Transformative Experiences

Deadline for Submission

October 1, 2014

Call for Papers

Res Philosophica invites papers on the topic of transformative experiences for a special issue of the journal.


Some potential experiences are transformative experiences: they will change us in broadly cognitive—and perhaps significant—ways, and yet the full nature of the phenomenal characters of these cognitive changes are epistemically inaccessible to us before we have the experiences.

Philosophers are familiar with some of these types of experiences from the literature on consciousness—for example, the what its like properties involved in the knowledge problem. When Mary sees color for the first time, her experience is transformed in a way that she could not have predicted: she could not know what it would be like for her to see red for the first time. Such experiences are transformative for an agent in the sense that they are radically unlike the agent’s previous experiences with regard to their phenomenal character, intensity, and overall cognitive significance.

These sorts of transformative experiences include seeing color for the first time, but may also involve other sorts of experiences that involve significant changes in the agent’s phenomenal point of view, such as converting to belief in God, becoming sighted for the first time or becoming a hearer for the first time, becoming paraplegic, becoming female (or male), going to the front in wartime, or having one’s first child. Contemporary psychological and sociological research suggests that one’s actual experiences are often very different from how we expect they will be.

The special issue, in broad outline, invites papers exploring the implications of the possibility that certain major life experiences are phenomenologically transformative: that is, they are relevantly just like Mary’s when she leaves her black and white room. The transformative nature of such experiences raises many questions. For example, if choosing to believe in God, choosing to have a cochlear implant, or choosing to have a child is a choice to undergo a phenomenologically transformative experience, how should agents evaluate the values of the outcomes of acts that bring about such experiences? Are there decision-theoretic implications? Since such choices, especially when they are irreversible, may also change the values and belief structure of the agent, how should agents assess the choice before having the experience, and how are they to reflect on whether having such an experience improves well-being? Papers that address these and related issues are welcome.

Selected papers will be included in a special issue of Res Philosophica along with invited papers from Elizabeth Barnes, Rachael Briggs, Ruth Chang, Elizabeth Harman, Rae Langton, and L. A. Paul.


Submissions will be triple anonymously reviewed. (First, authors do not know the identity of the referees, second, referees do not know the identity of the authors, and third, editors do not know the identity of the authors.) Please format your submission so that it is suitable for anonymous review. (Instructions are available here.)

Papers may be up to 12,000 words long (including footnotes).

We accept pdf and Microsoft Word documents. Papers may be submitted in any standard style, but authors of accepted papers will be required to edit their papers according to the journal’s style, which follows The Chicago Manual of Style (16th edition). Style instructions are available here.

Please use the online submission form for submitting your essay, available here.