University Studies 15A:

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Consciousness I. The Pre-history of the Modern Version of . Conscious Experience. NOUNS!. . Nouns are Things.. What sorts of things are things? . “Apple” Object/Entity. “Ripening” State. “Eating” Action. ID: 291225 Download Presentation

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University Studies 15A:

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University Studies 15A:Consciousness I

The Pre-history of the Modern Version of Conscious Experience



Nouns are Things.What sorts of things are things?

“Apple” Object/Entity

“Ripening” State

“Eating” Action

“Redness” Property



“Her kindness to small animals is legendary.”“We thank you for your kindness to him last night.”







Consciousness <> Being conscious of…

Early Western examples seem to think of

consciousness not as a faculty

but as “being aware/conscious of.”


Genesis 2 7And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.  8And the LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed.  9And out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. …21And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof;  22And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.  23And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.  24Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.  25And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.


Genesis 3 1Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?  2And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden:  3But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.  4And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:  5For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.  6And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.  7And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.


In the Old Testament Hebraic world:There was a clear distinction between 1. being naked, knowing one is naked (the edenic state),2. And having one’e “eyes opened” and being conscious of nakedness.

The crucial point here is not the precise nature of the

distinction but the fact that they clearly thought in

terms of an


of knowledge that mattered

and was the source of moral discrimination.

The tradition of an “inner consciousness of…” is very

old. However, is it a faculty, a property, or a state?

The situation gets clearer in more recent thought:




Descartes (1596-1650) is important to our story.

In order to create a secure foundation for his

philosophical explorations, he adopted a clear

ontological dualism to explain the relationship of the

mind to the body.

The mind is a



, a “thinking thing”

The body is a



, an “extended thing”

For Descartes, consciousness was “awareness of…,” a

state of being aware of one’s thoughts:




. I use this term to include everything that is within


in such a way that we are

immediately aware [


] of it



all the

operations of the will, the intellect, the imagination


the senses

are thoughts. I say ‘immediately’ so as to exclude


consequences of thoughts; a voluntary movement, for example,


in a thought



. I understand the term to mean the

form of any given thought


immediate perception of which makes me aware [


] of the thought



to the fact that there can be nothing in the mind, in so far as it is a thinking thing, of which it is not aware [


], this seems to me to be self-evident



For Descartes, consciousness of thinking the thought is part of thinking a thought.“The initial thought by means of which we become aware of something does not differ from the second thought by means of which we become aware that we were aware of it, any more than this second thought differs from the third thought by means of which we become aware that we were aware that we were aware.”

After much reflection,

Descartes argues that this

ability to be aware of one’s thoughts


him to the one thing he cannot doubt: “He thinks; therefore he exists.”


The consciousness of thought is, under certain circumstances, completely transparent and unerring:


am certain that I am a thing which thinks; but do I not then likewise know what is requisite to render me certain of a truth? Certainly in this first knowledge there is nothing that assures me of its truth, excepting

the clear and distinct perception of that which I state

, which would not indeed suffice to assure me that what I say is true, if it could ever happen that a thing which I conceived so clearly and distinctly could be false; and accordingly it seems to me that already I can establish as a general rule that

all things which I


very clearly and very distinctly are true



For Descartes, consciousness is awareness and is a property of thought and largely defines thought.

John Locke (


) in the next generation, also considers consciousness of thinking to be simply a part of thinking itself:


do not say there is no SOUL in a man, because he is not sensible of it in his sleep; but I do say, he cannot THINK at any time, waking or sleeping, without being sensible of it. Our being sensible of it is not necessary to anything but to our thoughts; and to them it is; and to them it always will be



He continues:

If the soul doth think in a sleeping man without being conscious of it, I ask whether, during such thinking, it has any pleasure or pain, or be capable of happiness or misery? I am sure the man is not; no more than the bed or earth he lies on.

For to be happy or miserable without being conscious of it, seems to me utterly inconsistent and impossible


For Locke, “consciousness of…” is central to experience.


For Locke, consciousness is private and inaccessible to others:

Consciousness is

the perception of what passes in a man's own mind

. Can another man perceive that I am conscious of anything, when I perceive it not myself? No man's knowledge here can go beyond his experience. Wake a man out of a sound sleep, and ask him what he was that moment thinking of. If he himself be conscious of nothing he then thought on, he must be a notable diviner of thoughts that can assure him that he was thinking.


For Locke, consciousness


the self:


is that conscious thinking thing,—whatever substance made up of, (whether spiritual or material, simple or compounded, it matters not)—which is sensible or conscious of pleasure and pain, capable of happiness or misery, and so is concerned for itself, as far as that consciousness extends



may show us wherein personal identity consists: not in the identity of substance, but, as I have said, in the

identity of consciousness

, wherein if Socrates and the present mayor of


agree, they are the same person: if the same Socrates waking and sleeping do not partake of the same consciousness, Socrates waking and sleeping is not the same person



For Locke, the SELF is a certainty, as is the unity of conscious experience that defines that self. Three generations later, however, this confidence ebbed, and David Hume (1711-1776) rejected Locke and Descartes:

“I may venture to affirm of the rest of mankind, that

they are nothing but a bundle or collection of different perceptions

, which succeed each other with an inconceivable rapidity, and are in a perpetual flux and movement. Our eyes cannot turn in their sockets without varying our perceptions. Our thought is still more variable than our sight; and all our other senses and faculties contribute to this change: nor is there any single power of the soul, which remains unalterably the same, perhaps for one moment.

The mind is a kind of theatre, where several perceptions successively make their appearance; pass,


, glide away, and mingle in an infinite variety of postures and situations.

There is properly no simplicity in it at one time, nor identity in different, whatever natural


we may have to imagine that simplicity and identity. The comparison of the theatre must not mislead us.

They are the successive perceptions only, that constitute the mind

; nor have we the most distant notion of the place where these scenes are represented, or of the materials of which it is composed.”


Something odd has happened with Hume.

Earlier writers thought of consciousness as the inner state of people as they think:


am conscious of


For Descartes and Locke, there is an added



(as a self) exist.

Hume, however, denies this “thinking thing” exists and has serious doubts about


as the object of awareness.


“Consciousness of A” therefore cannot be a state of this “thinking thing” and instead Consciousness in itself seems to become a faculty of mind. It comes to define the very nature of mind as a process without content: “The mind is a kind of theatre, where several perceptions successively make their appearance; pass, repass, glide away, and mingle in an infinite variety of postures and situations…. They are the successive perceptions only, that constitute the mind.”

Is this shift clear?


Let’s now leap ahead another hundred and fifty years, to William James (1842-1910), honored as a great pioneer in the American tradition of empirical psychology.How does he navigate the distinction between “consciousness” as a mental faculty and consciousness as simply a descriptive term?

In Chapter 9, “The Stream of Thought,” James begins, “

The only thing which psychology has a right to postulate at the outset is the fact of thinking itself

, and that must first be taken up and analyzed.” Descartes is still with us, even if just as a postulate.


James lists 5 features of thinking in general:

Every thought tends to be part of a personal consciousness.Within each personal consciousness thought is alwayschanging.Within each personal consciousness thought is sensibly continuous.It always appears to deal with objects independent of itself.It is interested in some parts of these objects to the exclusionof others, and welcomes or rejects - chooses from among them, in a word - all the while.

What is the “It” in #4 and #5?

“Consciousness” here looks like Hume’s theater, a place where thoughts arise.


But for James, there clearly is someone who owns the theater and the thoughts:

“The universal conscious fact is not ‘feelings and thoughts exist,’ but ‘I think’ and ‘I feel.’ No psychology, at any rate, can question the


of personal selves.”

“What I find when I look at

my consciousness

at all is that what I cannot divest myself of, or not have in consciousness, if I have any consciousness at all, is a sequence of different feelings.”

Consciousness here can be looked at; it is a constant


of perceiving, and it is




James, responding to Hume’s critique, argues that it is not the


of consciousness that defines the self but that the self can be found in the

experienced coherence of consciousness



sense of the parts being inwardly connected and belonging together because they are parts of a common whole, the consciousness remains sensibly continuous and one. What now is the common whole? The natural name for it is




, or



A bit later on, James fudges by noting that in fact Consciousness shapes its content into coherence through an “agency of attention”:


mind is at every stage a theatre of simultaneous possibilities.


consists in the comparison of these with each other, the selection of some, and the suppression of the rest by the reinforcing and inhibiting agency of attention



Note that in this function of selection, Consciousness remains “consciousness of….”

It is inward and personal

It is a functional state of the mind

Yet it is strongly committed to engaging the external world:

It provides a synthetic account of the self in the world:


“There is not a conjunction or a preposition, and hardly an adverbial phrase, syntactic form, or inflection of voice, in human speech, that does not express some shading or other of relation which we at some moment actually feel to exist between the larger objects of our thought. If we speak

objectively, it is the real relations that appear revealed

; if we speak

subjectively, it is the stream of consciousness that matches each of them by an inward coloring of its own

. In either case the relations are numberless, and no existing language is capable of doing justice to all their shades.”

It is here, I think, that James begins to approach the modern version of consciousness as “what it is like” to be a self experiencing the world, which will be the topic for Thursday.






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