The Subject of Consciousness
© C.O. Evans

Chapter 2

Consciousness - 2.2.6 [table of contents]  [previous]  [next]


2. The Nature of the Concept

[6] Now that the basic notion of consciousness has been explicated, it is necessary to say something about the circumstances in which consciousness can be an object of analysis. Here the distinction between the self-approach and the persons-approach becomes relevant. The object of the self-approach is to posit consciousness for the sake of analysis without making any theoretical assumptions about it. From this point of view all we need to know is the truth of the proposition 'There is consciousness'. Now from the point of view of the persons-approach this statement would only be meaningful as an unhappy way of stating the proposition 'Something is conscious' But this is because the persons-approach is concerned with the question 'Who or what is conscious?' and this theoretical

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sort of question is deliberately excluded by the self-approach. Thus the proposition 'There is consciousness' represents the closest we can come to a theory-neutral description of the datum to be analysed.

Let it be granted that the proposition 'There is consciousness' is as close as we can come to a presuppositionless description of a datum. It still does not follow that we have a datum fitting the description. The proposition might after all be false. What evidence do we possess of the truth of the proposition 'There is consciousness?' It is not a necessary truth: there probably was a time when the proposition was false, and there may come a time when it is no longer true.

Fortunately we do not have to worry ourselves about the truth conditions of the proposition. It is enough to know that whenever the proposition has a reader it will be true. It will be true because the reader himself will instantiate the proposition. Thus no reader can doubt the truth of the proposition; and the existence of a datum for analysis is assured in virtue of the fact that the reader supplies his own datum. But this does not mean that the reason for the reader's assurance of the truth of the proposition 'There is consciousness' is his ability to utter the self-ascriptive proposition 'I am conscious'. It is his reading the proposition 'There is consciousness' that makes it veridical, not his ability to use a self-ascriptive utterance at the time. To put the main point picturesquely, when this book does not have a reader the proposition 'There is consciousness' may be false, but it cannot be false at such times as it has a reader. It cannot therefore be meaningfully denied that at least one consciousness exists.

It is worth pointing out that the no-ownership theory of the self 26 must make an even more radical use of the proposition 'There is consciousness' than I am doing. For on that theory a self-ascriptive statement is logically dependent upon the relationship between a consciousness and a certain human body. And this means that the utterance 'I am conscious' is logically dependent on the utterance 'There is consciousness' and not the other way around. I nowhere make the claim made by the no-ownership theorist that the utterance 'I am conscious' can be derived from the utterance 'There is consciousness'. I have maintained that that would be to confound the self-approach with the persons-approach.

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Footnotes

26. See M. Schlick, 'Meaning and Verification', reprinted in Readings in Philosophical Analysis, ed. Feigl and Sellars.
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