Philosophy From A to Z

Consciousness

Consciousness: 1. 'What-it-is-like-to-be', for a suitably complex living organism, i.e., for an animal (Nagel, 1979). 2. The innately specified basic capacity or power of an animal for ...

Robert Hanna
Jul 7, 2022
3 min read

CONSCIOUSNESS: 1. What-it-is-like-to-be*, for a suitably complex living organism, i.e., for an animal (Nagel, 1979). 2. The innately specified basic capacity or power of an animal for spontaneous subjective experience, also necessarily including the innately specified basic capacity or power of immanent reflexivity (Frankfurt, 1988).

*Controversy: The definition in this entry is iconoclastic and provocative, in at least four ways (see Hanna and Thompson, 2005; Hanna and Maiese, 2009: esp. chs. 1-2; and Hanna, 2011).
First, it defines the specific character of consciousness (“what it is like to be”) in terms of suitably complex organismic life, i.e., of an animal: hence, by its very nature, mind necessitates biological life and animal embodiment.

This in turn excludes many definitions of consciousness that are restricted to a narrow reading of the “what it is like to be” component of consciousness by virtue of an immediate, infallible, ineffable, logically private mental acquaintance with (or instantiation of) qualia or sense-data; indeed, this entry’s definition of “consciousness” presupposes that there really are no such things as qualia or sense-data (qualia-eliminativism).

Second, it defines consciousness in terms of the four individually necessary and jointly sufficient sub-components of (i) spontaneity (i.e., self-generated, self-guided activity that’s strictly underdetermined by all past or present material or physical facts), (ii) subjectivity (i.e., egocentric centering), (iii) experience (i.e., sensory cognition), and (iv) immanent reflexivity (i.e., pre-reflective, first-order self-awareness).

Third, the kind of experience that’s assumed by this entry’s definition to be fundamental is affective or emotional (including feeling, desires, or passions) and essentially embodied (i.e., necessarily and completely embodied): more precisely, to experience is inherently and primitively to feel, desire, or be passionate about things throughout one’s living animal body, which necessarily leads to what I’ll call the emotive cogito: I feel, desire, or am passionate about something, therefore I exist.

Thus this definition presupposes not only that consciousness and sensory cognition (i.e., sensory intentionality) are necessarily complementary, but also that the inherent and primitive nature of consciousness is necessarily and completely embodied, and non-intellectual.*

REFERENCES

(Frankfurt, 1988). Frankfurt, H. “Identification and Wholeheartedness.” In H. Frankfurt, The Importance of What We Care About. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press. Pp. 159-176.

(Hanna, 2011). Hanna, R. “Minding the Body.” Philosophical Topics 39: 15-40.

(Hanna and Thompson, 2005). Hanna, R. and Thompson, E. “Neurophenomenology and the Spontaneity of Consciousness.” In E. Thompson (ed.), The Problem of Consciousness Calgary, AL: University of Alberta Press. Pp. 133-162.

(Hanna and Maiese, 2009). Hanna, R. and Maiese, M., Embodied Minds in Action. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

(Nagel, 1979). Nagel, T. “What is It Like To Be a Bat?” Tn T. Nagel, Mortal Questions Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press. Pp. 165-180.


PHILOSOPHICAL CONCEPTS: A TO Z
An annotated, encyclopedic philosophical dictionary or philosophical lexicon — an endless work-in-progress, forever open to critical examination, revision, and updating.

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The Fate of Analysis (2021)

Robert Hanna’s twelfth book, The Fate of Analysis, is a comprehensive revisionist study of Analytic philosophy from the early 1880s to the present, with special attention paid to Wittgenstein’s work and the parallels and overlaps between the Analytic and Phenomenological traditions.

By means of a synoptic overview of European and Anglo-American philosophy since the 1880s—including accessible, clear, and critical descriptions of the works and influence of, among others, Gottlob Frege, G.E. Moore, Bertrand Russell, Alexius Meinong, Franz Brentano, Edmund Husserl, The Vienna Circle, W.V.O. Quine, Saul Kripke, Wilfrid Sellars, John McDowell, and Robert Brandom, and, particularly, Ludwig Wittgenstein—The Fate of Analysis critically examines and evaluates modern philosophy over the last 140 years.

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