Presentation on theme: "Consciousness, self-consciousness, and the regress of self-representation The relation of consciousness and self- consciousness II (Lecture 4) Charles."— Presentation transcript:
Consciousness, self-consciousness, and the regress of self-representation The relation of consciousness and self- consciousness II (Lecture 4) Charles Siewert Rice University
Does (Phenomenal) Consciousness Essentially Include Self-Consciousness?
Does Consciousness Essentially Include Self-Consciousness? Bears on: – Do we explain phenomenal consciousness as the mind’s self-representation? Or is self- representation to be understood as a form of phenomenality? – How should we conceive of the basis of self- knowledge? – In what sense, if any, does one experience one’s “self”?
The “Conscious Of” Principle Carruthers (2007: 278) all HORTs “have as one of their main motivations the intuition that conscious mental states are representational states of which the subject is aware.” Rosenthal (2002: 407) “the states we call conscious” are “states we are immediately conscious of”—which observation he says “provides a useful start toward a [HOT] theory of consciousness.” Lycan ( “The Superiority of HOP…”, 2004 p. 93) “A state is a conscious state iff it is a mental state whose subject is (directly or at least nonevidentially) aware of being in it…that definition is not brutely stipulative or merely technical… Kriegel (Subjective Consciousness, 2009, p. 16) “[A] conscious state is conscious in virtue of being suitably represented…the general motivation for this premise is the thought that it is somehow essential to a conscious state that its subject be aware of it.” Brentano: what any “unprejudiced person” will affirm (though this confidence might be shaken by the regress problem).
The CO Principle nourishes Higher-Order Representation Theories of Consciousness The CO (“Conscious-Of”) Principle. One is in a conscious state c, only if one is conscious (or aware) of c. The SRM (“Self-Representing Mind”) Thesis. Necessarily, a state c of a subject S is phenomenally conscious, only if S has the appropriate sort of mental representation of c. HORT (“Higher-Order Representation Theory” Phenomenality is to be explained as a species of the mind’s self-representation. CO is used to support SRM which is used to support HORT.
The CO (“Conscious-Of”) Principle. One is in a conscious state c, only if one is conscious (or aware) of c. This, or something like, as basis for HORT. Also figures in Brentano’s and some phenomenologists’ accounts of consciousness. One response of opponents: simply reject CO. Fred Dretske: conscious states are to be thought of as: states with which one is conscious of something, not states of which one is conscious. Another (my) approach—we can learn something from accounting for the appeal of the principle, but this does not support SRM (so it doesn’t support HORT)—or Sartrean/Zahavian views.
Plan Why there really is a serious “regress of consciousness” problem. Why response should interpret CO in a way that disables its support for HORT. Leads to view of “self-presence” and “for-me-ness” Proposal: how consciousness might still essentially include self-consciousness even if it is not essentially self-representational or reflexively “of itself”.
Is there a regress problem?
The Regress Challenge We have seen: The CO (“Conscious-Of”) Principle. One is in a conscious state c, only if one is conscious (or aware) of c. Here’s another intuitively plausible principle—there is no “unconscious consciousness” of something: The IC (“Is-Conscious”) Principle. Every state of being conscious of something is a conscious state.
IC: Every state of being conscious of something is a conscious state. Psychologists Merikle, Smilek and Eastwood: subjects are sometimes “[visually] unaware of critical stimuli” that they do, nonetheless, perceive—these are “unconsciously perceived.” This is “perception without awareness.” No difference is recognized between the conscious perception of x (consciously perceiving x), and being perceptually aware/conscious of x. Are there any instances of putative unconscious thought about or perception of something that you would find it “intuitively” or “commonsensically” correct to describe as cases in which subjects are conscious (or aware) of something by unconsciously thinking of it or unconsciously perceiving it?
But now: an apparent regress problem. (According to CO): if you have a conscious state c, then you are conscious of c. But (according to IC), your state of being conscious of c will also be conscious. And thus (applying CO again) one will be conscious of being conscious of c… And so on, ad infinitum. This is an apparent problem, at least if we construe being conscious of c as forming a mental representation of it, and we assume that we do not in fact instantaneously generate some infinite hierarchy of representations of representations for every measly conscious state we are in.
Can we just dismiss IC? Nowadays, a common response (e.g., Rosenthal, Carruthers, Lycan): yes to CO, no to IC (Why Lycan thinks the regress objection to HORT is “bad and ignorant”.) But on what grounds do we regard CO as a rock solid first principle, and simply dismiss IC? We are told it is counterintuitive to suppose one can be in a conscious state of which one is “in no way conscious”. But it seems at least as counterintuitive to suggest that one can be conscious of something by having a totally unconscious perception or thought of it.
No right to dismiss “Is Conscious” If we are going to take “Conscious Of” seriously, we should take “Is Conscious” seriously. We should prefer accounts that avoid the regress while preserving both CO and IC on some reasonable interpretation. One venerable way of doing this…
The Self-Reference/Representation Move (in, e.g., Kriegel) When your hearing a tone is conscious, your being conscious of hearing a tone is also conscious, Not because you are also conscious of being conscious of hearing a tone, but because your being conscious of hearing a tone is one with the very state of which you are thus conscious—your hearing a tone. The key move: cut off the regress by saying that the conscious state in some way refers to or represents itself. (A related strategy was employed by Brentano, who claimed to find it in Aristotle’s De Anima.)
My worry: what kind of conscious self-representation is this? Three options. (a) This self-representation is some form of conscious thought, expressible in an assertion, capable of playing a direct role in voluntary inference. (The conscious hearing is not just a hearing of a sound but also a thought about itself.) (b) The self-representation is somehow broadly speaking perceptual or sensory in nature—and constitutes a kind of conscious “inner” perception or sense. (The conscious hearing is also a sensing or perception (but of course not a hearing) of itself.) (c) Neither of these, but a sui generis form of conscious representation, specific to consciousness of one’s own mind. (My conscious hearing is also a representation of itself that is neither a thinking nor a sensing.)
First two are phenomenologically problematic Judging by first-person reflection, consciously thinking about things looking to you as they do is much more occasional than their looking somehow to you. A conscious “sensing of the looking,” as a feature distinct from the looking, is reflectively indiscernible.
What about (c)? Neither a “sensing” nor a “thinking”—it’s “sui generis” Suppose we can find reasonable alternative ways to interpret CO that don’t support SRM, while still allowing us to affirm “Is-Conscious” as well —and which (unlike option (c)) don’t require we posit any conscious experiences of a “sui generis” type otherwise reflectively indiscernible to us. Then, other things being equal, those interpretations are to be preferred as both more parsimonious and less mysterious
Three ways of interpreting CO CO: One is in a conscious state c, only if one is conscious (or aware) of c. Ambiguity Proposal Relaxed Availability Proposal Non-objectual Proposal
Ambiguity Proposal In one (phenomenal reflective) sense CO is true, in another (plain phenomenal) sense it is not. IC concerns the plain phenomenal sense. – So it’s true that, necessarily if c is a (reflectively) conscious state, one is (phenomenally) conscious of c. (This is the CO we should accept.) – And if one is phenomenally conscious of c, one’s being conscious of c is a (phenomenally) conscious state. (This is an application of the IC we should accept.) – But it’s not true that if c is a (phenomenally) conscious state, then one is (reflectively) conscious of c. (This CO principle is not correct. So no regress gets started.)
Relaxed Availability Do you object: even those phenomenally conscious states we aren’t consciously reflecting on are quite generally ones we are, in some sense, conscious of? One may have in mind nothing more than the idea that phenomenally conscious states are usually available to reflect upon consciously, when they occur in beings, like ourselves, who are capable of reflective thought. That is, if you have a general ability to form “higher-order thoughts,” then, usually you will be able and disposed to think phenomenal thoughts of some kind about your own actual phenomenal thoughts and experiences, if only retrospectively, should the issue of what you’re thinking or experiencing arise.
But what about Pickles the Unreflective Dog?
Objection: “the CO principle applies to dogs too. It’s also true that dogs are conscious of their every conscious state. But your account of the principle offers to explain only what makes it true of reflective creatures that they are conscious of their every conscious state. And dogs aren’t reflective. So your interpretation of CO is still inadequate.”
Does CO apply to Pickles? It sounds right to say that in some sense Pickles is conscious of feeling pain, when she does. It does not sound to me clearly right to say she is “conscious of seeing things.” But how should we interpret the first, in any case?
Non-objectual ‘conscious of’ To say Pickles has a feeling of pain may be taken to mean: she has a feeling of a certain sort—namely, a painful sort. Do we also wish to say that Pickles is conscious of feeling pain? If so, nothing compels us to take the ‘of’ in this ‘conscious of’ to introduce an intentional object, or object of representation. We may treat it as the ‘of’ in ‘feeling of pain’ above. To say she is conscious of feeling is only to say that she has a consciousness of a certain sort: a “feeling” sort. If we insist (strangely) that it’s right to say when Pickles sees a ball, and is conscious of a ball, she is, in some sense conscious of seeing, then we may take this just to mean she has consciousness of a certain sort—a visual sort.
Three ways of keeping CO and IC, while avoiding a regress problem—but without SRM Either discern an ambiguity in ‘conscious state’ as it is found in CO and IC Or understand CO to indicate nothing more than a relaxed availability principle Or adopt a non-objectual interpretation of ‘conscious of.’ It could be all three help to explain how the idea that “conscious states are states one is conscious of” could sound plausible or intuitive to us in various contexts. My claim: once we recognize all three construals of that slogan, there is nothing more we need take it to express that we should accept.
Moral: no interpretation of CO we should accept supports SRM (Self-Representing Mind thesis about consciousness).
What about “presence,” “giveness,” “intimacy” of experience to oneself? Some will want to use the idea that we all consciousness is “consciousness of itself” to convey certain obscure but somewhat intuitively compelling ideas: – My experience is “present to me” (in a way yours is not present to me). – My experience is “given to me” (in a way yours is not given to me). – I am in a peculiarly “intimate” relation to my own experience (as I am not, in relation to yours). – My own experience is “for me” (it has “for-me-ness”)—your experience is not in this way “for me.”
What about “presence,” “giveness,” “intimacy” of experience to oneself? Recall from lecture 3: There is a form of thought whereby I can attend to how something appears to me, which enables me to identify for myself this manner of appearance, so as to go on to recognize possible ways of articulating this as correct or incorrect. Such thoughts are expressible by the use of phrases like: ‘the way this looks to me now.’ It belongs to the nature of phenomenal features that they are available to this kind of first-person reflection, in beings (like us) who are capable of it.
Why phenomenality brings subjective availability By my earlier account, the best interpretation of the “what it’s like” conception of consciousness says: a phenomenal feature is a feature essentially suited for one to claim or desire a nonderivative subjective knowledge of what feature it is. I have a right to think there are such features. But I would not, unless I sometimes subjectively knew what features they were “first-hand”—by having them myself. When do I have such knowledge? There is no better candidate occasion than when I “identify for recognition” such a feature “in first-person phenomenal-indexical thought” (”the way this feels to me,” “how this looks to me”). Thus, given what it is for a feature to be phenomenal—and given the fact that I can think the sort of first-person thoughts described—it follows I have phenomenal features that make themselves available to me for such thought.
“presence,” “giveness,” “intimacy” My own experience is peculiarly “present” or “given” to me to think about, because it is and must be already “actually there” (hence “present” for me), if I am to think such thoughts at all and my relation to my own experience in thought is peculiarly “intimate” because, when I do think the thoughts in question, the experience is inseparable from them. Others’ experience is not present or given to me in this way.
What about “self-presence,” “self- giveness,” “intimacy” of experience? Because of their very nature as phenomenal features, my phenomenal features (my experience, my consciousness) is always “present” to me, “given” to me, in a peculiarly “intimate” way. But that does not mean that all consciousness is somehow essentially self-representational, or even “points/refers” to itself or is reflexively “of itself” in some primitive (non-objectifying?) way.
“presence,” “giveness,” “intimacy” of experience to oneself My own experience is peculiarly “present” or “given” to me to think about, because it is and must be already “actually there” (hence “present” for me), if I am to think such thoughts at all and my relation to my own experience in thought is peculiarly “intimate” because, when I do think the thoughts in question, the experience is inseparable from them. Others’ experience is not present or given to me in this way.
What about “for-me-ness”? Some (Zahavi, Kriegel) appeal to the idea that my own conscious states are experienced as “for me”—they have experiential “for-me-ness.” Part of the appeal of this idea is explained by the previous: it belongs to the character of my experience as such, that it makes itself available for me to reflect on in a way that is inseparable from that experience. Is there anything more to the idea of experiential “for-me-ness” that needs accounting for?
Is there more to “for-me-ness”? Perhaps. A further suggestion Consider: The perspective from which I am looking is implied by how things that do look somehow to me appear to be situated—even though this (where I’m viewing from) is not itself to be found among what looks some way to me. So-- Where one is viewing from can be entailed by the appearance of what is seen, even if this viewpoint and this viewing is not itself seen, nor apparent, nor the accusative of any form of self-consciousness. Now if in addition a phenomenal point of view (unlike a pictorial perspective) implies an actual viewer—a “maker of perspectives”—the fact that an appearance is an appearance to someone (to a subject) is included in its phenomenal character, no less than the fact that it is an appearance of (e.g.) color or shape. Does the character of visual experience imply a kind of “visual agency”—a perspective maker?
Self-consciousness might be built into the character of experience Suppose your activity of looking at things belongs to how you experience them looking to you as they do. That is to say: an activity of looking at them is implied by what it’s like for them to look to you as they do, as your attention darts around, lingers, explores, moves on. “Looking at” involves a “looker” (a perspective-maker) and so some awareness of oneself as a looker looking from somewhere is implicit in ordinary visual experience.
How sensory consciousness might include a primitive non-reflective consciousness of self To be aware of oneself as a looker—a “visual agent”—may be simply to be aware of oneself in the manner in which a looker is self-aware. This doesn’t entail that one thereby somehow attributes to oneself, truly or falsely, the property of looking at things We are nearly always (at least “marginally”) conscious of ourselves as active situated perceivers are. This isn’t to say we are nearly constantly representing ourselves to be actively situated. This is perhaps a variety of the primitive non-reflective self-consciousness built into consciousness, a primitive “experience of self as subject” This is the “experience of self” to which Hume and latter-day followers (like Jesse Prinz) are oblivious. In Zahavian/Sartrean theories, this is misconstrued as a “non-objectifying consciousness of consciousness” that is supposed to be generically and essentially part of all consciousness.
Can we go even further? The sort of primitive agentive awareness of oneself “as subject” which is implicit in various forms in ordinary consciousness, somehow underlies one’s peculiar grasp of the first-person pronoun. Because I experience myself in this way, I understand ‘I’ as I do. I agree with Nida-Rümelin-- this self-understanding is not “empty” or “merely formal,” but also does not consist in attributing to oneself a special identifying property, which would yield the peculiar “mode of presentation” of “the I”. I am the one whom I experience in this way. Experiencing myself in this way enables me to understand who I am. This does not mean: I understand the reference of ‘I’ by thinking of a particular object as the object that satisfies the description, the one whom I experience in this way.