CONSCIOUSNESS AS EXISTENCE
by Ted HonderichThis paper is owed to a conviction among a number of philosophers that the Philosophy of Mind, as distinct from the science of the mind, is on the rocks and going nowhere, and that something different is needed. What is provided here is certainly different. There is an abstract of the paper at the end.
1. Leaving Consciousness Out, Or Trying ToThe difference for present purposes between ourselves and stones, chairs and our computers is that we are conscious. The difference is fundamental. Being conscious is sufficient for having a mind in one sense of the word `mind', and being conscious is necessary and fundamental to having a mind in any decent sense. What is this difference between ourselves and stones, chairs and our computers? The question is not meant to imply that there is a conceptual or a nomic barrier in the way of non-biological things being conscious. It may happen one decade that the Other Minds problem will shoot up the philosophical agenda and get a lot of attention as a result of a wonderful computer attached to perceptual and behavioural mechanisms, and that the thing will in the end be taken as conscious, rightly. Our question is not what things can be conscious, but what the property or nature of consciousness is.1
Conscious or mental events, as we know them now, are in some kind of necessary connection with neural events. This fact of psychoneural intimacy, which is consistent with what has just been said of the possibility of non-biological things being conscious, provides the best argument for strict or true Identity Theories of consciousness. These take the property of consciousness to be a neural property, or, as we can say instead, take conscious events to have only neural properties. The objection to these theories seems to me not that they make conscious events physical. I take it that in a good sense of `physical', definitely not the indeterminate one relativized to the science of the moment or to future unknown science, conscious events are indeed physical. That is, they are either in the category of things that are spatio-temporal and perceived or the category of things that are spatio-temporal and are nomically connected with spatio-temporal things that are perceived. Stones and the like are in the first category, particles and the like in the second.2
Conscious or mental events as we know them also have causal roles. That is, they stand in many kinds of necessary connections with input and output. Some desires stand in necessary connection with things that have been perceived and with subsequent acquisition-behaviour. Some pain stands in necessary connection with certain sensory stimuli and avoidance-behaviour. There are also distinctive connections in the case of thinking, perception, and so on. Here is a respectable and daunting subject-matter in itself, worth the diligence invested in it by Cognitive Scientists.
What disposes very many people against strict Identity Theories is of course that our experience of conscious events, the having of them, leaves us thinking that they have a property or nature other than the properties or nature had by wholly neural events -- transmitter-substance properties and so on. Strict Identity Theories leave something out. They seem to me to leave out not something elusive, or something diaphanous, or something peripheral, but the reality of our mental lives. They leave out the most immediate of all the facts we know. Hence many of us feel that psychoneural intimacy must be accomodated by a means other than asserting that conscious events have only neural properties. All other Identity Theories, the lenient or arguable ones such as Donald Davidson's Anomalous Monism and also the Union Theory on which I am keen3, all of which bear the slight burden of being called property-dualisms, raise the very question we are considering. They allow that consciousness brings in something non-neural.What is it?
But the basic fact, conscious events being many kinds of effects and causes, is also used to provide the argument for what can be called strict or philosophical Cognitive Science and Functionalism. These doctrines are distinguished by taking conscious events in general to be nothing more than the many kinds of effects and causes. It is fundamental to these doctrines, so long as they remain philosophically distinctive, that there is nothing further to be said of the nature of these events, anything else they have in common. Stated in this summary way, deprived of obscuring elaboration, strict Cognitive Science and Functionalism are not only open to the objection that they leave out the reality in or of our conscious lives, but to another objection that seems insuperable.
Stones, chairs and our computers, considered in themselves, also involve events which are kinds of effects and causes. There is also the event of, say, my own unnoticed little gain in weight, which never comes to my mind. To put the objection in one way, how did strict Cognitive Science and Functionalism then find, or discriminate from other things, their general subject-matter, the large but of course limited range of kinds of effects and causes with which they are concerned? How did these doctrines separate off irrelevant events, in particular irrelevant events in us? Nothing is more essential to the doctrines. We need to know what they are talking about. Put differently, what is their general conception of consciousness? Evidently to speak only of kinds of effects and causes will not work. There are very many kinds, of which I have just mentioned a few, that do not and must not get into the story.
It therefore seems these doctrines were covertly from the beginning, or must now collapse into, the view that conscious events are events in only some causal sequences -- not any old causal sequences. Which ones then? The only possible answer seems to be the sequences involving consciousness in another sense. What is necessary is a characterization of conscious events in addition to the insufficient one which almost all of us accept, that they are certain effects and causes. This raises exactly the question we are considering. On reflection, this same objection of incoherence can be made to strict Identity Theories. Which wholly neural events are the conscious ones?4
You may be made uneasy by all this, on account of what it could lead to. Your uneasiness will not be reduced if the property of conscious events missed out by the theories we have glanced at is named in advance the property of real subjectivity. The picture in the offing, given my physicalism avowed at the start, seems to be of our heads having two kinds of properties or events in them, the first being neural and the second non-neural although physical. Properties of the second kind are perhaps not rightly to be abused as ghostly stuff, but they are bad enough. The idea is that there exist properties or events which, although physical and in the causal and nomic web, are not at all akin to kinds now accepted, but properties or events whose actual discovery would transform or overturn neuroscience as it is. If this idea is perhaps not an awful one, it is alarming enough.5
I hope in the end to be able to reassure you. That is, I hope it will be possible to maintain what is unquestionable, that conscious events have more than neural properties and particular causal relations, without adding to the kinds of properties or events we already know to be in our heads. Those are the kinds allowed in contemporary neuroscience. Further, since conscious events will be taken to involve more than what goes on inside heads, I hope the view will not add to the kinds of properties and events we already know to be outside our heads. Those are roughly the kinds allowed by ordinary experience and contemporary science.
What is needed is not more things, but a different way of looking at or categorizing the ones we have.
2. The Existence of a WorldThe difference between me now and a chair in this room, it can be said, is that for me a world exists, and for the chair a world does not exist. Or rather, as I prefer to say, my consciousness now consists in the existence of a world. The rest of this paper will have to do with understandings of this seemingly metaphorical sentence. It is owed to contemplating consciousness directly, despite its obscurity. This policy of mental realism may unsettle some philosophers in the current Philosophy of Mind, since they are averse not only to dualisms which no one should contemplate,6 but also to the mystery which is the fundamental question of the nature of consciousness. But you, if you are in a way stronger-minded, may share the hope that the sentence points in the right direction, does indicate the nature of consciousness. That is, the sentence may express more than one proposition, and the hope is that one of them. a literal one, will really shed light on the nature of consciousness. It seems to me that trying to dissipate this mystery is better than recoiling from it.
The sentence can naturally be taken for another one. It is that all of my consciousness now, including any thoughts unprompted by this room, maybe some day-dreaming, consists in the existence of a world. Perhaps we can on some other occasion get to an account of consciousness generally, or all of the consciousness of one person, which is pointed to by that sentence. But on this occasion let me limit myself to something else, my perceptual consciousness now -- my consciousness in so far as it consists in my seeing, hearing, and so on. So what we have is that my perceptual consciousness now consists in the existence of a world. Let us think about only this, and trust, as seems reasonable, and in accord with several philosophical traditions, that perceptual experience is the base of all consciousness, and that on some other day an understanding of it will be used to explain the rest.
Thinking of my perceptual experience now as consisting in the existence of a world needs to be distinguished from and may be more promising than another piece of mental realism, a well-known one. Here, my perceptual consciousness is characterized as part or most of what it is like to be something, or what it feels like to be something.7 What strikes me as wrong with these locutions, if they are intended seriously, as being on the way to a general understanding of consciousness, and of course not just about differences between conscious things or states, is that the analysandum is right there in each of the analysans. The locutions surely presuppose and depend for their understanding on what some supporters of them assert, that there is not something which is what it is like to be a stone, chair, or computer, and of course not something which is what it feels like to be one.8 Does the familiar piece of mental realism not come to this, then, that my perceptual consciousness is characterized as part or most of what it is like to be conscious, or to feel conscious? This is of no use to us, no analytic help.
But does the sentence I am promoting, `My perceptual consciousness now consists in the existence of a world', share a different disability with talk of what it is like or feels like to be something? (I postpone for a little while the very large question of whether it shares the first disability, being no analytic help.) You may grant that conceiving of my perceptual consciousness as amounting to the existence of a world points at something, indicates the nature of something. But, you may say, that thing, as in the case of talk of what it is or feels like to be something, is only the phenomenology of consciousness. It is only consciousness as it seems or appears to be, not the reality of it. This objection may amount to one of several things.
It may simply be insistence on strict Identity Theory or strict Functionalism and Cognitive Science as the truth about consciousness. Or perhaps insistence on those doctrines lightly amended by something about qualia. The latter over-worked items, I take it, are elusive differences between kinds of perceptual consciousness.9 They are `feels' rather than contents, or more of the nature of `feels' than of contents, and very evidently not the character of all of consciousness. These amended doctrines, as you will anticipate, have not been sufficiently amended to satisfy me. They too leave out an explicit and general account of what is fundamental about consciousness. As you will gather, my sentence about the existence of a world is not an assertion of the existence of qualia. No doubt they exist, but they are not the general nature of perceptual consciousness.
If the phenomenology objection fails when taken in this way, is there a better way? Is there a better reason than the given doctrines for dismissing my sentence as only talk of the appearance of consciousness? Well, the dismissal may be misleadingly expressed, but be intended as conveying that there is some other fact about consciousness more important than anything conveyed by the sentence -- say the relation of conscious to neural events, or the causation of consciousness, or the role of consciousness in the explanation of behaviour. There is also the truth already indicated, which strict Functionalism and Cognitive Science wonderfully exceeded, that kinds of conscious events, say desire, pain and thinking, and sub-kinds of them, are differentiated by their causal connections, and could not be characterized adequately without reference to those connections. But surely none of this, although it involves disagreements about what is important, amounts to the proposition that the general conception of consciousness we are contemplating is of only the appearance of it, not its reality.
In fact this proposition, if taken literally and not as a misleading expression of other things, seems to presuppose a falsehood. It is that we can attach sense to talk of a reality-behind with respect to consciousness itself. Things, say stones, chairs, and computers, may of course be otherwise than they seem, but that is not a distinction within consciousness. The distinction presupposes consciousness, our having different views of things, but what it has to do with or is about is the chairs, stones and computers.
If we stick to consciousness, is it not the case that all there is, in so far as it itself is concerned, is what is being misdescribed as an appearance? Is it not the case that all there is, in so far as consciousness itself is concerned, is what is pointed to by my sentence and perhaps related ones, and also, despite its disability, by talk of what it it is or feels like to be something? Consciousness, after all, is what we have. And what we don't have in this sense isn't consciousness. Also, we don't have it in two ways. Certainly we can't get behind or beyond consciousness itself by introspection or recollection and bring back a hidden part of it. There isn't any other experiential access to it than the single one we've all got.
The only conceivable other access, so to speak, would be a theory about it. But, so far as I know, we haven't had any philosophically successful theory about it, the reality of it, as distinct from about its causation, explanatory role, other relations, kinds of it and their differentiation, secondary features of it, and so on.10 The theories that do seem to be about consciousness itself, having to do with aboutness or intentionality, cannot be regarded as successful. None has come to the fore.
It is worth adding, finally, something implied by what has just been said, that if there are ways or techniques of bringing things into consciousness, perhaps dispositions of ours of which we have been unaware, these are not a different access to consciousness itself. As for those very dispositions, often called the subconscious or the unconscious, evidently they are not in or part of consciousness. No doubt they are neural. To repeat, what we don't have isn't consciousness, and we don't have it in more ways than one.
So much for the objection that my sentence points at only the phenomenology of consciousness. Let me now make a start on the inevitable objection that it is of no analytic help.
Saying that my perceptual consciousness now consists in the existence of a world, if this is understood in certain ways, will indeed be of no help. For a start, it cannot usefully come to just this, that my perceptual consciousness consists in my seeing, hearing, and otherwise sensing what exists around me spatio-temporally. If the sentence is taken this way, it will be useless, a really overt instance of the analysandum turning up as the analysans, the analysans being no advance on the analysandum. We already understand perceptual consciousness to be seeing, hearing and otherwise sensing spatio-temporal things. That is the ordinary content of talk about perceptual consciousness. That is what we are trying to improve on.
This objection of uselessness, of course, is likely to come up for a particular reason. Perceptual consciousness, according to the sentence, is the existence of a world. Furthermore, it was first said above that the difference between me and a chair is that for me a chair exists. Both those sentences can indeed be taken to suggest that the idea is that perceptual consciousness is more than a world -- it is the world's existing. And, the thought continues, all that that can mean is that the consciousness consists in a world's being seen, heard, etc. Well, that is not the hope. There is some heuristic advantage in saying, as I shall sometimes persist in saying, that perceptual consciousness is the existence of a world -- that might just wake us up to something we have been missing or mislaying -- but no more is being suggested than is also suggested by saying, simply, that perceptual consciousness consists in a world.
There is something else to be put aside. We would not get anything useful by interpreting my sentence as taking perceptual consciousness to consist in awareness of subjective things -- representations, sense-data, or the like. This would amount to giving the particular account of perceptual consciousness which is the Representative Theory of Perception or Phenomenalism. My reason for saying that giving this account would not help is not that to do so would be to impose on the sentence a theory supported only by doubtful arguments, although this is surely true, and my thinking so will inform some later comments. The reason we would get nowhere is that in this interpretation of the sentence, what we would have is that perceptual consciousness is awareness, if in an obscure sense, but it is indeed awareness that we are trying to understand. `Awareness' in the obscure sense is not synonymous with `perceptual consciousness', but it is too close for comfort. We would get no understanding of perceptual consciousness itself by being directed away from certain objects of it, objective ones, and towards other supposed objects of it, subjective ones.
This reason for not imposing the Representative Theory on our sentence is equally a reason for not imposing on it Direct or Naive Realism, the theory which grows out of what was mentioned a moment ago, the ordinary content of talk about perceptual consciousness. It is to the effect that perceptual consciousness consists not in the awareness of subjective but rather of objective things. Let us say that such things, unlike representations and sense-data, are public, which is to say perceivable by more than one person, and are perceivable by more than one sense, and also exist unperceived.11 Plainly this different theory, first of all in speaking of awareness, also contains the problem. We need to approach the problem on our own.
3. A Mental World?It happens near the start of our lives that each of us does what each continues to do afterwards, distinguish herself or himself in a particular way from all else, all other things and persons. Each of us comes into possession of the fact of something unique and persistent in a life, certainly not a body, or all of a body. Each of us comes to have some kind of sense of subject, self, or person -- a sense of oneself, as we can say. This claim can be true, of course, without our having a respectable theory of consciousness or relying on daring philosophical theories of the self. We do not have to swallow Descartes in order to have senses of ourselves. More will be said about a subject later, but let us for the moment rely on what we all have in order to state the first of five considerations bearing on what has been said so far and seeming to point in a particular direction.
(i) The particular subject each of us senses enters into the existence of a world, a person's perceptual consciousness as I understand it, in a certain way. The essential thing for now is that this state of affairs could not exist in the absence of the subject. The particular subject is a necessary condition of the state of affairs. It is so because it is in some manner a part of it. But that is not all. In the absence of the subject, there would not exist anything of the world whose existence is what perceptual consciousness consists in.
Such a dependency on a particular subject is not true of three larger worlds, the first being the one that is physical in the sense mentioned earlier.12 This is the world, of which much will be said, that is spatio-temporal and has perceived properties or is in nomic connection with things with perceived properties. This world does not have the mentioned dependency. The part that is perceived is not dependent on any particular subject. And the part that isn't perceived is also not dependent on any particular subject -- it doesn't enter into perceptual consciousness at all. There is the same want of dependency on a particular subject with a second world, with which we shall also be concerned. This is one lately in view, the objective world. It has in it things perceivable by more than one person, and perceivable by more than one sense, and such as also to exist unperceived. Evidently it shares a feature or two with the physical world as defined. Finally, there is the same want of dependency on a particular subject with a third world, also in view earlier. This is the world of things in current or anticipated science, an indeterminate world to say the least. Let us call these three worlds mind-independent worlds.
I trust it will be clear, incidentally, that speaking of these various worlds, of which we now have four, is not to be taken as indulgence in any sort of ontological extravagance. In the primary and most ordinary sense of the word, there is but one world. Of it or of some of it, we have different conceptions. What falls under a conception is, in my secondary sense of the word, a world. My endeavour in this paper, as will become plain, is to see relations between several conceptions and worlds, and to recommend one conception and world in connection with consciousness.
(ii) There is also another dependency that needs to be attended to. If I take my perceptual consciousness now to consist in the existence of a world, this necessarily is a world which also has a second dependency seemingly different in kind from the one on a particular subject. It is hard for me to resist the conclusion that the correct understanding of the fact of psychoneural intimacy mentioned at the start is not the strict Identity Theory but the theory that consciousness is in nomic or lawlike connection with neural events, events with only neural properties. Although the story of the Union Theory gets complicated, part of it is that my perceptual consciousness has a dependency on, has a kind of nomically necessary condition in, my simultaneous neural events.13 So the world that is my perceptual consciousness, for this second reason, cannot be the physical world as understood, or the objective world, or the world indicated by science.
(iii) There is something else, another part of the story of lawlike connection between consciousness and simultaneous neural events. A neural event is not only a kind of necessary condition but also a nomic correlate of a conscious event. That is, although the conscious event is not an effect of the neural event, it is true that given the occurrence of the simultaneous neural event, the conscious event necessarily happened. In a traditional terminology, the neural event was not only a kind of necessary condition for the conscious event, but also a kind of sufficient condition. We can say the neural event was a guarantee of the conscious one.
Of course these considerations having to do with the brain, together with what should be added about dependencies in the other direction, of brain on consciousness, go against some engrossing and influential doctrine which includes a denial of the existence of psychoneural laws.14 But allow me to take psychoneural lawlike connection for granted on this occasion. If it does not exist, by the way, that will certainly be bad news for neuroscience, since standard neuroscience certainly presupposes it. Shouldn't that fact give pause to any philosopher of mind who wants to keep an eye on science? And on the most relevant part of science, which certainly is not physics? To stick to my subject, however, we have in the neural guarantee a third reason for supposing the world which is my perceptual consciousness cannot be identical with the physical world as understood, or the objective world, or the world indicated by science.
What you will now suppose is that the world in which my perceptual consciousness is being said to consist must be a mental world, an interior world, a mind-world. It is what the dictionary calls the totality of my thoughts and feelings, or all of a class of them. Certainly you need a particular subject for one of these. Maybe such a world is a subject. It is such a world, too, that has a person's neural events as a kind of necessary and sufficient condition. And you will say, very truly, that if this is what the speculation about perceptual consciousness comes to, we are back in the debacle of having the analysandum in the analysans. To say that my perceptual consciousness consists in a mental world would be no help at all. In addition to the three dependencies, another reason or two are likely to occur to you for your disappointment, or maybe schadenfreude.
(iv) Is it not implicit in what has been said of my world of perceptual consciousness, most notably about dependence on a subject, that this is a private world? Is it not the case that what is being postulated, despite the rhetoric, is no more than a multitude of worlds each private to their owner? Well, part of the answer is yes, in a way. You do not have access to my perceptual world. That seems to me no deep proposition, incidentally, nor one that necessarily will be true of those who come after us. There seems no conceptual impossibility or incoherence in the speculation that in some future decade one member of our species will have replicated in her head the neural events of someone else, and so by guarantee have access to what otherwise would have been only the other person's experiences. Still, the point remains that a world of consciousness is in this way private. This, at least in an ordinary understanding of them, is not true of any of the three mind-independent worlds. The objective world is explicitly said to be perceivable by more than one person.
(v) Finally, although it may seem that no more needs to be said in support of the supposition that a world of perceptual consciousness is a mental world, there is the idea that a world of perceptual consciousness, because of the three dependencies, does not exist unperceived. The point is worth separating out from (i) the necessity of a subject to a world. But unperceived existence is an explicit feature of the objective world, and of one part of the physical world, and it is fundamental although implicit in what was said of the world indicated by science.
One burden of five considerations, then, is that the worlds I am promoting, the worlds of perceptual consciousness, are not identical with any of three other worlds. Is there another burden -- that the worlds being promoted are no more than mental worlds? And hence that we get no useful understanding, certainly no analysis, of perceptual consciousness? Just talk?
4. My World of Perceptual Consciousness and the Physical WorldI wonder. There is a troublesome fact. The world in which my present perceptual consciousness seems to consist is surely spatial. That chair over there is bigger than that other one, and to the left of it, and I can measure the distance between them. It's not a representation of the first chair that is bigger than a representation of the second, and it's not representations that are relatively positioned in that way or the given distance apart. So with time. In this world of my perceptual consciousness, one thing happens before, simultaneous with, or after another, and things come out of the future into the present and then go into the past. It's not thoughts of them that do this. Nor, thirdly, does this world have in it only sense-data or ideas or whatever of other properties of things. It has in it the solidity and brownness of the chair.
In short, despite all that has been said, it seems this world at least resembles something else we have noticed regularly on our way. It seems to resemble the physical world in one of its two parts: spatio-temporal things that are perceived as against spatio-temporal things in nomic connection with the perceived things. Having arrived at this proposition about resemblance, fundamental to this paper, it is my aim in what follows to clarify and defend it, and, above all, to draw a proposal from it. As you will gather, the proposition about resemblance is not the weak one that the world of perceptual consciousness has in it representations of what is in the given part of the physical world. The point, strongly put, is that both worlds have chairs in them.
Let me pass by what I hope is the battered idea that the troublesome fact and the proposition of resemblance are just a matter of the phenomenology of perceptual consciousness, not the real fact of it, and also put aside for a while (i) the dependency of my world on a subject, and attend to something else. It is the second consideration going against the resemblance, the fact that my world is dependent on my neural events. However much it may seem to have chairs in it, not representations of chairs, must this neural dependency not destroy any talk of real resemblance between my world of perceptual consciousness and the perceived physical world? And must any lingering hope not be finished off by the third consideration, that this world of consciousness is no less than guaranteed by my neural events?
Several things need to be recalled or taken on board at this stage, and in particular in connection with the second consideration. One is that it is no part of what has been suggested that only the worlds of perceptual consciousness exist. There is the unperceived part of the physical world, and the objective world, and the world indicated by science. It has certainly not been doubted that these conceptions are true of what there is, or anyway of some of what there is. Something of their sort is undeniable.
Also, these conceptions evidently overlap to certain extents, and will overlap with other mind-independent conceptions of what there is. Let us now focus on one fundamental overlap. It is asserted or implied in at least two of these conceptions that part of what exists is not perceived, not in perceptual consciousness. It will be convenient to have a name for this. Let us have one last world, the world-in-itself or noumenal world, but leave out any implications from the past, notably the doctrines of Kant and Plato. Think of the world-in-itself, if you like, in scientific terms, perhaps as a world of particles in fields of force, or of course as spatio-temporal events in nomic connection with spatio-temporal events that are perceived.
The principal role of the unperceived part of the physical world as we have understood it is to do some explaining with respect to the perceived part. That is also the principal role of the world indicated by science. We carry over this idea, of course, to our world-in-itself. What we then get is that my world of perceptual consciousness, while having a dependency on my neural events, also has a dependency on the world-in-itself.
How this works is clear enough. My neural events do not come out of nowhere. If they are in a way the necessary conditions of my conscious events, they are also effects of something else. Each neural event is the upshot of a causal sequence, every stage of which is a causal circumstance or kind of causally sufficient condition for what follows. Of what initial causal circumstance is my neural event at some time an effect? Well, some will simply say the world-in-itself. I have in mind particularly those who take the world-in-itself to be a world of science, and in particular of physics. But, to be more cautious, it must surely be that there is a causal circumstance for my neural event in which the world-in-itself plays at least a large part.
These propositions are of importance to us. We are considering the argument that since my world of perceptual consciousness is dependent on my neural events, has a kind of necessary condition in them, it must be merely a mental world, and not something that importantly resembles the perceived part of the physical world. Is that a good argument if my world is also dependent in the way outlined on the world-in-itself? It seems not to be.
I say so because the perceived part of the physical world, as we ordinarily understand it, has the same dependency. We do not subtract the chair from the physical world, and, so to speak, put it in the mind, on account of our undoubted personal contribution to it. This contribution has to do with our perceptual apparatus and our conceptualizing and so on, and in particular the physical chair's neural dependency. The relationship between the physical chair and the chair-in-itself gets in the way of putting the physical chair in the mind. This consideration against identifying my perceptual world with a mental world does seem persuasive. Why should the neural dependency of my perceptual world degrade it into being `mental' if the same fact does not degrade part of the physical world? In both cases the second dependency, on the world-in-itself, makes for an independence that is lacked by what we have been calling a mental world.
What of the third consideration, that my perceptual world has not only a kind of necessary condition in my neural events but also what was called a guarantee? My neural events are a kind of sufficient condition for my world. Is that not a disaster? If my neural events stand in this relation to that chair over there, how can it be other than in my mind?
I certainly grant that our conception of the perceived part of the physical world does not include the proposition of psychoneural correlates, of a neural guarantee for what is in this part of the physical world. But, as it seems to me, this is not essential to my line of argument. It is part of our conception of the given part of the physical world, as just noticed, that the world-in-itself is in some way necessary to it. There is, as we also know, this same dependency with respect to my perceptual world. The world-in-itself is a necessary condition for my neural events, the correlates of my conscious events. Evidently this provides a response to the argument that if my world of perceptual consciousness is guaranteed by my neural events, it must be merely a mental world and not something that substantially resembles the perceived part of the physical world. The world-in-itself is necessary to the guarantee.
What of the fourth consideration, about privacy? Does what has been admitted as to the privacy of my perceptual world stand in the way of claiming that it substantially resembles the part of the physical world? Well, what has been admitted is that in a sense you do not have access to my perceptual world. Such a thing could happen in the future, but it is not a possibility now. That does make a difference between the two worlds. What size is the difference?
One thing that wouldn't help my claim of substantial resemblance would be something about my perceptual world now and yours: their having numerically different things in them. Do they? As you may anticipate from my earlier scepticism about the Representative Theory of Perception or Phenomenalism, the answer seems to be no. To revert to our ordinary talk about perception, it does not follow from the fact that you and I have different accesses to a chair that we are aware of two things. More particularly, it does not follow from our perceiving a chair differently that we are not perceiving just one thing. What is a chair? What is one of these things? It is something that looks different from different points of view or angles. If something didn't look different from different points of view, it wouldn't be a chair. It would be something like a number or a concept or a proposition, or maybe the Eternal Idea of Chair, but not a chair. So, as it seems to me, we two are aware of the very same thing.15
There is something else in this neighbourhood that would do more damage to my claim of substantial resemblance between my perceptual world and the perceived part of the physical world. That would be these two world's having numerically different things in them. Do they? There seems no good reason for saying so. Why should the chair in my perceptual world not be the very same thing as the chair in the physical world? What is relevant about my perceptual chair, so to speak, is unique access to it. What is relevant about the physical chair is that it is perceived. But cannot these two descriptions be true of just one thing?
The fifth consideration was that because of the three dependencies my perceptual world is something that does not exist unperceived, but that unperceived existence is an explicit feature of the objective world, and fundamental if implicit in what is said of the world indicated by science. And, most relevantly, as I remarked,16 it is an explicit feature of the physical world -- that part that is spatio-temporal but only in lawlike connection with what is spatio-temporal and perceived. My remark, since we were then reflecting on differences rather than resemblances, left something out, maybe a little heuristically or even deceptively -- the part of the physical world we are now interested in above everthing else, the perceived part. It is there that we need to look for likeness or the lack of it to my perceptual world. Does this stuff, the perceived part of the physical world, exist unperceived?
What does it mean to ask if anything exists unperceived? It is the question, presumably, of whether any properties can be assigned to a thing when it is unperceived. What property is assigned to the perceived part of the physical world if it is said that it also exists unperceived? That is not very clear to me, but perhaps the answer is that it is capable of being perceived. Can any properties be assigned to the items in my perceptual world when they are not in it? That is, taking my perceptual world to be a large temporally discontinuous particular, can any properties be assigned to an item in it in the times when this world is not in existence?
Well, there seems to be a good deal to say. This item too has a capability -- of being in my world when my world reappears. Also, it may now be in your perceptual world. Both of these facts are tied up with another, the item's relation to the thing-in-itself. Further, since we have lately identified the chair in my perceptual world with the one in the perceived part of the physical world, my chair when unperceived by me still has whatever properties give it membership of the perceived part of the physical world. Finally, if this is a different fact, my chair when unperceived by me remains spatio-temporal.
One final remark here. My perceptual world was casually described a moment ago as a discontinuous particular. Like a club, it pops in and out of existence over time. That idea, it might seem, itself stands in the way of asserting any important resemblance between my world and the perceived part of the physical world. Still, something can be said. The latter thing is, as we can say, `a world as perceived' or `a world as experienced'. In that case, it too is a discontinuous particular. It is not dependent on any particular subject, but it is not there when we are all asleep, and parts of it are not there when they are in nobody's experience.
This fifth consideration about unperceived existence gets us into deep or anyway troubled waters. Let us emerge from them with only the proposition that the consideration does not easily defeat my claim about resemblance, and turn back to what was passed by, the first consideration, about my perceptual world and a subject, self, or person.
Here too, as elsewhere, there certainly is a difference between my perceptual world and the perceived part of the physical world. It is perhaps the main difference. The perceived part of the physical world has no dependency on a particular subject. But the extent of the difference between the two worlds will depend on how we try to understand the subject, the fact of real subjectivity with respect to my world. I have no full and satisfactory understanding of the fact, needless to say. But, since the matter of a subject is bound up with the matter of perceptual consciousness, there is the consolation of being able to say something, and of the idea that it is possible to come to a tentative conclusion about perceptual consciousness without being able to say more.
One thing that can be said is that the view of perceptual consciousness being contemplated allows for a literal understanding of some common philosophical talk about a subject: that it is or involves a point of view, a view from somewhere rather than nowhere, a perspective. There is one of those, literally, in the world of my perceptual consciousness. It is the point of view from where my head is. This is a little blessing -- an escape from metaphor, the besetting problem of the philosophy of mind when it does not abandon its mission.
Furthermore, it is possible on the view we are contemplating to start to explain what was remarked on earlier, that a subject is not only a necessary condition of perceptual consciousness in the sense of somehow being a part of it, but is such that the state of affairs would not exist at all in its absence. The explanation is that a point of view, literally speaking, is constitutive of the state of affairs. There could be no understanding of it which left out a real point of view. It is all a matter of the way things are from here, where my head is.
It would be rash to suppose that all that there is to the fact of subjectivity is a real point of view. I have left out what is true, that my world is a matter of my particular conceptualizations. This fact enters into subjectivity, as does the fact of privacy, and no doubt a person's feelings and desires. I shall not take these reflections further, but merely remark that the view we are contemplating of perceptual consciousness gives some promise of a satisfactorily naturalistic conception of a subject. In so far as it does that, we get some consonancy between my perceptual world and the perceptual part of the physical world. I also pass by the role not of a particular subject but of subjects in the perceived part of the physical world. Some subject is necessary to it. And the role of conceptualization. These help too.
5. Consciousness as ExistenceLet me sum up the comparison now completed between my world of perceptual consciousness and the perceived part of the physical world. My world has dependencies on (i) a subject, myself, and (ii, iii) on my neural events. It is (iv) in a way private and (v) is said not to exist unperceived. This is enough, certainly, to make a difference from the mind-independent worlds and in particular the perceived part of the physical world. However, and to be brief, my world has chairs in it. Also, there is more to be said about the perceived part of the physical world. This (ii', iii') shares a good deal of the neural and thing-in-itself dependencies with my world, and (iv') it has in it, among other things, the very same things that are in my world. (v') In the matter of unperceived existence, it is not all that far from my world, and (i') it can be said to be consonant with my world's dependency on a subject.
These propositions, in my submission, amount to an important resemblance between the two worlds. That is to say that my world cannot be regarded as just what was called a mental world -- a totality of thoughts and feelings of mine. More particularly, my world is not being conceived in a useless, pre-analytic way. On the contrary, what we have, by way of the resemblance with part of the physical world, is an articulated and relatively rich conception. My perceptual consciousness, my world of perceptual consciousness, is an articulated state of affairs.
I own up to doubts about the details of all this, and a residual worry that some inconsistency has gone unnoticed. But not enough doubts and worry to stand in the way of my main proposal in this paper. It is in part that in thinking about the mind and what exists, we have been stuck with two categories. These are, in the most general terms, the mind-independent worlds and mental worlds. It is not only philosophers of the mentally realist kind17 who have been stuck with not only mind-independent but also mental worlds. Philosophers sceptical about mental worlds, indeed with some reason disdainful of them, have nevertheless not escaped them, but write more and more books trying to accomodate them.
To come to the very nub, what we need, in order to deal first with perceptual consciousness and thereafter with all of consciousness, is a new category: worlds of perceptual consciousness. They take a good deal from both mind-independent and mental worlds. We do not need new kinds of properties or events. We need this different way of looking at what we have got. Or, to remember my doubts and worry, and to be properly hesitant, we need some new way like this, something along these lines. We need some view of perceptual consciousness as existence, or, if you like, existence as perceptual consciousness. We need an idea to the effect that for something to be conscious is for a world to exist, although certainly not a world wholly dependent on it. This, in my submission, is what we have missed out in being anchored in the two categories of mind-independent and mental worlds.
Is there not much to be said for this different category? Four more things come to mind.
The category is not factitious. Our worlds of perceptual consciousness, in fact, are the only worlds that are not worlds of theory. They are not got by inference or speculation, however well-founded or even coercive the inference or theory. They are epistemically and perhaps conceptually prior to all other worlds, notably the objective and scientific ones. It is not clear, since the idea of ontological priority is more difficult than sometimes supposed, that they are not ontologically prior to the rest.18
Does the category of worlds of perceptual consciousness offend against a commitment to physicalism, taking the latter to be a commitment to the physical world and the world indicated by science, and perhaps the objective world, and at least a scepticism about mental worlds? The answer is that what has been proposed is a kind of physicalism. One reason is that our worlds of consciousness are approximate to the perceived part of the physical world.19
Nothing has been said until now of what seems to be a fact about consciousness and in particular perceptual consciousness. It is that it itself has a role in the explanation of behaviour. Conscious events are are ineliminable parts of full explanations of our actions. Accounts of the mind must fail or be incomplete, it seems, if they entail or allow for Epiphenomenalism. My world of perceptual consciousness has no such shortcoming. Far from it. It has in it the very things that can most naturally be said to motivate us, chairs for a start.
Finally, one more
word about the crux of all of the philosophy of mind that deserves the
name. That is the fact of our real subjectivity. Something was said
of how the proposed view of perceptual consciousness contributes to
here. It seems to me that Consciousness as Existence gives us more than
other views of what we want, and more than has been mentioned. For one
thing, subjectivity has to do with reality and immediacy. My world of
consciousness is very real and very immediate.
NOTES1. My thanks for comments on an earlier draft of this paper are due to Bill Brewer, John Campbell, Geert Engels, Alastair Hannay, John Heil, Jennifer Hornsby, Bob Kirk, Jonathan Lowe, Paul Noordhof, Ingmar Persson, Ingrid Coggin Purkiss, and Barry Smith. They have not yet been converted to Consciousness as Existence.
2. For an exposition of this fundamental conception of physicality, see Anthony Quinton, The Nature of Things (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1973), 46-53.
3. Davidson, `Mental Events,' Essays on Actions and Events (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980); Honderich, A Theory of Determinism: The Mind, Neuroscience and Life Hopes (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988), Chs. 2-3, or Mind and Brain (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990), Chs. 2-3.
4. For more of the incoherence objection to Functionalism, see `Functionalism, Identity Theories, The Union Theory,' The Mind-Body Problem: The Current State of the Debate, T. Szubka & R. Warner (eds.), (Oxford: Blackwell, 1994).
5. I was driven, alas, to tolerate or anyway contemplate this sort of thing in `Consciousness, Neural Functionalism, Real Subjectivity,' American Philosophical Quarterly, 32, 4, October 1995, 379. It is to be confessed, too, despite pp. 64-5 of `Seeing Things,', Synthese, 98, 1994, that in that paper there is a great deal that seems, as you might say, in another world from the view that follows here. But it wasn't all wrong. Some of `Seeing Things' would have echoes in a further development of the present view.
6. The most numbing of these dualisms, perhaps, well beyond ghostly stuff, is to be found in K. R. Popper & J. C. Eccles, The Self and Its Brain (Berlin: Springer, 1977), where to conscious and neural events a Self is added.
7. Thomas Nagel, `What Is It Like To Be A Bat?,' The Philosophical Review, 83, 1974, reprinted in his Mortal Questions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979). See also Timothy Sprigge, `Final Causes.' Supplementary Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 45, 1971.
8. John Searle, The Rediscovery of the Mind (London & Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1992), 132.
9. Thomas Nagel, `Qualia,' The Oxford Companion to Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995).
10. It is the burden of my `Consciousness, Neural Functionalism, Real Subjectivity' that Searle's admirable attempt to characterize consciousness in The Rediscovery of the Mind does not come to grips with the fundamental reality of it.
11. The distinction is taken from A. J. Ayer, The Central Questions of Philosophy (London: Weidenfeld & Nihcolson, 1973).
12. See above.
13. A Theory of Determinism or Mind and Brain, Chs. 1, 2.
14. Donald Davidson, `Mental Events' and other papers in his Essays on Actions and Events.
15. For further arguments against a revised Phenomenalism, see `Seeing Qualia and Positing the World,' A. J. Ayer: Memorial Essays, A. Phillips Griffiths (ed.), (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991).
16. See above.
17. See above, and A Theory of Determinism, 77-83.
18. `Dependence,' Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, Robert Audi (ed.), (Cambridge & New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995).
19. Cf., alas, `Seeing Things,' 52.
20. See above
P.S. Some mistakes in this piece -- which still seems to me a good start in the right direction -- are put right in Consciousness as Existence Again.HOME to T.H. website front page
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