The Subject of Consciousness
© C.O. Evans

Chapter 2

Consciousness - 2.3.9 [table of contents]  [previous]  [next]


3. Sir William Hamilton and his Critics

[9] This brief survey has shown that the philosophers who adopted the self-approach reached diametrically opposite conclusions on the relation between the self and consciousness. Each took the testimony of consciousness to endorse his own position. Moreover, all the philosophers have given the impression that their own views were so evidently true that they could not be backed up by evidence more compelling than the bare statement of each position itself, would be. Some philosophers regard the Duality of Consciousness as one of those ultimate facts which it would be meaningless to wish to ground in some facts still more ultimate. Others again state with equal conviction the view that the facts give no support to the claim that the self is anything apart from a particular aspect of consciousness itself. The positions are stated rather than argued for. It is not surprising, therefore, that later philosophers should have become suspicious of a form of enquiry, which, because of the alleged indefinability of the concepts concerned, seemed to reduce itself to the making of pronouncements - especially as the pronouncements contradicted one another. This eventuality, one suspects, had much to do with the increasing unpopularity among philosophers of appeals to the testimony of consciousness.

If the self-approach is to get us anywhere it is clearly necessary for an analysis of consciousness to be given which appeals to considerations which no one would be willing to deny. By this I mean that the analysis should rest on distinctions that cannot be denied except by a philosopher who is prepared to reject much of our 'language of mind'. In other words it is my intention to make my analysis rest upon distinctions that I shall argue are necessary to an understanding of our mental concepts as they are employed outside of philosophical contexts. In this way a particular analysis of consciousness can be supported by argument instead of by appeals to self-evidence. Such a development of the self-approach will put us in a position, I believe, to determine whether Hamilton is right to affirm the Duality of Consciousness, whether Mi11, Hodgson, and James, are right to deny it, or whether both parties to the dispute are partly right and partly wrong. The analysis is being undertaken in the hope that it will lead to the discovery of the identity of the subject of consciousness.

I shall end this historical review of the progress to date of the self-approach with a brief look at the view of one philosopher who has made a beginning in taking the subject in the direction I am advocating.

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