The Subject of Consciousness
© C.O. Evans

Chapter 5

The Experiential Self - 5.2.7
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2. The Problems the Theory Solves

[7] I turn now to explore some of the implications of the alternative theory I am offering. It is a weakness of the Gallie-Jones theory and the James-Ayer theory that the self is equated with certain somatic sensations. If the self can in any sense be composed of elements of consciousness, it would seem counter-intuitive to confine the elements of consciousness which comprise it to somatic sensations. Far more plausible is a theory which allows it to be a possibility that the self is comprised of ideational elements as well as somatic ones. This possibility is ruled out by the theories we have been considering, but it is more than a possibility on my theory, it is an actuality. I have argued that unprojected consciousness must contain ideational components when attention is interrogative. Then unprojected consciousness will contain as an element a master-idea which is responsible for the direction of attention. Hence my theory does not commit us to thinking of the self in entirely non-cognitive terms - a major drawback of the rival theories. The description 'unprojected consciousness' refers to a logical aspect of the structure of consciousness, and it is on that account not to be confused with the particular content of unprojected consciousness at any one time. There is nothing on my view which rules out the possibility of any particular type of content forming the self at a particular moment - except that elements that are by definition 'attention laden' elements must be excluded. This view of mine coincides with that of Bradley, who says:

Let us now, passing to the other side of both these relations, ask if the not-self contains anything which belongs to it exclusively. It will not be easy to discover many such elements. In the theoretical relation it is quite clear that not everything can be an object, all together and at once. At any one moment that which is in any sense before me must be limited. What are we to say then becomes of

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that remainder of the not-self which clearly has not, even for the time, passed wholly from my mind? I do not mean those features of the environment to which I fail to attend specially, but which I still go on perceiving as something before me. I refer to the features which have now sunk below this level. These are not even a setting or a fringe to the object of my mind. They have passed lower into the general background of feeling, from which that distinct object with its indistinct setting is detached. But this means that for the time they have passed into the self.' 139

This means that it is possible for unprojected consciousness to contain as components certain experiential elements which come from our outer senses. That is, it will usually contain elements of perceptual awareness; namely, those elements of perceptual awareness that are not at the time commanding attention. This implication of the theory may seem paradoxical since it could be understood as tantamount to the proposition that the self is partly made up of background 'noise' and peripheral visual awareness and so forth. If that were the case one could well object that one's self was

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not made up of indistinct noises and indistinguishable visual objects, and so on for the remaining sense modalities. But that would be to misunderstand the position. The perceptual awareness in question is our experience of noise, and so forth, it is not the noise itself. This is true too of the other senses. And yet we must be careful not to describe such elements of unprojected consciousness as experiences of noise, because as soon as they are individuated they cease to belong to unprojected consciousness, and even to speak of them as 'noise' presupposes recognition of them; i.e. they have then come to attention. It is only in retrospect, therefore, that we can come to classify such an experiential element as awareness of noise. It must be stressed, then, that it is the experiencing with which the self is being identified, and not the objects experienced.

The question arises 'How much of the content of unprojected consciousness at one time can be turned into an object of attention?' In other words, how much of the content of unprojected consciousness can be objectified as the empirical self? Here again Bradley's thinking is instructive:

In my opinion it is not only possible, but most probable, that in every man there are elements in the internal felt core which are never made objects, and which practically cannot be. There may well be features in our Coenesthesia which lie so deep that we never succeed in detaching them; and these cannot properly be said to be ever our not-self. Even in the past we cannot distinguish their speciality. But I presume that even here the obstacle may be said to be practical, and to consist in the obscurity, and not otherwise in the essence, of these sensations. 140

With this I agree. I would only add that there is a limit to the amount of this content that one can objectify at any one time. If the attempt to detach this inner core is to be made, it will require that attention be directed by a master-idea in order to bring it about. But that master-idea cannot itself be at the same time detached from unprojected consciousness and made part of the empirical self. Moreover, there must also always remain behind those elements of kinaesthetic sensation that make possible the act of attention by which the self is objectified. There will thus always be a residuum which must escape self-objectification. Our

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so-called empirical self must forever be no more than partial self-objectification. To my mind this fact goes far to explain the belief that the self is elusive in the sense that there is some aspect of it which experience cannot capture. Even James was prone to this belief, although his theory gave him no justification for it.

If my theory is adopted, the idea can be rejected that self-awareness is awareness of the empirical self. This amounts to a rejection of the view that self-awareness is a special act that describes a special reflective experience which does not occur very often. An attempt at full objectification of the empirical self would indeed be a rare act of the sort in question, but on my theory there is no need to place that interpretation on self-awareness. Instead, in its terms, self-awareness becomes an aspect of all awareness, and as so conceived self-awareness accompanies all our experience. It is this which permits us to view experiences as experiences to the self. It is only because there is a self-awareness independent of the particular experience holding attention that the experience is to such a self, as distinct from being merely of the self. It is in this sense that the subject is present alongside of its experiences.

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Footnotes

139. F.H. Bradley, Appearance and Reality, 2nd ed. (London, 1925), pp. 91-2. Bradley's whole discussion of the subject is highly relevant. The above passage clearly contains the view that the polarization of consciousness into self and not-self is the work of attention. This would make it appear that the theory I am putting forward is identical with Bradley's. This is not the case, however much the above passage may make it seem so. For Bradley the distinction between self and not-self is one that emerges from a more primitive condition of consciousness called 'immediate experience'. As I understand it, this is a pre-attentive phase of consciousness, and it is certainly a phase devoid of any reference to a self. Bradley's view that immediate experience does not command even a minimal degree of attention is in sharp conflict with the conclusions I reached in the chapter on attention. For Bradley the existence of a self is dependent upon the operation of thought upon experience. For me the existence of experience cannot be independent of the existence of the self that enjoys the experience. In this matter I side with James Ward in his great debate with Bradley on the question. On the other hand Ward propounded a Pure Ego Theory, and I think Bradley was quite right to attack him on that. My position may be viewed as the reconciliation overcoming Ward's thesis and Bradley's antithesis. I identify the self with something found within experience, and in this way I escape Bradley's stricture against a Pure Ego. At the same time I escape Ward's strictures against Bradley, by making the self basic to all experience. The adoption of my theory entails the abandonment of the most unacceptable aspects of Bradley's and Ward's positions respectively. See R. Wollheim, F. H Bradley (London, 1959), p. 132 ff. Had Bradley made the distinction I have elaborated between interrogative and unordered attention, he might have found it possible to have accepted the idea that immediate experience exhibited the presence of unordered attention. This would have removed many of the obstacles to his accepting the sort of solution I am proposing.
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140. Bradley, Appearance and Reality, pp. 92-3.
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