Brain-Behavior program at Harvard University. I have been visiting professor at LMU Munich, and Umeå University. I have received a Young Talented Researchers Grant from the Norwegian Research Council, won the Sister Dals Resesarch Prize, and I was a core-group member of the Norwegian Centre of Excellence CSMN. Before starting the work on my current grants, I was co-founder and head of the Center for Philosophy and the Sciences (CPS).

Pronouns: He/Him


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Tags: Philosophy, attention, ERC, consciousness, action, Democracy, Social media


Watzl, S. (2017). Structuring Mind. The Nature of Attention and How it Shapes Consciousness, Oxford University Press

Image may contain: Light, Font, Pattern, Electric blue, Glass.What is attention? How does attention shape consciousness? In an approach that engages with foundational topics in the philosophy of mind, the theory of action, psychology, and the neurosciences this book provides a unified and comprehensive answer to both questions. Sebastian Watzl shows that attention is a central structural feature of the mind. The first half of the book provides an account of the nature of attention. Attention is prioritizing, it consists in regulating priority structures. Attention is not another element of the mind, but constituted by structures that organize, integrate, and coordinate the parts of our mind. Attention thus integrates the perceptual and intellectual, the cognitive and motivational, and the epistemic and practical. The second half of the book concerns the relationship between attention and consciousness. Watzl argues that attentional structure shapes consciousness into what is central and what is peripheral. The center-periphery structure of consciousness cannot be reduced to the structure of how the world appears to the subject. What it is like for us thus goes beyond the way the world appears to us. On this basis, a new view of consciousness is offered. In each conscious experience we actively take a stance on the world we appear to encounter. It is in this sense that our conscious experience is our subjective perspective.

Cappelen, H., Torsen, I. and Watzl, S (2021). Knowing, Being, Doing, Gyldendal

Image may contain: Daytime, World, Leaf, Nature, Architecture.What does it mean to possess knowledge about something? What kinds of things exist and can be known? How should we live? What matters and what has value? In this book, we seek to answer these questions by examining contributions from the history of philosophy, science and ethics. The book has 20 chapters divided into three parts. Part 1, Knowing, asks questions about knowledge. Part 2, Being, starts by asking about what is real. Part 3, Doing, is devoted to ethics. Every chapter has an introduction and one or in some cases two original texts written either by contemporary thinkers or by important figures from the history of philosophy and science. Each chapter is accompanied by study questions and learning goals. The aim of this book is twofold: to teach you to become a critical reader, who can identify positions, arguments, and structures in a scientific text; and to introduce you to some important positions and ideas in order to enable you to discuss the big questions raised in the book.

Some Recent Articles

  • Friedman, Yael; Watzl, Sebastian; Oftedal, Gry & Görbitz, Carl Henrik (2022). Kurering, heling og habilitering. Tidsskrift for Den norske legeforening. ISSN 0029-2001. 142(5). doi: 10.4045/tidsskr.21.0653.
  • Nes, Anders; Sundberg, Kristoffer & Watzl, Sebastian (2021). The perception/cognition distinction. Inquiry (Oslo). ISSN 0020-174X. p. 1–31. doi: 10.1080/0020174X.2021.1926317. Full text in Research Archive
  • Watzl, Sebastian (2019). Culture or Biology? If This Sounds Interesting, You Might Be Confused. In Valsiner, Jaan (Eds.), Social Philosophy of Science for the Social Sciences. Springer Nature. ISSN 978-3-030-33098-9. doi: 10.1007/978-3-030-33099-6_4.
  • Watzl, Sebastian (2019). Can Representationism Explain How Attention Affects Appearances? In Pautz, Adam & Stoljar, Daniel (Ed.), Blockheads! Essays on Ned Block's Philosophy of Mind and Consciousness . MIT Press. ISSN 9780262038720. p. 581–608.
  • Watzl, Sebastian (2018). Is Attention a Non-Propositional Attitude? In Grzankowski, Alex & Montague, Michelle (Ed.), Non-Propositional Intentionality. Oxford University Press. ISSN 0198732570. p. 272–302. doi: 10.1093/oso/9780198732570.003.0012.
  • Watzl, Sebastian (2018). Consciousness and no self? Ratio. ISSN 0034-0006. 31(4), p. 363–375. doi: 10.1111/rati.12216.
  • Watzl, Sebastian (2014). Attentional organization and the unity of consciousness. Journal of Consciousness Studies. ISSN 1355-8250. 21(7-8), p. 56–87.
  • Watzl, Sebastian (2014). Perceptual guidance. Ratio. ISSN 0034-0006. 27(4), p. 414–438. doi: 10.1111/rati.12084.
  • Watzl, Sebastian (2013). Silencing the experience of change. Philosophical Studies. ISSN 0031-8116. 165(3), p. 1009–1032. doi: 10.1007/s11098-012-0005-6.
  • Watzl, Sebastian & Wu, Wayne (2012). Review of "Perplexities of Consciousness" by eric Schwitzgebel. Mind. ISSN 0026-4423. 121(482), p. 524–529.
  • Watzl, Sebastian (2012). Review of "Joint Attention: New Develoments in Psychology, Philosophy of Mind, and Social Neuroscience" edited by Axel Seemann. Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews. ISSN 1538-1617.

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  • Watzl, Sebastian; Torsen, Ingvild & Cappelen, Herman Wright (2021). Vite, være, gjøre. Exhil: Lærebok med originaltekster. Gyldendal Akademisk. ISBN 9788205529793. 552 p.
  • Watzl, Sebastian; Cappelen, Herman Wright & Torsen, Ingvild (2021). Being, Doing, Knowing. Gyldendal Norsk Forlag A/S. ISBN 9788205551558. 606 p.
  • Watzl, Sebastian (2017). Structuring Mind: The Nature of Attention and how it Shapes Consciousness. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199658428. 336 p.

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  • Watzl, Sebastian (2021). Salience Plays a Rational Role.
  • Watzl, Sebastian (2021). Attention: a philosophical perspective.
  • Watzl, Sebastian (2021). Consciousness = Self-Consciousness.
  • Watzl, Sebastian (2021). Author Meets Critics: Sebastian Watzl, Structuring Mind: The Nature of Attention and How It Shapes Consciousness.
  • Lilleslåtten, Mari & Watzl, Sebastian (2021). Private selskapers makt over oppmerksomheten vår utfordrer demokratiet. [Internet].
  • Watzl, Sebastian & Kippersund, Max Johannes (2021). Hva fortjener vår oppmerksomhet? [Internet].
  • Friedman, Yael; Watzl, Sebastian; Oftedal, Gry & Görbitz, Carl Henrik (2021). Hva betyr «å bli bra» etter helseproblemer? Tre ord kan hjelpe oss å være tydeligere. Aftenposten Viten. ISSN 2464-3033. p. 28–29.
  • Hartvedt, Eilif Guldvog; Winther, Hannah; Sterri, Aksel Braanen; Betzonich-Wilken, Per; Bauhn, Per & Watzl, Sebastian [Show all 9 contributors for this article] (2021). Koronavaksine: Bør folkehelse trumfe selvbestemmelse? [Journal]. Salongen – nettidsskrift for filosofi og idéhistorie.
  • Watzl, Sebastian (2020). Salience plays a rational role.
  • Watzl, Sebastian (2020). Salience plays a rational role.
  • Watzl, Sebastian (2020). Salience plays a rational role.
  • Watzl, Sebastian (2020). The normative functions of attention.
  • Watzl, Sebastian (2019). The Rationality of Salience.
  • Watzl, Sebastian (2018). Jonardon Ganeri "Attention, Not Self". Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews. ISSN 1538-1617.
  • Watzl, Sebastian (2018). Attention Rights.
  • Watzl, Sebastian (2018). Keynote Address "Attention: Nature and Normativity".
  • Watzl, Sebastian (2018). The Desire-Perception Distinction.
  • Watzl, Sebastian (2018). The Rational Role of Salience.
  • Watzl, Sebastian (2018). The Ethics of Attention.
  • Watzl, Sebastian (2018). The Desire-Perception Distinction.
  • Watzl, Sebastian (2018). Consciousness is something you do. The Brains Blog.
  • Watzl, Sebastian (2018). How attention shapes consciousness. The Brains Blog.
  • Watzl, Sebastian (2018). Earthworms, Google servers, and an important kind of freedom. The Brains Blog.
  • Watzl, Sebastian (2018). Structures of the Mind. The Brains Blog.
  • Watzl, Sebastian (2018). Who needs a theory of attention? The Brains Blog.
  • Watzl, Sebastian (2017). Attention, or how to organize the mind. OUPblog.
  • Watzl, Sebastian (2016). Commentary on Denis Buehler's "Guidance of Visual Attention".
  • Watzl, Sebastian (2016). Priority Norms.
  • Watzl, Sebastian (2015). Attention and Importance.
  • Watzl, Sebastian (2015). Salience Norms.
  • Watzl, Sebastian (2015). Social Attention.
  • Watzl, Sebastian (2015). Is Attention the Form of Consciousness?
  • Watzl, Sebastian (2015). Is Attention the Form of Consciousness?
  • Watzl, Sebastian & Siegel, Susanna (2015). Salience Norms.
  • Watzl, Sebastian (2015). What is Attention?
  • Watzl, Sebastian (2015). Attention: The Form of Consciousness.
  • Watzl, Sebastian (2015). Salience. Dynamics for Consciousness.
  • Watzl, Sebastian (2015). Consciousness Beyond Appearances: Attentional Organization, Phenomenal Priming, and Reflexive Awareness.
  • Watzl, Sebastian (2014). How is Perceptual Guidance Possible?
  • Watzl, Sebastian (2014). Is attention an object-directed attitude?
  • Watzl, Sebastian (2014). Attention and Consciousness. Appearance, Organization, and Control.
  • Watzl, Sebastian (2014). Subjects and Subjective Character.
  • Watzl, Sebastian (2014). Brains and Philosophers. Neuroscience and the Human Mind.
  • Watzl, Sebastian (2014). Perceptual Guidance.
  • Watzl, Sebastian (2014). Online Symposium on Philipp Koralus' “The Erotetic Theory of Attention”.
  • Watzl, Sebastian (2013). Comments on Watson's “Shifts of Attention, Competition for Attention and the Subject of Attention; Contrasting Indian Perspectives.
  • Watzl, Sebastian (2013). The Unity and Subjectivity of Consciousness Unified. Attention and Phenomenal Unity.
  • Watzl, Sebastian (2013). How Attention Structures Consciousness.
  • Watzl, Sebastian (2013). How Attention Structures Consciousness.
  • Watzl, Sebastian (2013). How Attention Structures Consciousness.
  • Watzl, Sebastian (2013). Organizing Mind.
  • Watzl, Sebastian (2013). Is attention one or many? And why should we care?

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Published Aug. 16, 2018 2:56 PM - Last modified June 14, 2022 8:55 AM