The Subject of Consciousness
© C.O. Evans

Chapter 7

Bodily Existence - 7.1.3
[table of contents]  [previous]  [next]

[3]My claim that the self-approach and the persons-approach complement each other receives some support from an interesting passage in Individuals in which one can interpret Strawson as feeling his way toward a type of backing to his theory which the one I have constructed attempts to make explicit. He is concerned with the question 'How is the concept of a person possible?' and, in elaboration of the question, part of what he has to say is this:

For when we have acknowledged the primitiveness of the concept of a person, and, with it, the unique character of P-predicates, we may still want to ask what it is in the natural facts that makes it intelligible that we should have this concept, and to ask this in the hope of a non-trivial answer, i.e., in the hope of an answer which does not merely say: "Well, there are people in the world." I do not pretend to be able to satisfy this demand at all fully. But I may mention two very different things which might count as beginnings or fragments of an answer.

First, I think a beginning can be made by moving a certain class of P-predicates to a central position in the picture. They are predicates, roughly, which involve doing something, which clearly imply intention or a state of mind or at least consciousness in general, and which indicate a characteristic pattern, or range of patterns of bodily movement, while not indicating at all precisely any very definite sensation or experience. 197

It would not be claiming too much, I submit, to describe the enquiry I have undertaken as one of discovering what there is 'in the natural facts' in virtue of which we are selves, and accordingly, which makes it intelligible that we should have the concept of a

-page 229-

person. It is interesting, too, to see what Strawson takes to be a first step in this direction. He suggests moving a certain form of consciousness 'to a central position in the picture': namely the consciousness exhibited in action. There are two points of significance here. (a) Strawson is unable to escape according primacy to consciousness, and (b) he selects those forms of consciousness that are connected with bodily movement, as being the most likely to make the concept of a person intelligible. It can thus be seen that the direction in which Strawson looks to an answer is remarkably close to the one I have taken. We agree on the position of 'consciousness in general', and we agree on the importance of bodily movement. We disagree only on the type of bodily movement involved. Strawson has in mind the type found in certain kinds of action: he lists 'going for a walk', 'coiling a rope', 'playing ball', 'writing a letter'. By contrast I turn to the bodily activities displayed in sense perception. Once again the contrast between action and activity is in evidence.

[table of contents]  [previous]  [next]


197. Strawson, Individuals, p. 111.
back to text