The Subject of Consciousness
© C.O. Evans

Chapter 7

Bodily Existence - 7.1.2
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[2] I now want to suggest that we have reached a transition at which the sort of quasi-body we have described is none other than the sort of quasi-body we have: a visible non-metamorphosing quasi-body with a comparatively fixed appearance. But the crucial point to realize is that we have as yet no logical reason for thinking that the quasi-body in question is a real body as opposed to a phantom body. It should be evident on reflection that everything I have said about bodily activity can be understood as applying to a phantom body, and that as far as the self-approach is concerned we are not entitled to assume that we have real bodies as opposed to phantom bodies. Obviously the phantom sense-organs of a phantom body would perform the same function as real sense-organs, and they equally make possible the activities on which, as I have argued, the continuousness of consciousness depends. It follows that a self possessing a phantom body would have the same experience of persisting through time that we have.

I am claiming that if we confine ourselves to the self-approach we

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would have no means of knowing that we have real bodies rather than phantom bodies, but two considerations may be suggested which appear to cast doubt on this claim. In the first place, it might be objected that a being with a phantom body would lack many of the types of experience we have because of the type of body we have. But this point can be conceded since it carries no weight. Although we would have no reason to attribute to a being with a phantom body the appetites and attendant bodily sensations which we attribute to the nature of our real bodies, it is not logically impossible for a being with a phantom body to have such appetites and bodily sensations. It would be perfectly possible to locate such bodily sensations in a phantom body. Failure to recognize this was the flaw in Ayer's argument that a (physical) body could be picked out by locating a particular bodily sensation within it. 193 As I pointed out, such location could not ensure the identification of a real body as opposed to a phantom body as far as the subject himself was concerned.

In the second place, it might be thought that a major factor which would differentiate a phantom body from a real body would be the inability of a self possessing a phantom body to act on its surroundings. Thus it might be suggested that a phantom body would lack the capability of physical agency; i.e. it might walk through walls, but be unable to move chairs and comparable objects about. But this objection fails too. It is not logically impossible for such a phantom body to possess the capability of physical agency even though it might contravene the laws of nature. However, at this point we are introducing issues which are strictly beyond the domain of the self-approach: we are concerning ourselves with explanations of the possible capabilities of various types of quasi-body, and such explanations are not the province of the self-approach.

We thus reach the position that as far as the self-approach is concerned we could not say that we ourselves have anything but phantom bodies. That is to say, the experience of being a self would be no different whether our quasi-body turned out to be a real body or a phantom body. This conclusion needs no argument, since I have now made it analytically true.

What happens when we try to make the next transition? Obviously the next transition is the last and most concrete of all. It is the one in which the quasi-body gets identified in terms of the

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substance of which it is composed. In our case it is the transition to the real body: a body of flesh and blood. We at once see an interesting result: the transition to a real body cannot be made from the standpoint of the self-approach, for as has just been noted that approach confines us to thinking in terms of quasi-bodies. We are driven to conclude that the transition to the corporeal body is a move that must be made on the persons-approach. We can express this by saying that according to the persons-approach we must take our bodily activities to be those of a real (corporeal) body. That is to say, we have no incorrigible knowledge of what sort of quasi-bodies we have, although we have incorrigible knowledge that we have quasi-bodies. The move from a quasi-body to a real body must be based on evidence and as such the question whether we have real bodies is a theoretical one. It follows that the transition from a quasi-body to a real body cannot be made on the self-approach. To make that transition is the undertaking of the persons-approach which is concerned with the question 'What must we take the self to be?' In short, what from the standpoint of the self-approach is a quasi-body is from the standpoint of the persons-approach a real (corporeal) body. The rightness of this conclusion is attested to by the fact that only from the latter standpoint is it important to be concerned about those properties which real bodies possess and which may be lacking in other types of quasi-body. It is only because of the demands of referential identification that it is important that we have real bodies rather than phantom bodies.

I explained in the introductory chapter why it was that the persons-approach found it so important to determine whether bodily identity was a necessary - if not a sufficient - condition of personal identity. We can now appreciate why the persons-approach is logically compelled to make the transition from the stage in which the self is conceived as having a quasi-body (i.e. the conclusion of the self-approach) to the one in which it is conceived as having a real body. The reason is that for the purposes of the self-approach the quasi-body need not be visible to other perceivers, or if it is visible to them it need not have the spatio-temporal continuity which is necessary if successful re-identification is to occur.

It is worth remarking just what the persons-approach does demand of a body. It must demand that it is real in the sense that it has a continuous spatio-temporal history, that it is visible and of fairly permanent form such that a body can be identified and reidentified as the same again. Obviously any physical body would

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satisfy these requirements. The body could as well be constructed with the materials of which computers are made as have the soft cellular construction they in fact have. This should make us aware that the question of the composition of bodies - real bodies - is as little the concern of the persons-approach as it is that of the self-approach. It follows that the developing view of scientists about the nature of bodies are as little threat to our philosophical concept of human bodies as are their theories about the nature of matter to our philosophical concept of a material object. All that the persons-approach need insist upon is that the body must have the properties of a basic particular, and the possibility remains that even a phantom body could constitute a basic particular. It is therefore an entirely contingent matter that the only actual bodies we know of (which belong to the type of selves of which we have native knowledge) happen to be corporeal bodies. Thus, if we hope to keep in line with our knowledge of the world, we have little option but to identify what from the standpoint of the self-approach is a quasi-body, with what from the standpoint of the persons-approach is a corporeal body. If we go through parts of the body one by one, we may then identify the quasi-organs of sight with physical eyes, the quasi-organs of hearing with physical ears, and so on. It is then analytically true that we see with our organs of sight, but a synthetic truth that we see with our physical eyes. This is true also mutatis mutandis of the other senses.

This move is essentially the same as the one made on the Identity Thesis in terms of which mental events are claimed to be identical with brain processes. 194 The proponents of the Identity Thesis argue for what they call a 'contingent identity' between mental events and brain processes. The import of the notion of contingent identity is that identity of reference is not the same as identity of meaning. The argument then is that although we do not mean the same by the concepts of mental event and brain process, a particular mental event has as its referent a particular brain process. If we now carry over this idea to the problem of making the transition from a quasi-body to a corporeal body we can say that it consists in taking there to be a contingent identity between a quasi-body (of a certain sort) and a corporeal body. The same move can once again be made of the various parts of quasi-bodies and

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corporeal bodies, respectively. Thus, we would be claiming the existence of a contingent identity between the organ of sight and the physical eye, the organ of hearing and the physical ear, and so on. The basis for claiming such identity would be the discovery of the coincidence of location of the point of origin of the organ of sight and the physical eye. An additional basis is the fact that the sense-organ (understood conceptually) is impaired or destroyed when the physical organ is impaired or destroyed.

By adopting the theory of the contingent identity between quasi-body and corporeal body we arrive at the point at which the self-approach and the persons-approach mesh with each other. But even more important, by being able to see the corporeal body as a quasi-body we give ourselves a philosophically far more accurate understanding of the human body. From this standpoint the important thing about the body is not the material of which it is composed, nor yet is it its identificatory role, rather is it the ability it gives us to realize our human potentiality. As the concept of a quasi-body makes clear, the importance of the body is precisely that with it we are able to look, to listen, to feel, among our perceptual abilities, as well as to act, to register emotions, satisfy desires, and communicate with one another.

In other words, this perspective brings it home to us that the self-approach forces us to look upon the body as essentially active as constituted by related and interdependent bodily activities. It enables us to resist those theories of the relation between a self and a body which treat the body in an overly physical way. It gives us a natural corrective to the view once expressed by Ayer when he said:

I am, however, inclined to think that personal identity depends upon the identity of the body, and that a person's ownership of states of consciousness consists in their standing in a special causal relation to the body by which he is identified. 195

We must not forget when reading this remark that for Ayer there is no distinction between the problem of personal identity and the problem of self-identity. If we think of the body as if it were a quasi-body we would appreciate that any causal relation there may be between a self and a body is only one side of the picture. The other side of the picture is to think of the body as instrumental in

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our bodily activities, and ultimately, therefore, as the 'creator' of a persisting self. It may be remarked that we do not think of our bodies as physical objects except when we lose control over them. Even less do we think of them as physical processes or events. Philosophers come to think of the body in these terms because the persons-approach now holds the field as the only legitimate point of view. Thus the only questions that are raised about the body - i.e. is it a necessary or is it even a sufficient condition of personal identity - is one that can be answered quite happily by treating the body purely as a physical object.

This point is well illustrated by the following passage of Strawson's in which the role of bodily activity in perception is completely in abeyance:

Consider merely some of the ways in which the character of a person's perceptual experience is dependent on facts about his own body. Let us take his visual experience. The dependence is more complicated and many-sided than may at first be obvious. First, there is that group of empirical facts of which the most familiar is that if the eyelids of that body are closed, the person sees nothing. To this group belong all the facts known to ophthalmic surgeons. Second, there is the fact that what falls within his field of vision at any moment depends in part on the orientation of his eyes, i.e. on the direction his head is turned in, and on the orientation of his eyeballs in their sockets. And, third, there is the fact that where he sees from - or what his possible field of vision at any moment is depends on where his body, and in particular his head, is located. 196

Strawson goes on to argue, on the basis of these three facts, that although they demand that perceptual experience be dependent on a body, they do not logically demand that it be the same body for each of the three facts. But that argument is not my immediate concern. What I wish to draw attention to is Strawson's assumption that it is facts about a body that are relevant to the dependence of perceptual experience on bodies. He mentions such things as the eyes being open, the direction of the head, the orientation of the eyeballs, and the position seen from. The picture this conjures up is one of an inert body, 'set up' to face in the appropriate direction. The body is treated as though it were a piece of optical equipment.

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Given this assumption it makes sense when he goes on to consider the possibility that a perceiver may be dependent on three different bodies, A, B, and C, such that S (the perceiver) sees when A's eyes are open, but whether B and C's eyes are open is irrelevant; sees from the position of C, but not from that of A and B; sees when B's head and eyes are turned in a certain direction, but not when A's and B's are.

Now my objection to Strawson's argument is that he makes no mention of seeing as a result of looking, and in particular he makes no mention of seeing as a result of deliberately actuating one's body in the activity of looking. The facts Strawson mentions, about the eyes being open, the head facing a certain direction, etc., are necessary conditions of deliberately looking, but they are not sufficient conditions of the same. A person can have his eyes open, have his head orientated in a certain direction, and so forth, and yet not be looking at anything, or looking in any sense at all. He could be in a hypnotic trance in which he reports that he sees nothing. It is evident that Strawson leaves out of account the idea of the body as active in a more central sense than causally effective. Once we bring in the idea of 'looking' and the bodily actuation it involves, the artificiality of Strawson's problem becomes apparent.

Let us return to Strawson's example of the perceiver S whose visual perception depends on the co-operation of three bodies. We can at once ask, 'Which of the three bodies belongs to percipient S?' The answer must be that whatever choice we make will be arbitrary. But if we ask, 'Which of the three is looking?' the position is immediately different. We can find out which of the three is willing the looking: i.e., trying to look at this rather than that, taking steps to prevent an object from being lost sight of, and so forth. The one of which this is true, will be S. Therefore one body will still be uniquely the perceiver's body. If, however, S could directly will the movements of all three bodies, so that if S desired to look at an object, he could do so by willing A's eyes to be open and properly focused, willing B's appropriate head movements, and willing C's body to be in the right place, then Strawson would have to admit that the whole idea of a one to one correspondence between perceivers and bodies would have to be abandoned. It is evident that Strawson has failed to establish that the 'facts' of perception cannot themselves guarantee the requirement that each percipient be restricted to one body. His mistake is, I think, that of

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thinking of the body as a material object, instead of thinking of it as having the active role of a quasi-body.

I think my argument shows that it is wrong to concentrate on the physical facts if one is to establish a non-contingent connection between the concept of sense-experience and the concept of a body. To do so presupposes altogether too mechanical a conception of the relationship between the two. I hope I have succeeded in showing that the line I have adopted, of making the connection between sense-experience and the body depend on the connection between sense awareness and bodily activities, is a sounder one.

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Footnotes

193. See above, p. 163.
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194. See U. T. Place, 'Is Consciousness a Brain Process?' and J. J. C. Smart, 'Sensations and Brain Processes' both of which are printed in The Philosophy of Mind, ed. V.C. Chappell (Prentice Hall, 1962).
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195. A.J. Ayer, The Concept of a Person (London, 1963), p. 116.
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196. Strawson, Individuals, p. 90.
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