The Subject of Consciousness
© C.O. Evans

Chapter 6

The Experiential Self - 6.2.3
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2. Awareness as a State and Attention as an Activity

[3] I have argued that the occurrence of consciousness is dependent upon change and that the change in question comes from bodily activities. I now wish to argue for a further connection between consciousness and bodily activities and that is that the continuousness of consciousness is brought about by bodily activities. The point of this approach is that if I can establish that consciousness is continuous in the sense of enduring for a stretch of time, then it will follow that the subject of consciousness too will persist during that stretch of time. Without providing some extraordinary context

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it would be very odd to suppose that the subject of a state of consciousness just before the state terminated was not the same subject as the subject just after the state began if, ex hypothesi, we were dealing with a single continuous state. Thus by accounting for the continuousness of consciousness we ipso facto account for the possibility of the persistence of the subject of consciousness.

The account I shall give of the continuousness of consciousness will be concerned with that aspect of consciousness that I have referred to as the object of attention. To facilitate my account I need to employ a vocabulary which describes the object of attention in a manner better designed to bring out the features of it which are important in this context. When we refer to a perceptual object of attention we usually have in mind an object which is external to ourselves, such as a tree or a train. Now obviously no tree or train can be an element of consciousness, and since an object of attention has been defined as an element of consciousness, some other description has to be given of the object of attention. An object can only become an object of attention at the time we are perceiving it: the object of attention is the tree as seen or the train as heard. Now I wish to use the word 'awareness' in a special technical sense to refer to objects of attention in so far as they are presented through the subject's sense fields. Thus the tree as presented through sight is an awareness and the train as presented through hearing is an awareness, and so on for the other modalities. If I may borrow Chisholm's vocabulary, when I perceive an object I am 'being appeared to by x', where the blank is to be filled in with an adverbial description of the manner in which one is appeared to. 155 Chisholm's concept of 'being appeared to . . .' is identical with the sense I have given 'awareness'. On this definition the object of attention is always an awareness.

It is necessary to stress that 'awareness' is here used in a technical sense because in the ordinary sense of the word if we make our awareness our object of attention we are not making the object we are aware of the object of attention. To pay attention to the awareness itself in those circumstances means paying attention to the fact, say, that one is aware of the old oak, or to the fact that one is aware of the old oak, or to the fact that one is aware of the old oak, but not to the fact that one is aware of the old oak. On my usage, however, it does not follow that if the object of attention is described

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as an awareness it is the experiencing as opposed to what is experienced that is the object of attention.

It should also be understood that I am using 'awareness' in an occurrence sense and not in a dispositional sense. In a dispositional sense the word 'aware' is often used as a synonym for 'know'. Thus a person can be said to be aware of the circumstances surrounding the assassin's death even though he is not at the time thinking of them, and we could equally well say of the person that he knows the circumstances surrounding the assassin's death. Because I am not using 'aware' in this sense, I have described my usage as a technical usage. Nevertheless the word is often employed in the way I use it, especially by philosophers. In this sense any case of seeing is a case of awareness, any case of hearing is a case of awareness, and so on. In this manner we arrive at the concepts of visual awareness, auditory awareness, tactual awareness, and so on.

One interpretation of such concepts which it is very natural to give is not one that should be given to them in the sense in which I shall employ them. Some philosophers have made use of a concept of sensory awareness such that perception is based upon sensory awareness but is not identical with it. 156 From this point of view sensory awareness is perception minus perceptual recognition. It is important to bear in mind that by perceptual awareness I am not referring to such an inferred sensory basis of perception, but am referring to the full experience involving perceptual recognition. Unless this is clearly appreciated my identification of the object of attention with an awareness becomes unintelligible. First of all, when we pay attention to a perceptual object we are not paying attention to this sensory basis. Secondly, it may be questioned whether it is even possible for a being with recognitional capacities to make of his pre-recognitional sensory experience an object of attention.

In other words my view of awareness amounts to this: if we take up the idea of a 'proper object' of a verb of perception and say that the proper object of hearing is "sounds', the proper object of seeing is 'sightings', the proper object of smelling is 'smells' etc., then we can take the word 'awareness' to be an umbrella term which allows us to mention any such proper object of a perception verb without having to list the varieties. That is how I am using it. This use parallels the use I have made of the word 'consciousness'

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except that the latter word brings in elements to which attention is not being paid in addition to those to which attention is being paid, whereas 'awareness' covers only those elements to which attention is being paid. I shall add just one further stipulation to my use of 'awareness'. Although every perception is an awareness, not every awareness is a perception. Thus a non-veridical perception is still an awareness although not a perception, and an after-image is an awareness although not a perception. This follows from the fact that hallucinations and after-images can just as well be objects of attention as can our perceptions. To take this into account our use of Chisholm's formula must be changed as follows: awareness = being appeared to . . . both in respect of real x's and apparent x's. When the x is real the awareness is correctly called a perception, when the x is apparent we can noncommittally continue to speak of 'awareness'. In spite of this extension of the concept of awareness to cover non-perceptual cases, my main argument centres on the perceptual cases.

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155. R. Chisholm, Perceiving, (Ithica, 1957), pp. 120-1.]
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156. D. Locke, Perception of the External World (London, 1967), p. 27 ff.
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