The Subject of Consciousness
© C.O. Evans

Chapter 6

The Experiential Self - 6.3.7
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3. The Dependence of a Persisting Self on Sustaining Activity

[7] I now wish to tie in the analysis of attention just given with what I said about attention in the chapter on unprojected consciousness. Nothing that I said in that chapter suggested that attention itself was one of the species of consciousness and to that extent the claims there made square with the present analysis: namely, the rejection of the view that attention is an inner mental operation. My position was that the forms of attention should be understood as possible structurings of consciousness, with the nature of these structurings being determined by the nature of the relation existing between unprojected consciousness and object of attention. We found this relationship to pass from one of sheer disconnectedness to one of a high degree of involvement, and each stage in this progression was seen to represent different forms of attention and varying degrees of those forms. That is, we passed from unordered attention - the most rudimentary of its forms - through executive attention, to interrogative attention - the most intellectual of its forms.

This theory does not support the claim that attention is itself some conscious process that is sui generis. On the other hand, it does support my contention against the position taken by Ryle in those of his works I have been discussing, that attention may sometimes require the co-operation of several activities, and is not always confined to the manner in which a single activity is practised. Interrogative attention is particularly relevant in this connection. As I have argued, in interrogative attention unprojected consciousness and object of attention are united in a single relevancy system. A particular instance of this is the existence of a 'master-idea' in unprojected consciousness, which directs and determines the sort of attention given and the type of object singled out. 177 Such a master-idea itself only comes to be an element in unprojected consciousness, however, in virtue of some additional activity - whether it be thinking, or image formation - that produces it. Interrogative attention, therefore, provides a counter-instance to the simple adverbial theory of attention. A reductive analysis of attention in terms of performing a task in a certain manner, covers only some cases. In others, attention can only occur if two or more activities work in harness.

-page 207-

This supplementation of the Rylean adverbial account of attention allows us to find a place for a feature of attention that would receive no recognition on the unamended account. If one function of an attentive activity is to sustain a state of awareness, then that function is served when the activity in question is practised heedfully. But once the awareness is kept in being it is possible to pay attention to one or more of its features without the sustaining activity undergoing any alteration. For example, I keep a picture in view by keeping my eyes on it and my looking at it is an attentive activity which, if successful, will result in my continued visual awareness of the picture. But now it is perfectly possible for me to pay attention to features of the picture within my field of vision without adjusting the focus of my eyes (it is hard to do this, but possible). That being the case it seems that we have an instance of attention here which comes on top of the attentive activity and is not reducible to it. It looks as though there is a type of attention which has nothing to do with bodily activity at all, although it presupposes it (in order to keep the awareness in being).

However, on my account we can understand this seemingly purely mental type of attention in terms of the concomitant performance of additional activities. In particular we can explain the attention given to one feature within the constant visual field in preference to another in terms of the activity of thinking about the one feature rather than the other, or in terms of the presence of a master-idea directing attention to one feature rather than the other. Our position is then saved due to the fact that the thinking in question has itself been argued to be dependent upon bodily activity. Thus this interesting apparently negative case can be brought under the adverbial theory only on condition it is amended include concomitant interrelated activities. 178

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Footnotes

177. See above, p. 120.
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178. I am grateful to Mr. John Schumacher for drawing my attention to the need to argue for this point.
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