The Subject of Consciousness
© C.O. Evans

Chapter 5

The Experiential Self - 5.4.10
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4. A Defence Against Some Objections

[10] I now come to the difficulties facing the theory which immediately threaten to overwhelm it. In the first place it might be objected that it is nonsensical to translate 'I have an experience' as 'Unprojected consciousness has an experience'. This at once disqualifies the theory since to be successful a theory of the self must be able to offer an intelligible analysis of such sentences as 'I have a pain in my arm' and 'I am swimming'. But if the self is equated with unprojected consciousness, this would seem to commit us to the absurdity that one sphere of consciousness could 'have' another

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sphere of consciousness, and even worse that it could 'have' a swim. Consequently the theory fails, since it does not permit us to say that a self has experiences, or engages in actions. A corollary to this objection would consist in pointing out that although it makes no sense to say 'I have a self', it makes perfectly good sense to say 'I have an unprojected consciousness'. Once again this proves that the self and unprojected consciousness cannot be identical.

In the second place it might be objected that the theory is incoherent in that unprojected consciousness is itself said to be composed of elements, and they too would require a self whose elements they were. But, on the theory, no self exists to which the elements comprising unprojected consciousness could be ascribed. Thus after all the theory is unable to escape postulating experiential elements which are subjectless.

Lastly, it might be objected that the theory fails in that it cannot account for the persistence of the self through time. This it cannot do because it is not only possible but likely that from time to time the entire content of unprojected consciousness will be replaced, and that would mean one self replacing another just as often as that happens. In short, the theory may be allowed to succeed in accounting for the unity of the self at an instant, but it is powerless to account for the continuity of the self through time.

Of these objections I shall leave the last until the next chapter since the issues it raises will be investigated there. Nevertheless it is my contention that in the last analysis all the objections originate from a failure to distinguish the self-approach from the persons approach148 They essentially consist in putting persons-approach questions to the self-approach, and arguing for the incoherence of a self-approach theory on the ground of its inability to handle such questions.

The objections are based upon what it does and what it does not make sense to say in ordinary language. At the level of ordinary language, statements about unprojected consciousness if understood as statements about persons become paradoxical. The reason for this quite clearly has to do with the fact that the conceptual scheme we use presupposes that we are talking about persons, as distinct from subjects of states of consciousness - where it is characteristic of our talk about persons that we are concerned with questions of identification. Now in terms of a subject's

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enjoying a particular experience, there is no question of his either identifying himself to himself, or of his referentially identifying his experience to himself. Such issues simply do not arise when one is concerned exclusively with one's own case. It is for this reason that Geach is quite right when he points out that when a person is thinking to himself about his own experiences there is no need for him to denote the subject by using the personal pronoun 'I' and no need for him to describe an experience he is having as 'mine'. 149 In other words, in self-address ascriptive language can have no logical point.

But if we do use the personal pronoun, then we are doing more than referring to the subject as he experiences himself as being. By using the personal pronoun one draws along with it the entire conceptual scheme for the use of ascriptive language. In short, one presupposes the concept of a person, as Strawson has shown. This means that the identification of the subject with unprojected consciousness is not the same as the identification of the referent of the personal pronoun 'I' with unprojected consciousness. It is for that reason that any such substitution is nonsensical. In sum, we have here the explanation of the fact that the self-approach is characterized by a refusal to treat the subject of inner experience as the referent of first person sentences.

This reasoning would still seem to allow, however, that the 'I' as person could be said to possess an unprojected consciousness, whereas it would still make no sense to say that 'I' as person possess a subject. The reason the latter statement is nonsensical is that a person is a subject and something more. That is to say, the concept of person is logically more complex than the concept of subject, and is logically dependent on the latter concept. It therefore needs to be shown what is odd about the sentence, 'I (as person) have an unprojected consciousness.' If this statement is meant not only to identify the person who makes it, but also is meant to individuate a particular unprojected consciousness then we must understand the unprojected consciousness as 'put forth' by attention. In order to be able to refer to a particular unprojected consciousness it must already have drawn some attention. The ascriber of the unprojected consciousness could not otherwise report its existence. But this is ex hypothesi impossible. We can conclude that the statement 'I have an unprojected consciousness' considered as a report of a state of consciousness is meaningless.

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If my thinking is on the right lines, we are in a position to understand why so many philosophers have maintained that the personal pronoun 'I' does not refer to an inner subject. We can also understand why they should have been led to conclude that since the 'I' refers to a publicly identifiable person, the search for some other referent for the word 'I' is out of place. In fact all that this proves is that for purposes of communication we require no notion other than the notion of a person as a publicly identifiable particular. It does not prove that there is no subject of experience, and it cannot establish that the awareness of being such a subject is delusive.

Now although on the self-approach there is no need to refer to the subject of states of consciousness because it is not concerned with the problem of communication with others, someone who is philosophically minded might wish none the less to describe his experiences to himself in such a way that the description brings out the structure of experience in its exhibition of a subject over against an object. If he simply described his experience as, say, 'this toothache now' his description would fail to do justice to the fact that the toothache is 'put forth' from the self, and stands over against the self. He would have an overpowering reason for wanting to use a personal pronoun, and describe his experience as 'my toothache' or 'the toothache I am having' in order to bring out the subject-object duality of the experience. But he would not want to do this in order to identify the subject: there would be no question of that. What he wants is something with which to symbolize the subject of consciousness in contrast with the toothache that is predicated in the description. Now if the personal pronoun cannot do this because its function is exclusively an identificatory one, some other expression would have to be chosen to symbolize the subject. Now for those philosophers who have not been aware of the need to see the personal pronoun as essentially belonging to ascriptive language about persons, there seemed no reason why the personal pronoun should not be used to perform this symbolizing function as well. They have thus asserted that the "I' refers to a subject other than the public identifiable person. This has, I believe, been one of the strongest considerations in favour of the Pure Ego Theory.

In order to supply a token which can be used to symbolize the subject of consciousness let us choose the token I. This would enable us to bring out the subject-object duality of consciousness in the descriptions we give ourselves of our experiences in the form

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I have an experience X'. In such a sentence the I has no identificatory use: we are considering its use exclusively in self-address.

This distinction between the ordinary language use of 'I' and the philosophical use of 'I' to symbolize the self is, I suggest, what Wittgenstein was driving at in his Cambridge Lectures of the early thirties when he was reported by Moore as saying that the word 'I' is used in 'two utterly different ways'. 150 In one of its uses the 'I' denotes a possessor, in its other use it does not. I suggest that we can understand his distinction between the 'I' which denotes a possessor and the 'I' which does not, as being equivalent respectively to the identificatory 'I' of ordinary language, and the symbolizing 'I' of philosophical description. It is obviously 'I' in the latter sense which is the origin of the 'no-ownership' theory of the self. If my interpretation of this use of 'I' is correct, then indeed the symbolizing 'I' does not 'own' its experiences, but the point has no mysterious or counter-intuitive implications. In essence the 'I' which denotes a possessor is the 'I' of the persons-approach, and it belongs to ordinary language. The 'I' which does not denote a possessor is the 'I' of the self-approach, and it is not an ordinary language term.

Wittgenstein made a further remark about the meaning of the word 'I' which suggests intriguing parallels to the theory I am developing. As Moore reports:

In speaking of these two senses of "I" he said, as what he called a final thing", " In one sense 'I' and 'conscious' are equivalent, but not in another", and he compared this difference to the difference between what can be said of the pictures on a film in a magic lantern and of the pictures on the screen; saying that the pictures in the lantern are all "on the same level" but that the picture which is at any given time on the screen is not "on the same level" with any of them, and that if we were to use "conscious" to say of one of the pictures in the lantern that it was at that time being thrown on the screen, it would be meaningless to say of the picture on the screen that it was "conscious". The pictures on the film, he said, "have neighbours" whereas that on the screen has none. 151

This could be interpreted as an illustration of the theory I have arrived at. Whether it should be so interpreted is difficult to say.

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But I understand Wittgenstein's analogy to mean that the pictures in the magic lantern represent the 'I' which is identical with 'conscious', in contrast with the picture thrown on the screen which is not 'conscious' in that sense. The analogy suggests, does it not, that the pictures in the lantern stand for unprojected consciousness, and the one on the screen stands for the experience which is detached and 'put forth' as an object of attention. Not only that, but the suggestion that all the pictures in the lantern are 'neighbours' expresses my thought that unprojected consciousness contains a plurality of undifferentiated elements in contrast to the unity of the object of attention. If I am right, then the 'I' which is identical with 'conscious' is the 'I' which does not denote a possessor: it is the 'I' of the self-approach. It is more than likely that Wittgenstein has expressed the essential vision that lies behind the theory I have constructed. If I am interpreting him correctly then the authorship of the idea for the theory belongs to him, and that I would be happy to acknowledge. I must confess, however, that I had to arrive at the theory independently before I was able to understand Wittgenstein's obscure words.

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Footnotes

148. See above, pp. 19-26.
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149. See above, p. 23.
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150. G.E. Moore, Philosophical Papers (London, 1959), p. 310.
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151. Ibid.., p. 310.
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