by Stephen Priest


by Ted Honderich

These two papers are from Radical Externalism: Honderich's Theory of Consciousness Discussed -- a book of that title and also an issue of the Journal of Consciousness Studies, both edited by Anthony Freeman. Priest's paper is a response to the target paper by Honderich to which you can go, Radical Externalism, which introduces and summarizes the theory of consciousness.

Honderich claims that for a person to be perceptually conscious is for a world to exist. I decide what this means, and whether it could be true, in Section I, Consciousness and Existence. In II, Honderich’s Phenomenology, I show that Honderich’s theory is essentially anticipated in the ideas and Ideas of Husserl. In III, Radical Interiority, I argue that although phenomenology putatively eschews ontology of mind, and Honderich construes his position as near-physicalism, Honderich’s insights are only truths because we are spiritual substances.


    Honderich says

'What it is for you to be perceptually conscious now is for a world somehow to exist, a certain changing totality of things' (2000, p. 67).

Much rests on ‘perceptual’ here, otherwise it is doubtful that this biconditional holds.

     For example, there is no contradiction in the supposition that there are conscious states but no things. Bodily sensations, some moods and pervasive states of anxiety or euphoria are, in some sense, conscious states but are not things. Nor do they necessarily ‘take’ objects, so do not necessarily take things as objects. Globally, there logically and metaphysically could be a pure consciousness utterly devoid of contents, for example, the emptiness of mind on certain Buddhist views. (note 1) If this kind of Buddhism is true then it is psychologically or phenomenologically false that things or contents are necessary for consciousness. A fortiori, it is false that any world is necessary for consciousness. (2)

       Conversely, there is no incoherence in the commonsense realist view that there could be a world without consciousness. Unless Berkeley’s view, or similar, is correct the existence of a world does not entail the existence of consciousness and the fact, if it is a fact, that it is not possible to conceive a world without conceiving it as an actual or possible object of consciousness does not entail that it could not exist without consciousness, consciousness of it, or that particular conception of it. So, it is coherent to suppose that something’s being an object is not sufficient for ‘a world somehow to exist’, except either in a highly abstract or metaphysical sense of ‘world’ (in which, say, w is a possible world in which at least one intentional object exists) or in the phenomenological sense that even an object cannot be presented except in a subjective field or phenomenological space. (3)

      If ‘perceptual consciousness’ means ‘intentional consciousness’
then it is analytic that if there is perceptual consciousness then there is at least one intentional object. However, this conditional tautology holds whatever the substantial facts of the philosophy of mind.

      Suppose the use of ‘what it is for’ implies that x’s being perceptually conscious is identical with the existence of a world. Honderich’s expression

'The conception of your perceptual consciousness as a certain totality of existing things…' (2000, p. 71)

implies that the relation is identity if and only if ‘x exists as y’ implies ‘x is y’. What kind of identity is this? Is it necessary or contingent, type or token? Is it known a priori or a posteriori? If it is false that ‘x is perceptually conscious’ is true if and only if ‘a world exists is true’ then the sense of ‘x is perceptually conscious’ is not the sense of ‘a world exists’. Do ‘x is perceptually conscious’ and ‘a world exists’ differ in sense but not extension? Clearly not, because they differ in truth conditions.

          Suppose the use of ‘what it is for’ implies that x’s being perceptually conscious is constituted by the existence of a world. Then the relation between perceptual consciousness and the existence of a world is is made up of. If it makes sense to talk of perceptual consciousness as constituted, then prima facie candidates for constituents are phenomenological constituents and neurological constituents. On some phenomenologies, perceptual consciousness is a whole that has a subject, a noesis, and noematic content, as parts. On some materialisms, perceptual consciousness exists only because a certain brain process exists rather as some water, macroscopically described, exists because some H2O exists.  It is not plausible that perceptual consciousness should be constituted by the existence of a world, if a world is that towards which perceptual consciousness is directed, or has as contents.  

            Suppose ‘what it is for x to be perceptually conscious is for a world to exist’ is true if and only if being perceptually conscious may be reduced to the existence of a world. This is not what Honderich means because it is inconsistent with the reality of consciousness; a tenet that he thinks any plausible theory of consciousness has to observe. Nevertheless, as an unintended entailment it is plausible. Consciousness of a set of objects might be ontologically nothing over and above the obtaining of those objects qua phenomenological objects. If there is pain there might be no feeling of the pain ‘over and above’ the phenomenological pain. If there is phenomenological red, there might be no consciousness of phenomenological red ‘over and above’ the obtaining of phenomenological red. Phenomenological red is, then, the end of the story not the beginning of a story about consciousness. Neurology, then, ends in phenomenology but consciousness does not begin with phenomenology. Where, pre-theoretically, I think of my own consciousness there seems to be nothing. However, this consciousness is not nothing but no-thing-ness.

         What is the world which exists if and only if perceptual consciousness exists? Where is it? Honderich claims:

'What it is for you to be aware of your surroundings is for, in a certain sense, there to be certain things with various properties in space and time' (2000, p. 67).

Suppose existing in space-time is a sufficient condition for being physical; it follows that a subjective world is physical and, if there is only one actual space-time, then a subjective world is in the only actual space-time. Nevertheless Honderich says

'Your world of perceptual consciousness is exactly not the physical world' (2000, p. 72).

A subjective world is

'...a constituent...of the physical world' (2000, p. 73).

Even so, Honderich says

'No world of perceptual consciousness is identical in its contents with the perceived part of the physical world – or of course the other part' (2000, p. 72).

Although a subjective world at a time is not identical with a perceived part of the world at that time, I take it that a perceived part of the world is a part of a subjective world. Honderich says about his subjective world ‘mine now consists in things in this room and outside the window’ (2000, p. 67). These are perceived parts of the world and parts of a subjective world so if the perceived parts of the world are not identical with a subjective world they must be identical with a part of a subjective world. If perceptual consciousness is to be explained reductively, in terms of subjective worlds, then perceptual consciousness and the perceived part of the world that is its object are nothing ‘over and above’ part of a subjective world. If a subjective world is not exhausted by a perceived part of the physical world, what else does it consist in?

         Honderich says ‘a person is certainly part of it’ (2000, p. 67) so a subjective world is at least both a perceived part of the physical world and a person, plausibly; the perceiver, or subject of perceptual consciousness. Because, like Sartre, Honderich thinks that it is

'inconsistent to speak of something as within or a part of consciousness and also hidden' (2000, p. 68)

the subject can only feature in a subjective world as an appearance. Redescribed as a subjective world, perceptual consciousness has only the parts it seems to have. (4)

        Honderich thinks the existence of a subjective world is

'…no more than a kind of claim as to the existence of things, not exactly standard physical things' (2000, p. 67).

When he says

'what it is…is a totality of different things in space and time' (2000, pp. 72-3)

‘different things’ had better not commit Honderich to a set of physical things numerically distinct from and extra to the totality of physical objects in space-time. This would be inconsistent with his thesis that perceived parts of physical things are parts of a subjective world and it is not clear where in space-time extra entities could be located. 

         Honderich says about a subjective world:

‘It is prior to and a constituent…of the physical world’ (2000, p. 73).

What does ‘prior to’ mean here? Suppose a is prior to b if and only if a is a necessary condition for b. Then a may be ontologically prior to b, logically prior to b or epistemologically prior to b. There is no reason why the world, in Honderich’s sense, should be ontologically prior to the physical world. Some sound argument for strong idealism would be required to show that the physical world only exists if some portion of it tied to consciousness exists.

      If a portion of the physical world were logically prior to the physical world then it would be contradictory to hold that the physical world could exist without that portion of it. The claim would have to be shown to entail some contradiction, by reductio ad absurdum (or similar). Prima facie there is no such contradiction, so no reason to suppose any perceived part of the physical world is logically prior to the physical world.

       If a portion of the physical world dependent on perceptual consciousness is epistemologically prior to the physical world then it is not possible to have knowledge of the physical world without having knowledge of that portion of it. This entails a kind of empiricism: No knowledge of a physical world is possible unless there is knowledge of some part of it that is perceived. There could in principle be perception of part of the physical world without that perception being necessary or sufficient for knowledge of that part. (Suppose, for example, that perceptual acquaintance with x is neither necessary nor sufficient for propositional knowledge of x.) It requires some argument for empiricism to show that the perception of the physical world is necessary for knowledge of it. Suppose, on the contrary, that some being knows about the physical world by the exercise of intuitive intellect (that is, has the faculty Kant says we lack) but has no empirical faculties.

        Honderich claims that for there to be perceptual consciousness is for a world to exist. What does ‘exist’ mean here? Honderich seeks a middle way between ‘A perceives x’ and ‘x exists’ where ‘x exists’ is consistent with ‘A does not perceive x’. ‘A perceives x’ does nothing to analyse ‘perceptual consciousness’ in perspicacious terms or explain what perceptual consciousness is. ‘x exists’ is consistent with there being no perceptual consciousness. Honderich rules out ‘to exist for you’. The work of explaining perceptual consciousness is done by the concept of a subjective world rather than any special analysis of ‘exists’.

          Honderich needs to say more about the structure and content of a subjective world to show how perceptual consciousness could be explained in terms of it. As things stand, the concept is left at an intuitive level: My subjective world includes the word processor, thoughts about Honderich’s work, the tops of my hands, parts of the keyboard etc. Is there a causal relation running from subject to subjective world (but not to the whole objective world in space-time even though to part of it)?  What is the phenomenology of subjective worlds? Does a subjective world have an inside but no outside, a lived interiority but no physical exteriority? Could it then be physical? Is a subjective world uniquely tagged to an individual, or an individual at a time, or could we exchange subjective worlds, say by exchanging physical positions?


    Honderich says

'...for me a world exists' (1998, p. 140).

A major motivation for Husserl's phenomenology (paradigmatically in Ideas I) is answering the question How is the world possible? He means: How can there be a world for me?

   Following Kant (in the Critique of Pure Reason) Husserl draws a distinction between transcendental idealism (transzendentale Idealismus) and transcendental realism (transzendentale Realismus). Transcendental realism is the thesis that the world (of physical objects) exists independently of the human conscious subject. Transcendental idealism can be understood in two main ways: (a) Essential features of the physical world are bestowed upon it by the consciousness of the subject, and (b) The conscious subject has to be capable of various constituting 'acts' to detect the physical world (for there to 'be a world' for that subject). (a) entails that if there is a world there is a subject. (b) entails that if there is knowledge of a world there is a subject. Reading (a) is strongly or ontologically idealist. Reading (b) is weakly or non-ontologically idealist. Reading Husserl in way (b) is consistent with Honderich’s physical realism. Reading Husserl in way (a) is not. Husserl himself oscillates between these positions but the less crude reading of him is (b).

         Honderich thinks

'...all of my consciousness now...consists in the existence of a world' (1998, 140).

 He and Husserl share the insight that consciousness may be presented (to itself) as though it could be all there is. This is a phenomenological fact that makes solipsism thinkable. Husserl exploits this fact to draw the crucial distinction between the world of the natural attitude and the world of epoche. The world of the natural attitude is the commonsensical world we ordinarily believe in before we engage in phenomenology. It contains physical objects and other people. It is always 'already there' in a completely taken for granted way, and the epoche is the act of putting the world of the natural attitude in brackets or parentheses. It is methodological agnosticism about the world of the natural attitude. So, if p is any proposition of the natural attitude, after the epoche, p might be either true or false. The phenomenological agnosticism adopted by the inquirer is: p is neither believed nor disbelieved, which does not entail any denial of the existence of the external world. It is neither believing nor disbelieving in the world of commonsense. All scientific, metaphysical and theological beliefs are suspended (or 'dislocated'). Husserl thinks these are premised on the natural attitude.

        The result of Husserl's epoche is Honderich’s

'my perceptual consciousness now consists in the existence of a world' (1998, p. 140).

Husserl calls this 'the world (or 'field') of transcendental subjectivity'. 'Transcendental' in this context means ‘condition for the possibility of experience’. 'Subjective' means 'pertaining to that which thinks or experiences' and 'mine'. 'Subjective' gives semantic contrast to 'objective' in claiming that the world of the natural attitude is objective.

        Having drawn this distinction, Husserl shows how the world of the natural attitude is ‘constituted’ by acts of consciousness. He thinks the (objective) world is an achievement of consciousness. We should not read this as ontological idealism. He is trying to describe how the world can be a world for me.

        Like Sartre, Honderich maintains that it is

'...a falsehood...that we can attach sense to talk of a reality-behind with respect to consciousness itself' (1998, p. 142).

Honderich and Husserl share the view that while objects in the external world admit of an appearance/reality distinction (because they may be presented veridically or non-veridically to consciousness) consciousness does not admit of an appearance /reality distinction in the ways in which it is presented to itself. (Of course this view is consistent with consciousness being neurologically grounded, acts of consciousness being individuated through intended objects in the external world, and so on). Husserl means that after the epoche a conscious state's obtaining and its having a phenomenology are the same thing. Honderich agrees with Husserl about the appearance/reality distinction:

'that is not a distinction within consciousness. The distinction presupposes consciousness' (1998, p. 142)

This is part of what Husserl means by the absolute being of consciousness in Ideas I. (5) Absolute being does not admit of an appearance reality distinction. After the epoche, appearance is treated as reality.

       Husserl also agrees with Honderich’s Cartesian claim that

'There isn't any other experiential access to it [consciousness] than the single one we've all got' (1998, p. 143)

Indeed, his whole method of phenomenological 'description' is premised on this assumption. Husserl does not call this access 'introspection'. Introspection may only occur in the pre-phenomenological world of the natural attitude.

       There are two differences between Honderich and Husserl on intentionality. Honderich says:

'The theories...having to do with aboutness or intentionality, cannot be regarded as successful' (1998, p. 143).

One difference is that Husserl thinks that intentionality is the essence of consciousness. Husserlian phenomenology is strongly essentialist. Husserl devotes many pages to discovering the essence of consciousness, the essence of perception, the essence of a physical object and so on. Despite the subjectivism of the epoche he is a strong realist about essences. (The later existentialism of Sartre et. al. is a conscious reaction against Husserl's essentialism). The other difference is Husserl does not think the claim that intentionality is the essence of consciousness is a theoretical claim. He thinks that the intentional stuctures of consciousness survive the epoche and may be described, read off consciousness. Honderich says

'We would not get anything useful by…taking perceptual consciousness to consist in awareness of subjective things -representations, sense-data, or the like' (1998, p. 144).

Husserl too does not think the world after the epoche a world of psychological impressions or sense data. The epoche is a 'phenomenological reduction' in which the world is reduced to the appearance of it. Appearances, or 'phenomena' are not mental or physical. Husserl tries to remain agnostic about philosophical theories of perception in doing phenomenology.

'...each of us ...distinguish[es] herself or himself...from all else' (1998, p. 145).

Each of us distinguishes two portions of what is, the portion that I am and the remainder that I am not. There can be no physicalist explanation of this distinction. The distinction obtains, so physical ism is false. (6)

        Honderich thinks

'In the absence of the subject, there would not exist anything of the world whose existence is what perceptual consciousness consists in' (1998, p. 145)

Husserl thinks the world of transcendental subjectivity (in a way, Honderich’s consciousness as existence) presupposes a subject. He calls the subject after the epoche 'the transcendental ego' ‘I pole’, or ‘pure ego’. This is the phenomenologically reduced subject. It is not a strange, extra, metaphysical entity, and certainly not a Cartesian soul. One's ordinary conception of oneself as a psycho-physical whole human being with an empirical identity is suspended by the epoche. One's ordinary self-conception is part of the natural attitude. However, in a very abstract sense I survive the epoche. I still remain the source of a subjective point of view, not on the objective world any more, but on reduced phenomenological (noematic) contents. We may think of the transcendental ego as abstracted from our empirical self-conception (even though it is a concrete object of post-epoche description).

         Honderich says

'...there is but one world' (1998, p. 146)

Husserl is not concerned with ontological multiplication either. Honderich says

'The world in which my present perceptual consciousness seems to consist is surely spatial. ... So with time' (1998, p. 148).

Husserl thinks there is a phenomenology of spatio-temporal relations, which may be described. Phenomenological spatio-temporal relations are not objective spatio-temporal relations (which are described scientifically). He thinks that objective science is grounded or founded phenomenologically. (Merleau-Ponty says in Phenomenology of Perception that unless we could do things like hike across a landscape we could not have cartography or geography.)  (7)

     Like Husserl, Honderich, does not think there are two sets of things, phenomenological things and objective things. Things may be described phenomenologically or objectively and, like Honderich, he thinks the phenomenology makes objectivity possible for us. Honderich says

'If something didn't look different from different points of view, it wouldn't be a chair' (1998, p. 151).

Husserl thinks it is part of the essence of a physical object to be presented through profiles, or perspectives (Abschattungen). This demarcates physical objects sharply from emotions or moods for example. (8) There can be a house for me because I can be visually presented with the front, this side, the back and so on. I can touch it and it is solid. The house is constructed as a whole object though my experiences of it. Because of this, when I see it I take it to be a whole even though I do not see the whole of it at any one time. This is an achievement of consciousness. (The transcendental imagination reads the preconceptions about it having a back, an inside, etc. into the present perception of it.) Husserl is trying to explain how there can be a house for me (or anyone) not how there can be a house.

       Honderich talks about 'a real point of view' (1998, p. 153)  Merleau-Ponty thinks that only a physical being can have a subjective point of view. (I can only see from where my head is. I can only be where my body is, etc.) These ideas about physical subjectivity are anticipated by Husserl in the second volume of Ideas but I do not pursue this here. 

        Honderich’s ‘subjective world’ now appears a thoroughly phenomenological concept. Honderich is reducing perceptual consciousness to its contents, construing these contents realistically not idealistically, and implying that they have sufficient unity to be called ‘a world’.

III Radical Interiority

    Is radical externalism true? By adopting a phenomenological view, Honderich has adopted a Cartesian methodological standpoint. The existence with which he identifies consciousness is what is presented to a subject from their own first person singular point of view. Admittedly, this is a huge improvement on the anonymous or wholly third-person materialisms of the industrial age. It is a phenomenology of the screen age, a virtual mentalism for the epoch and the epoche of virtual reality.

     However, in the conjunction of eight theses, Honderich is unknowingly committed to radical internalism:

(1) consciousness is something we have. (this journal)
This is right, if it means experiences are undergone and are logically private (by acquaintance) and inalienable. It at least entails the truth that we cannot have each other’s token experiences. Floggings with the cat ‘o nine tails and haircuts are of course public and physical but they can only be ‘had’ in the sense of undergone if they entail having experiences.

(2) I know there is past, present and future. (this journal)

Honderich provides no explanation of the existence of past, present and future. The tripartite temporal taxonomy has no physicalist or scientific or empirical explanation (never has, never will). Any explanation that is not empirical or scientific is metaphysical or theological so if the existence of past, present, and future can be explained, it can only be explained metaphysically or theologically.   

      Empirically, I am presented to myself as ‘between’ the past and the future but it is phenomenologically misleading to think of oneself as located ‘in’ time. This might not be wrong at a historical or abstract level but it is a judgement made on the phenomenological facts, not a given fact. Existentially, you are the becoming past of the future. Why you should have the enormous cosmic privilege of being the demarcation between the past and the future is a mystery. It only admits of a theological explanation. 

(3) [I know] that representations represent (this journal)

We have no scientific or empirical idea of what presence is. Derrida is wrong in his view that Western Metaphysics (whatever that is) has overtly or covertly privileged the metaphysics of presence. On the contrary, presence is suppressed by science. Science is a subject without a subject. (I leave aside the obvious construal of ‘representations represent’ as analytic.)

(4) Consciousness is present to me, immediate, in no way a matter of inference. (this journal)

This might not be quite right as a claim about the contents of consciousness. There might be no unmediated content (for roughly the reasons amassed by Vico and Kant). Consciousness is an emptiness, a space, a phenomenological zone or field in which the world is presented. This is presented immediately. However, it is only presented immediately when devoid of content. The contents of consciousness hide consciousness from itself.

(5) The most useful form of the proposition that consciousness is something we have is this: with respect to consciousness, there is no difference between appearance and reality. With consciousness, what there seems to be is what there is. What there seems to be is all there is. (this journal)

This is right if consciousness is the void or emptiness of the Buddhists or the infinite interiority of the soul. That zone of absolute interiority that I am is given as the one-ness it is.

     It is not right, if a claim about the content of consciousness. Then the claim is: if p is a first person singular psychological ascription then if p is believed then p is true. Although widely endorsed, this incorrigibility thesis is false. Suppose J. J. C. Smart wires me up so that those parts of my neurology that operate when and only when I believe I am in pain are operating. I scream and writhe appropriately. I believe I am in pain. However, I am not in pain. Therefore, consciousness admits of an appearance/reality distinction (and pace Wittgenstein, I can believe I am in pain and this belief can be false) (9)

 (6) It wasn't as if what seemed to be had, or given and or on hand, like the page, included something else as well.

There wasn't something such that the rest of what was on hand was a content -- there wasn't a container or vehicle.

There wasn't any sign at all of this item raised up into being by ordinary philosophical talk of the contents of consciousness.

There wasn't 'the mind' or 'the self', which still turns up in advanced philosophy that does not remember Hume's service in reminding us that we are aware of no such thing. ... There wasn't a relationship of intentionality, aboutness or directedness in your consciousness of the page. (this journal)

This is not right, even though very widely believed. Hume missed just about everything that really matters in introspection: the eternal present, absolute interiority, the presence of consciousness as an inside without an outside, the me-ness of my psychological interiority, the infinite inner space of the soul. Of course none of this is given as ‘something else’, as an extra discriminable item available within introspection. It is the subjective space where it all takes place. 

    Phenomenologically, the point about intentionality is right: the content of conscious is given without the consciousness of that content being given. (This means much of Husserlian phenomenology needs rethinking.)

(7) your world of perceptual consciousness is things being in space and time, with such further properties as colour, and being dependent on a scientific or noumenal world underneath and also dependent on you neurally. (this journal)

Does consciousness depend on the neurological? On one level, the answer to this is completely obvious: ‘Yes’. It needs no training in science to know that damage to the brain impairs the capacity to think. (That this knowledge is ancient is obvious from accounts of ancient warfare.) Indeed, this dependence is as obvious to Descartes, Berkeley, Hegel and the British Idealists as it is to Honderich: as obvious as blindless being caused by destruction of the eyes. It is wrong to think that dualism and idealism have been refuted by science.

     However, what is the strength of this dependence? We only know that the neurological is necessary for thought and experience, we do not know that it is sufficient. We only know that the neurological is empirically necessary for thought and experience, we do not know that it is logically or metaphysically necessary. Because we know the operations of the brain are necessary for thinking we know, as a matter of logic, that thinking is sufficient for the operations of the brain. (This is the solution to the problem of mental causation. It follows from what we do know about the dependence of the mental on the physical that the mental causes the physical. If we take a probabilistic view of the physical causation of the neurological, the problem of overdetermination is avoided.)

     Logically and metaphysically, consciousness does not depend on the brain. There is an infinite number of possible worlds in which your consciousness does not depend on your brain. There is no contradiction in talking of consciousness without the brain. Indeed, in talking of a world of your own consciousness, Honderich is more than half way to the insight that he is a spiritual substance. Consciousness is given as existence because it is a substance. Consciousness is given as a world because it is an inside without an outside.  Honderich’s claim that consciousness depends upon a noumenal world is right. If the existence of consciousness is explicable it is only explicable theologically. Science only explains exteriority: The prospects for a science of consciousness are nil.

(8) The particular state of affairs in question, and your ongoing world of perceptual consciousness, are different from but also like other states of affairs and worlds. (this journal)

My subjective interiority is numerically distinct from yours but, at certain phenomenological levels, they are qualitatively similar. This is right but a crucial metaphysical issue is missed here. My consciousness is numerically distinct from Honderich’s, Honderich’s from Jonathan Lowe’s and so on. That a consciousness is numerically distinct from any other is not a sufficient condition of its being mine. That some consciousness is one’s own is an extra fact about that consciousness, not captured in any mental or physical description of it. There is a huge gulf between philosophers who can see the problem of being someone and those who cannot. (10) That you are one of these human beings (or at least very closely associated with it) is a necessary condition for your describing what is present to consciousness in the way Honderich or Husserl does. You do not inhabit your consciousness as one item amongst others. You perhaps pervade your consciousness, or if consciousness is understood as the soul, you are it. 

(9) A world of perceptual consciousness is not the physical world. (this journal)

This is right. It is a private mental world, an absolute interiority, a substance.

    If we conjoin the implications of Honderich’s nine theses we obtain: (1) consciousness is private and inalienable, (2) Past, present and future are real, (3) The eternal now exists, (4) Consciousness is immediate, (5) Pure consciousness admits of no appearance reality distinction, (6) Hume missed everything important in introspection, (7) Consciousness depends on nothing or the noumenal, (8) Your absolute interiority is uniquely and mysteriously yours, (9) the world of consciousness is not the physical world. These properties of consciousness are properties of one another. They collectively entitle us to give up talk of ‘consciousness’ and replace this term by ‘soul’ or ‘spiritual substance’.


    Honderich says: ‘a clear sense has been given or at least gestured at with respect to talk of existence.’ (this journal) Does the ‘consciousness as existence’ doctrine entail: ‘to be is to be perceived’? Materialists and idealists unwittingly face the embarassing possibility that their philosophies are one and the same. Although idealism seems madness, or exotic wish-fulfillment, to materialists and although materialism seems a denial of thought to idealists, materialism entails: ‘The mental is physical’ and idealism entails ‘The physical is mental’. Of course, physicalism entails the existence of a physical reality that is not mental, and idealism entails the existence of a mental reality that is not physical. Nevertheless, it is hard to see how the mental can be physical unless the physical is mental and hard to see how the physical can be mental unless the mental is physical. At the crucial point of identification physicalism and idealism collapse into one another.

         ‘What is existence?’ cannot be answered by saying ‘x exists if and only if x is physical’ or ‘x exists if and only if x is mental’ or indeed, ‘x exists if and only if x is F’. Being is not being something. Being rather than not being is not the same as being something or other. It is not the same as it, or what it consists in, even if anything that is is something or other. This problem remains unsolved despite the efforts from Parmenides to Heidegger (from the beginning to the ‘end’ of philosophy.) I cannot pursue this here but my suggestion is: Being is that which nothing lacks, which should be taken in both senses.


    When Honderich writes, as noted in the beginning, ‘What it is for you to be perceptually conscious now is for a world somehow to exist, a certain changing totality of things’ (my italics) (this journal) he needs to ask: What remains the same? Absolute interiority, the eternal now, me-ness, and subjective space have never changed and remain the same. The terms ‘you’, ‘conscious’ and ‘now’ of Honderich’s claim denote the inside of the soul in which the kaleidoscope of Honderich’s world changes.
    Honderich’s theory of consciousness needs to be enriched to explain the reality of the present, why someone is him, why there is a subjective interiority of his own being, why the contents of consciousness are presented as existence: as though they could be all there is. To answer these questions, Honderich will have to cut the thick mooring ropes that tie him to scientific materialism and realise he is a spiritual substance. After all, ‘Descartes didn't make it up.’


(1) In referring to anatta (Sanskrit anatman) it is arguably necessary to give up talk of consciousness, viññāna.  For anatta, see Rahula: 1967 pp. 26 (fn. 2), 52, 53, 55, 56, 57, 63 (fn.1), 64, 66, 77 and for viññāna pp. 23 ff., 53, 65. Alexander Norman has suggested to me, rightly I think, that anatman is not a ‘state’. Norman says the emptiness of objects is a property (roughly, their being essentially constituted by their relations and having no intrinsic essence). I maintain that the emptiness of consciousness is the infinite interiority of the soul (malgré the etymology of anatman).
       St. John of the Cross says that if the soul (alma) reflects from (only) a natural point of view (naturalmente) ‘[…] it never continues in one state; for all is ascending and descending’. (St. John of the Cross, 1916: 164) On both of these Buddhist and the Christian views, an utterly changeless inner space is where my experiences happen. 

(2) It is a consequence of these doctrines that (pace Brentano et. al.) intentionality is not necessary for consciousness. I do not pursue this here because Honderich is unsympathetic to doctrines of intentionality.

(3) Suppose by ‘a world’ is meant ‘a world that is an actual or possible object of consciousness’. Being a possible object of consciousness does not entail being an object of consciousness, so does not entail that consciousness exists nor, a fortiori, that perceptual consciousness exists. It does not follow that x is perceptually conscious if and only if a world exists because it does not follow that x is perceptually conscious if a world exists. If a world is an actual object of consciousness it does follow that consciousness exists but it does not follow from the existence of that world, or the consciousness it entails, that perceptual consciousness exists. It is consistent to suppose that a world is an object of consciousness only because it is an object of thought and not because it is an object of perception. It follows that the existence of a world that is an actual object of consciousness is not sufficient for the existence of perceptual consciousness. If by ‘a world’ is meant ‘a world that is the object of a perceptual consciousness’ then the thesis is analytic and, again, not substantive.

(4) See Priest (2000). Part of Sartre’s repudiation of the unconscious rests the impossibility of consciousness hiding anything from itself. I maintain that consciousness is ordinarily hidden from itself by its own contents.

(5) See Priest (1999). Husserl is a fundamental ontologist malgré lui.

(6) Each of us divides what is into two mutually exclusive and jointly exhaustive parts: the part that one is and the remainder that one is not. That this distinction obtains is a metaphysical mystery, a presupposition of the ordinary intelligibility of the world as well as philosophical questions, conspicuously the problem of other minds. As so often, naturalistic philosophy barely contains the equipment to pose the problem, let alone address it.

(7) Husserl's main discussions of the phenomenology of time and space are in the 1905 Lectures on the Phenomenology of Internal Time Consciousness and in Ding und Raum (Thing and Space) (1907).

(8) Daniel Came has drawn my attention to Nietzsche’s view that all cognition is necessarily perspectival, in that there is no manner of apprehending an object of consciousness that is not shaped by subjective factors. Whether or not this quasi-Kantianism is true, physical objects, but not affective contents, present Abschattungen.

(9) Here I assume, for sake of argument, that there are neurological conditions sufficient for pain. Benedikt Göcke has suggested to me that felt pain is the cause of one’s screaming, not the belief that one is in pain. Nevertheless, in the scenario, I believe I am in pain but I am not in pain and that is sufficient for the incorrigibility claim to fail.
(10) See Nagel (1986) esp. the section ‘Being Someone’ and Priest (2000). Within anonymous or generalised thinking it is barely registered that someone is oneself. However, that you are this human being, or pervade it, or are centred on it, or view the world from it, is existentially shocking and empirically inexplicable. It only admits of a metaphysical or theological explanation. Inability to see the problem of being someone is symptomatic of physicalism and naturalism.

(11) I am grateful to Corine Besson, Daniel Came, Benedikt Göcke, Peter Hunter, Michael Inwood and Alexander Norman for useful discussion of the issues raised in this paper.


Jonathan Barnes (ed.) Early Greek Philosophy (Penguin Books, London, 1987)
Antony Flew and Priest Priest (eds.) A Dictionary of Philosophy (Macmillan, 2002)
Martin Heidegger Sein und Zeit (Max Niemeyer Verlag, Tübingen, 1986)
T. Honderich ‘Consciousness as Existence’ in A. O’ Hear (ed.) Current Issues in the Philosophy of Mind, Royal Institute of Philosophy Lectures 1996-7 (Cambridge, 1998)
T. Honderich ‘Consciousness as Existence Again’ in B. Elevitch (ed.) Proceedings of the Twentieth World Congress of Philosophy Vol. 9: Philosophy of Mind (Bowling Green: Philosophy Documentation Center, 2000) and in Theoria June 2000
T. Honderich ‘Consciousness as Existence and the End of Intentionality’ in A. O’ Hear (ed.) Philosophy at the New Millenium, Royal Institute of Philosophy Lectures 2000-1 (Cambridge, 2001)
T. Honderich ‘Consciousness as Existence, Devout Physicalism, Spiritualism’ forthcoming in The Journal of Consciousness Studies.
Honderich, T. 'Consciousness and Inner Tubes', Journal of Consciousness Studies, 7 (7) (2000) pp. 51-62.
Honderich, T. On Consciousness (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2004)
T. Honderich (ed.) The Oxford Companion to Philosophy Second Edition (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2005)
Edmund Husserl Husserliana: Gesammelte Werke (Martinus Nijhoff, The Hague, Kluwer, Dordrecht, and Springer, New York, 1973 – present)
Edmund Husserl The Paris Lectures trans. D. Cairns (The Hague, M. Nijhoff, 1960)
Edmund Husserl Cartesian Meditations: an Introduction to Phenomenology trans. D. Cairns. (The Hague, M. Nijhoff, 1960)
Edmund Husserl  The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology; An Introduction to Phenomenological Philosophy trans. D. Carr (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1970)
Edmund Husserl  Experience and Judgment; Investigations in a Genealogy of Logic trans. K. Ameriks (Evanston: Northwestern University Press,1973)
Edmund Husserl Formal and Transcendental Logic trans. D. Cairns (The Hague, Martinus Nijhoff, 1969)
Edmund Husserl  The Idea of Phenomenology trans. G. Nakhinikian (The Hague: Nijhoff 1970) (1970b)
Edmund Husserl Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy First Book. Trans. F. Kersten (The Hague: M. Nijhoff, 1982)
Edmund Husserl  Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy Second Book. Trans. R. R. a. A. Schuwer (The Hague: M. Nijhoff.1989)
Edmund Husserl Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy Third Book. trans. W. E. Pohl (The Hague: M. Nijhoff Publishers, 1980)
Edmund Husserl Ideas: General Introduction to Pure Phenomenology trans. W. R. B. Gibson (New York, Allen & Unwin; Macmillan, 1931)
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Edmund Husserl The Phenomenology of Internal Time-Consciousness trans. J. S. Churchill (Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1964)
Edmund Husserl Thing and Space: Lectures of 1907 trans. R. Rojcewicz (Dordrecht, Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1997)
St. John of the Cross The Dark Night of the Soul trans. F. Zimmerman (Thomas Baker, London, 1916)
Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason trans. Norman Kemp Smith (Macmillan, London, 1979)
Immauel Kant Kritik der reinen Vernunft (Philipp Reclam, Stuttgart, 1980)
Merleau-Ponty Phenomenology of Perception (Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1962)
Thomas Nagel The View From Nowhere (Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York, 1986)
Priest Priest Theories of the Mind (Penguin, London, 1990, Houghton Mifflin, New York and Boston, 1992)
Priest Priest Merleau-Ponty (Routledge, 2003)
Priest Priest ‘Husserl’s Concept of Being: From Phenomenology to Metaphysics’ in Anthony O’Hear (ed.) German Philosophy Since Kant: Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement: 44  (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1999) pp. 209-222
Priest Priest The Subject in Question: Sartre’s Critique of Husserl in ‘The Transcendence of the Ego’ (Routledge, 2000)
Priest Priest (ed.) Jean-Paul Sartre: Basic Writings (Routledge, 2000)
Walpola Rahula What the Buddha Taught (Gordon Fraser, Bedford, 1967)

by Ted Honderich

    Stephen Priest begins his autonomous, striking and informative paper by contemplating that if perceptual consciousness is very widely understood, wonderfully widely, so as to include your moods and your Buddhist empty-mindedness and so on, then it is doubtful that what it is for you to be perceptually conscious is for a world, a totality of things, somehow to exist. There is a quick reply, that Radical Externalism's subject of perceptual consciousness is the standard one, which includes your consciousness in seeing that yellow wall over there, but not entirely free-floating anxiety or the Buddhist state. There is no need for me to mention doubts as to entirely thing-free anxiety or the perfect emptiness of the spiritual achievement.

    Priest means to add, I take it, that if perceptual consciousness is very widely understood, there could indeed be no consciousness of a kind but nevertheless a totality of things. The reply is that what is being maintained is that if someone is perceptually conscious in the standard way, there is a way in which a totality of things exists. This is not Berkeley, who took another kind of existence of things, an ordinary physical existence, to have consciousness as a necessary condition -- as well as a sufficient one.

    To speak differently, Radical Externalism does not assert doubtful conditionals with some kinds of consciousness in the antecent and some worlds in the consequence, but rather denies these conditionals. And it does not take to be coherent and true, but rather denies, some conditionals with some world in the antecedent and some kinds of consciousness in the consequent. So far as it asserts any condition of this sort, it has to do only with perceptual consciousness and a world of perceptual consciousness.

    Are we to understand that these predictable retorts making it true that perceptual consciousness is a matter of a world rest too much on a certain conception of perceptual consciousness? Is it somehow the case, so to speak, that the chosen conception makes vulnerable the premise of the conditional 'if perceptual consciousness, then a world'? No reason for thinking so is given. None is given, in particular, in the remarks on objects of consciousness and phenomenological space.

    Something related may occur to you at this point, of course. It is that there is a subject-matter asking for some attention if you say consciousness divides into three parts, kinds, sides, elements or whatever, the first being perceptual consciousness. This trinity is certainly also a kind of mysterious unity -- typically we are all of seeing, thinking of and having an attitude to a thing. But I take it that this does not put the tripartite categorization of consciousness, standard in much psychology and elsewhere, into serious doubt. Still, it may be a good thing that Priest is not pressing me about it, anyway officially.

    I pass by the thought about 'intentional consciousness', which stuff may not guarantee any world but is no supposition of mine, to the welter of queries about what can be meant by saying x's being perceptually conscious is identical with the existence of a world. Priest makes a meal of many courses, if a short meal, of asking the nature of the fundamental biconditional that if and only if someone is perceptually conscious, a world in a way exists.

    I pass by an unlikely course or two, and note that his general question is one that can be asked of any piece of philosophical analysis. say of truth, time, knowledge, meaning, what is right, or democracy. Or rather, you can ask which of several possible kinds of philosophical analysis is underway. I find it easy to give a decent answer, but not easy to say more. The answer is that Radical Externalism is not engaged in asserting a simple logically necessary biconditional about what we ordinarily understand by someone's being perceptually conscious.

    As remarked at the end of my piece at the beginning of these discussions, Radical Externalism is not conceptual analysis, or anyway ordinary conceptual analysis. It begins with our conceptual commitments -- or rather, it begins with essential criteria for a tolerable account of consciousness, including the presumably empirical criterion of psychophysical causation. Do the criteria logically entail Radical Externalism? The modality is evidently not that simple. My uncertainty about the kinds of analysis and argument here -- logical, metaphysical and so on -- gets in the way of audacity on my part. But there seems to me no great difference between this sort of philosophy and common theories in science. I take it you can satisfy yourself about the theory of evolution without engaging in a lot of meta-theory. So too with consciousness.

    As for the idea that consciousness is constituted by or made up of neurological events, Radical Externalism does not rule this out as a candidate answer, as seems to be implied, but gives reason, having to do with criteria of adequacy, for the idea's being false, admittedly obviously false. So with the other candidate answers. The only possible argument on Priest's part here, I take it, will be consideration of or replies to the mentioned reasons. They do not include, by the way, the more than implausible idea that consciousness consists in a part of itself, its included target or content.

    Is there some general difficulty about what it is to take something to be constituted by or made up of something else -- as when someone says time is a matter of only the temporal relations of precedence etc and not the supposed temporal properties of pastness etc? Even given my lack of industry in the analysis of philosophical analysis or theorizing, I am content to say that being perceptually conscious is constituted by the existence of a world and not by a brain process or some seemingly spiritual trinity of the the phenomenologists.

    Is Radical Externalism in trouble because it reduces what it is to be perceptually conscious to the existence of a world? Well, you can think talk of reductionism, a charge or complaint of reductionism, always needs questioning. Some reductionism is good: the reduction of X to Y when there is nothing more to X than to Y. Some is bad: when there is more to X than to Y. The theory we are talking about, if you want to call it a reductionism, replies that it is a good one. Very certainly the theory maintains that to reduce perceptual consciousness to the existence of a world, in its way, is definitely to satisfy the reality-criterion for a theory of consciousness. Nothing does it much better, and the challenge or even superiority of devout physicalism comes to nothing because of its failure with other criteria.

    Leaving aside some of Priest's comments of interest on phenomenological objects, there is his report that

Where, pre-theoretically, I think of my own consciousness there seems to be nothing. However, this conciousness is not nothing but no-thing-ness (p. 00)

That is best considered later, when we come to Priest's own positive view, positive indeed, as against his objections to Radical Externalism.

    The next objections have to do with your world of perceptual consciousness now, or mine, and the physical world -- with relations between them. Priest says that for Radical Externalism a world of perceptual consciousness is indeed not the physical world or a part of it, but a world of perceptual consciousness is a constituent of the physical world -- which sounds bad. In fact contradiction. It will be useful to quote some lines of mine of which parts are in turn concentrated on by him.

No world of perceptual consciousness is identical in its contents with the perceived part of the physical world -- or of course the other part. Your world of perceptual consciousness is exactly not the physical world. What it is, to repeat, is a totality of different things in space and time. It is prior to and a constituent or the like of the physical world.
    In short, the fundamental fact of subjectivity is the existence of subjective worlds, no less distinct from the physical world for being spatio-temporal and propertied (1990, pp. 72-3)

    By way of a preliminary remark, you will note that a world of perceptual consciousness, like a thing in it, is 'a constituent or the like' (my emphasis) of the physical world or a thing in it. And you will remember, I hope, about the theory, that existing in space-time is not a sufficient condition for being physical. A world of perceptual consciousness also exists in space-time.

    To come nearer the main point, I admit, without a sense of defeat or indeed much discomfiture, that Radical Externalism is not a developed theory with respect to what can be called conceptual schemes and what they are about. That is not to say that the root idea about worlds of perceptual consciousness and the physical world is intolerably vague.

    What it comes to is that what there is, the one world barely conceived at all by us, is first and fundamentally given to us or experienced by us in our worlds of perceptual consciousness. Out of this experience we individually and collectively arrive at a world impersonally conceived, the physical world. For a start, it is not what there is from only the place where my head is. This is exactly and all that is meant by speaking of a world of perceptual consciousness being 'prior to and a constituent of the like' of the physical world. So there is no contradiction or the like in Radical Externalism.

     The general line of thought about our exprience and our progress to the physical world is familiar in various forms in the history of epistemology, the philosophy of science, and critical or unspeculative metaphysics, not to mention psychology and more of science itself. From the line of thought, or in the line of thought, as against what Priest supposes, we have it that the perceived part of the physical world is not a part of a subjective world. Also, the things in my world of consciousness at the moment, perfectly properly identified as in this room and outside the window, are not the admittedly related things in the physical world. Further, the question of what a subjective world is exhausted by or consists in is indeed given an answer by the given line of thought.

    Priest presses various questions, too many for me to run through, several of which seem to have mistaken presuppositions or to depend on inexplicit assumptions -- questions to which the general line of thought indicates answers or to which consistent answers can be given. Let me just assert some propositions here.
    A person is part of the rough idea or has been part of the story, after a shakey start, only in the minimal sense, not making for circularity, that a world of perceptual consciousness depends on a human being or the like neurally.

    Whatever agreement there may be between Radical Externalism and Sartre, this is no matter of any appearance of a subject within consciousness. 

    Yes, there is a plain if not doctrinaire kind of empiricism in Radical Externalism. It is at odds, I guess, with the idea that you could know about the physical world in its two parts only by an exercise of 'intuitive intellect' (p. 00).

    Yes, what it is for a world of perceptual consciousness to exist is explained -- and becomes uncertain, I think, only if mistaken assumptions are made, say about what the physical world is taken to be.

    No, the concept of a subjective world is not something independent of a certain conception of existence. Quite the contrary.

    Still, I admit there are questions of interest and importance that can be raised about the theory, with answers that would or will enrich it. This is consistent, I take it, with the judgement that the theory as it stands is clear enough to be judged true or anyway arguable. The questions of interest need to be looked into carefully, of course, not so casually, if I may be teacherly, as in Priest's case when he includes in his world of perceptual consciousness thoughts about Radical Externalism, and when he supposes that it is part of the theory that his world has an 'inside' or 'a lived interiority'. That would be news to me, bad news, to which we shall return.

    Section II of Priest's paper has to do with the idea, welcome enough if true, that Radical Externalism is somehow akin to or indeed anticipated in the thinking of Husserl, the founder of the philosophy of phenomenology. Something like this was remarked to me once by the admirable and authoritative Dagfinn Follesdal.

    Sad to say, I have not had the benefit of having read Husserl. But it seems to me we do not get off to a good start in finding kinship by seeing that the physical world as conceived in Radical Externalism might be contemplated in terms not of a tradition of philosophical realism but in terms of one or the other of two kinds of philosophical idealism -- two answers to the question of 'How can there be a world for me?'

    It needs to be remembered that the physical world for Radical Externalism is neither in part the work of nor detected by any person in particular, let alone a subject in a traditional sense. And it is not a matter of our joined consciousnesses in some traditional sense, our conscious lives as talked of and dignified in the tradition of dualism that is spiritualism. It also needs to be remembered that for Radical Externalism there is also the wholly independent world underneath and prior to the physical world in both of its parts -- which independent world brings Radical Externalism into line with realism rather than either of the idealisms.

    Is the next idea of kinship more promising? It has to do with what may be the best known piece of Husserl's philosophy. This, I take it, is a step in philosophizing -- the epoche or suspension of belief -- in fact suspension of both belief and disbelief -- with respect to what may include more than what is called the world of the natural attitude, which world has in it physical objects and people. Let us confine ourselves to this suspension of belief and disbelief in connection with perceptual consciousness. What you get by this step, I uncertainly take it, is some awareness of what you do not take to be either physical or mental.

    Does Priest conjecture that what you have, the result, when you look out the window and perform the epoche, is your world of perceptual consciousness? I am not sure about this, and not much helped by the proposition shared with Sartre that all of your consciousness is given to you.

    A first reaction to such a conjecture is that your being perceptually conscious, that state of affairs as described by Radical Externalism, is pretty close to the last thing that could be exactly your suspending belief and disbelief in the suggested way. The existence of a state of affairs outside your head is certainly not this piece of strategy in philosophizing. What the step comes to, I take it, to avoid some rhetoric, is thinking of your ordinary sense experience without somehow thinking of it as either of external things or of sense-data or the like. That is definitely not what being perceptually conscious comes to for Radical Externalism. As for the step or strategy itself, by the way, is that not something all philosophers of perception have engaged in? They pose a question about something they identify.

    Is Priest's idea, rather, that it is peculiarly the epoche that leads to the conception of perceptual consciousness as a world? Well, I take it that Radical Externalism is the result of contemplating your perceptual consciousness as it is given to you, as certainly without subtraction as without addition. That is what has been called mental realism by me. Is the epoche close to this? Could be.

    By way of another comparison, note that Husserl's strategy is one that proceeds from the physical world to something else that is not physical. What is maintained in Radical Externalism is that in general we proceed from what are not exactly physical, worlds of perceptual consciousness, to the physical world and other worlds also more independent of us.

    Does all that leave intact another connection between Radical Externalism and Husserl?

    A world of perceptual consciousness, the state of affairs that is your being perceptually conscious, has features or a character that make it reasonable to take it as what it is said to be -- what constitutes you being perceptually conscious. It is subjective in a clear sense or rather senses. It is also given to us. But, as certainly, it approximates to what in fact it is not, a physical state of affairs. There is every reason to call Radical Externalism a near-physicalism, which does indeed gesture at its central strength.

    Well, there is a kind of similarity between (1) our giving an account of consciousness that is neither devout physicalism nor something that leaves out subjectivity and fails to satisfy some other criteria for an adequate theory, and (2) maintaining with Husserl that it is possible to get into a state where you suspend belief and disbelief in a certain way -- of which we can say the additional thing that it is an agnostic state such that what are called its contents are taken as neither mental nor physical. That does not make for a similarity that counts for much against the previous facts that a world of perceptual consciousness is exactly not the philosopher's strategy that is the epoche, that the conception of such a world is not tied to any uniquely Husserlian procedure, and that the two philosophies under consideration proceed in opposed directions.

    There is much more in Priest's paper than can have close attention here. This section II, which we are considering, was to show what would not be unwelcome, that Radical Externalism is a theory essentially anticipated by Husserl. Let me just assert or anyway float some propositions bearing on what would no doubt be a pedgree worth having.

    (a) It is reassuring to learn that Husserl, and also Sartre, have had the view, or something like it, that with consciousness what you have is all of what there is, that it doesn't include a reality-behind.

    (b) With respect to intentionality, aboutness or directedness, said to be the essence of consciousness for Hussertl, it is certainly not the essence of consciousness for Radical Externalism. On that theory, there is no such relation in perceptual consciousness -- whatever explanation there is of this consciousness that connects it with other things. The relation of representation that is basic to reflective consciousness is remote from the ideas of Brentano and perhaps from those of Husserl.

    (c) It seems evident that Husserl has and depends on an ideal or image of a subject, self, ego or the like that has no counterpart whatever in Radical Externalism.

    (d) It seems he does not go in for ontological extravagance, which is good to hear, but rather agrees that 'in the primary and most ordinary sense of the word, there is but one world', of which, or of some of which, we have different conceptions (1998, p. 146).

    (e) Husserl not only has it, with the rest of us, that things exist under different conceptualizations, but seems to join many parties already mentioned with respect ot the matter of the physical world. In Priest's account of him, 'the house is constructed as a whole object through my experience of it' (p. 00)

    (f) Desite recommending the strategy of the epoche or suspension of belief and disbelief to us, Husserl seems far from being with Radical Externalism in reducing consciousness to what others call its contents. There is always the subject in there, and intentionality, and more -- as you will be hearing.

    (g) To revert to a point already made, or near to it, Husserl and presumably the ancient Greek sceptics, and in a way Descartes, are one in taking a certain means to arriving at truth -- a method of doubting what can be doubted. But is is possible to think they are together with all decent philosophers -- all of whom are different from the credulous, the fantasists, the merely literary as distinct from the pursuers of truth in art, and so on. Husserl, Greek sceptics and Descartes are also in the given way together with all decent scientists.

    What separates the philosophers in question one from another, and so with the scientists, is what they believe can be doubted and what they believe cannot be doubted. This is where to look for similarity between Radical Externalism and Husserl. There is an awful lot of difference between the two about what cannot be doubted. It begins with what cannot be doubted about what it is, as we say, for you to be conscious of the room you are in. Husserl does not say or contemplate, or come anyway near saying or contemplating, that it is for the room to exist in the way specified by Radical Externalism.

    Given (a) to (g) and the considerations that preceded them, is Radical Externalism close to Husserl? Is Radical Externalism 'a thoroughly phenomenological concept'? I sure have to say no to those summaries.

    Turning now to the last three sections of Priest's paper, you will know, reader, that your chance of now reading anything like a full reply to them by me is small. Another whole philosophy and way of philosophy is gestured at, audaciously and enlighteningly, too much for quick understanding and developed objection.

    What the three sections come to, by way of an overview, is that chosen propositions or theses of Radical Externalism in fact issue, with some help, in what is given the name of being Radical Internalism. That is a doctrine of the nature of consciousness that tries to characterize it by way of ideas of interiority, no-thing-ness as against nothing, a mysterious demarcation between past and future, presence, the subject or self, emptiness or void, a space, a phenomenological zone or field, oneness, the eternal now or present, an inside without an outside, a subjective space, a spiritual substance, a soul, being, metaphysics and theology.

    Or, to be more careful, what the last three sections of Priest's paper come to in an overview is that chosen sentences of Radical Externalism, taken or maybe freely understood as certain propositions, theses or perhaps images, issue in Radical Internalism, the doctrine of those many terms and notions. Certainly it is a grand exemplar of what I have called spiritualism.

    Let me end this response by glancing at items in Priest's sequence and then making a couple of general observations or confessions about Radical Internalism.

    That (1, 8) my consciousness is something all of which I have is not the proposition that it is private and inalienable in a mysterious sense. None of conceptual possibility and impossibility, logic, natural laws or anything deeper is what gets in the way of something -- so arranging what is in two heads and outside of them so that I have and know I have exactly your perceptual consciousness at a time. What gets in the way of your having, so to speak, my experience of that wall's colour, is practical difficulties. That not even this entirely trivial access to another's consciousness is likely to be achieved in fact, however, is fundamental to our actual existence, and a part of or connected to the fact of subjectivity.

    There does (2) seem to be an insuperable objection to the usual cautious or empirical policy of reducing the temporal properties of past, present and future to the temporal relations of being before, simultaneous with, or after (Honderich 1977). Priest's leap from this premise to a proposition of Radical Internalism is breath-taking.

    That (4) my consciousness can about as well be said to be something all of which is present to me is not intended as the proposition that if p is a first person singular psychological ascription, then if p is believed, p is true. Nor, of course, is it the proposition, antithetical to Radical Externalism, that when I am aware of the pen in my hand, I am aware of rather more -- an emptiness, a space, a phenomenological zone or field in which the pen is presented. For Radical Externalism all that exists in addition to the pen, rather, is a surrounding world.

    That (6) Priest agrees about the need to transfer labourers out of intentionality industry or anyway the intentionality-in-perception industry, is heartening. That he says this means much of Husserlian phenomenology needs rethinking is surprising but to me reassuring.

    More generally, Radical Internalism as indicated in his paper is presumably a spiritualism, indeed a declarative spiritualism. Consciousness is neither physical nor near-physical. It is something else, somewhere else. The doctrine, certainly until more is learned of it, must fail absolutely to satisfy the criterion of an adequate theory of consciousness that it does not make impossible what is actual, which is ordinary causal connection between mind and body, consciousness and the rest of what there is. There is also the reality criterion.

    Again more generally, I am among those many philosophers, certainly a majority among those who are being paid for their work in universities in the English language, who by their philosophizing indicate that they cannot take Logical Positivism to have been a disaster, certainly not a disaster in its effects. That is, they have a scepticism about the extent to which metaphysical utterances have truth-values -- the doubt exaggerated into the piece of provocation that they may not be meaningful at all.

    It is my own view that the Verification Principle of Meaning, notoriously incapable of general proof, is best taken as a cautious generaliation owed to reactions to or reflections on particular metaphysical and other utterances rather than a principle to be brought to bear on kinds of utterances (Honderich, 2004). But, to come to the point, I have some doubt about at least some of Priest's sentences. What is it, with respect to the nature of consciousness, if we put aside banalities, to have the enormous cosmic privilege of being the demarcation between the past the future.

    That is one general impulse about Radical Internalism. It is also possible to feel another. It is true that Descartes didn't make up spiritualism. It is true that what can seem to be the excess of Priest's metaphysics of consciousness can also seem to require attention from us, to derive from all our lives. My inclination is to try to make more sense of it, so to speak, in terms of reflective and affective consciousness -- or rather what can be represented and felt in them.

    Perceptions of an emptiness or void, a spiritual substance and whatever else, are not to be located within an analysis of consciousness, but rather in larger thinking and feeling about our lives. You might test this by having a look at Priest's books The Subject in Question: Sartre's Critique of Husserl in 'The Transcendence of the Ego' and Jean-Paul Sartre: Basic Writings. The truth about consciousness itself, however, can be Radical Externalism. I don't think it is to be found in Radical Internalism.


Honderich, 1977, 'Temporal Relations and Temporal Qualities', Time and Philosophy (French translation Le Temps et Les Philosophies), ed. Paul Ricoeur, UNESCO.
Honderich, 2004, 'Introduction to the Collection', A. J. Ayer: Writings on Philosophy (Palgrave Macmillan).
Priest, Priest, 2000, The Subject in Question: Sartre's Critique of Husserl in The Transcendence of the Ego (Routledge)
Priest Priest (ed.), 2001, Jean-Paul Sartre: Basic Writings (Routledge)
For two other discussions of Radical Externalism and replies, go to Radical Externalism or Berkeley Revisited? by E. J. Lowe and Reply to Lowe and Honderich's Radical Externalisms by Paul Snowdon and Reply to Snowdon. You can also go to excerpts from all 23 papers in the issue of Journal of Consciousness Studies and the book.

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