The Subject of Consciousness
© C.O. Evans

Chapter 7

Bodily Existence - 7.1.4
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[4] The relation I have sought to establish between bodily activity and state of awareness has relevance in a wider philosophical setting than I have yet considered. I shall conclude this study by touching on some of these wider issues.

In the Philosophy of Mind there is a tradition, which goes back to Brentano at least, according to which there exist mental acts or acts of awareness. Brentano himself tells us,

Every presentation (Vorstellung) of sensation or imagination offers an example of the mental phenomenon; and here I understand by presentation not that which is presented, but the act of presentation. Thus, hearing a sound, seeing a coloured object, sensing warm or cold, and the comparable states of imagination as well, are examples of what I mean. 198

We find the same view put forward by Moore:

To begin with, then: I see, I hear, I smell, I taste, etc.; I sometimes feel pains; I sometimes observe my own mental acts;

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I sometimes remember entities which I have formerly seen or heard, etc... All these things I do; and there is nothing more certain to me than that I do them all. And because, in a wide sense, they are all of them things which I do, I propose to call them all "mental acts". By calling them "acts" I do not wish to imply that I am always particularly active when I do them. No doubt, I must be active in a sense, whenever I do any of them. But certainly, when I do some of them, I am sometimes very passive. 199

This view finds adherents right down to the present day. It is a central tenet in the writings of Bergmann; 200 and the proposition that there are mental acts is defended in a recent book by R. Grossmann, a former student of his. As an example of a mental act Grossmann cites 'seeing a tree':

Consider, for example, the sentence "I see a tree"... The...sentence seems to mention three things - namely, a person, a tree, and a mental act of seeing. 201

Russell was one of the early opponents of the doctrine of mental acts. He stated the objection which many philosophers would now bring against it:

The first criticism I have to make is that the act seems unnecessary and fictitious. The occurrence of the content of a thought constitutes the occurrence of the thought. Empirically, I cannot discover anything corresponding to the supposed act: and theoretically I cannot see that it is indispensable. 202

While I am in agreement with Russell about this, I think my own analysis both explains why those philosophers in the Brentano tradition came to believe that there had to be such mental acts, and enables us to replace their analysis with a more satisfactory one. It must be obvious that I would deny that seeing, hearing, etc., are in any sense acts. I have classified them as states of awareness, and

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offered my reasons for so classifying them. I maintain quite categorically that Brentano, Moore, and Grossmann are wrong when they assert that seeing, hearing, etc., are acts. But Moore at least is right when he says that we do do something when we see, hear, or taste. Where he is wrong is in jumping to the conclusion that what we do is perform acts of seeing, hearing, or tasting. What we quite incontrovertibly are normally doing when retentively seeing, hearing, or tasting, is looking, listening, or tasting. It is only when a philosopher concentrates all his attention on consciousness itself that he is led to believe that what he is doing must be found within consciousness itself. The truth of the matter is that what I do when I claim to be doing something when perceiving is engage in the related bodily activity.

Thus it is true to say that I am doing something when for instance I see a tree: what I am doing is looking at it. However it is not the case either, that these philosophers have simply made the mistake of believing they had found a mental act when in reality what they had found was a bodily act. As I have argued, looking, and listening - the sorts of bodily doing in question - are not acts but activities. We may well wonder why the obvious source of our agency as perceivers should have been missed by these writers. I can only put it down to the fact that it was their chief concern to distinguish the mental from the physical. If the perceiver experienced a sense of agency, therefore, the agency had to be in the category of the mental if the distinction between the mental and the physical was to be upheld.

Of the passages quoted from Brentano, Moore, and Grossmann, Moore's is the most instructive because he finds himself in some embarrassment over the fact that he cannot say that he is particularly active when he performs these putative mental acts. As he remarks, 'When I do some of them, I am sometimes very passive.' This admission is most revealing. If Moore's 'mental acts' are in reality mental states, they would of necessity appear to be passive, since being in a state is an undergoing and not a doing.

The view I have been arguing for that seeing is not itself an act or an activity but can be a state sustained by an activity also provides a solution to a problem stated by Sibley. After giving his analysis of verbs of perception Sibley concludes with the observation that 'whether seeing is or is not describable as an activity needs to be reargued with reference to the occurrence uses of verbs. 203

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This remark makes it clear that his own analysis leaves the possibility open that seeing may turn out to be an activity after all. If my argument is correct we can say that this is definitely not the case: seeing is a state and the seeming aspect of the act that goes into it is provided for by the sustaining bodily activity called 'looking at'.

If the philosopher of perception confines his attention to the mental or inner experience of seeing, hearing, etc., he is driven to postulate some sort of mental act to account for the fact that our perceptual experiences are under our control - in the sense of whether we have them or not. Thus our analysis fully bears out and gives us further insight into the judgement passed by Hampshire when he says:

The deepest mistake in empiricist theories of perception, descending from Berkeley and Hume, has been the representation of human beings as passive observers receiving impressions from "outside" of the mind, where the "outside" includes their own bodies. 204
There is, however, a divergence between Hampshire's position and mine when we come to the remedy. For Hampshire it consists essentially in recognizing that the observer is an embodied observer who acts on his physical environment through direct bodily contact. As agents we manipulate physical objects which are external to our bodies by movements of our bodies. Thus:

I find myself from the beginning able to act upon objects around me. In this context to act is to move at will my own body, that persisting physical thing, and thereby to bring about perceived movements of other physical things. I not only perceive my body, I also control it; I not only perceive external objects, I also manipulate them. 205

Obviously nothing I have said about bodily activity conflicts with Hampshire's position. It could, as I have mentioned, be argued that a self with a quasi-body could not use it to manipulate physical objects even though he could use it in his perceiving. If this were so we have the best argument of all for the identification of our own bodies considered as quasi-bodies with corporeal bodies, since our

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ability to act on the things around us is an integral part of our experience of being selves. The difference between Hampshire's position and mine does not require of me that I deny anything he says about the involvement of the body in perception, it rather requires of him the recognition that there is a logical stage prior to the one he describes; namely, the stage in which we engage in those bodily activities involved in perception prior to our ability to act on our environment. That is to say, my view gives recognition to the fact that the precondition of the existence of a self is not the bodily contact we make with other objects, but the spontaneous bodily activities themselves which involve our moving parts of our own bodies independently of effecting any changes in the positions of other objects. If we think of the matter in terms of a child's development, it is clear that the child learns to stare, or to gape, and then it learns to follow the movements of objects, long before it learns to manipulate objects. In other words its earliest activities include the activity of unordered attention. Thus the child has the experience of being a self before it manages to push objects around. It is true that the child will as yet have no conception of himself, and Hampshire might be correct in thinking that he is describing some of the necessary conditions of developing such a conception of self, but I have nowhere claimed that the self-approach gives us a conception of ourselves: it only gives us the self in respect of which such a conception can be formed.

The differences between the position of the empiricists, Hampshire's position, and my own, can be loosely categorized in terms of the three varieties of attention with which I have been working. The empiricists may be looked upon as taking interrogative attention as their starting point, since in interrogative attention the involvement of bodily activity is at its least conspicuous and is consequently easily overlooked - as it is by them. Hampshire's position operates at the level at which executive attention comes into play; namely, when we are dealing with manipulative skills. As far as his account is concerned this level exhausts the role of the body in perception. My position goes back to the most rudimentary stage of all at which unordered attention operates. There we reach a stage of bodily involvement that is a precondition of any other type of bodily involvement, and there too we find a form of control over bodily activity which is a precondition of developing any other type of bodily control. Until we can control those of our movements which adjust the 'focus' of our sense-organs we cannot

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be capable of either executive attention or interrogative attention. We have, therefore, every reason to see such activities as the basic bodily activities such that the selves we experience ourselves as being are necessarily quasi-embodied. When we add stage two to this last stage we are compelled to take selves to be not merely quasi-embodied but really embodied.

I claimed in the introduction to be able to show that a view of the self could be constructed which was a via media between the Pure Ego Theory and the Serial Theory. The identification of the self with unprojected consciousness is just such a view. It gives us a self that is the subject of every experience and it gives us a self that in no way takes us beyond experience. The theory put forward in these pages is offered as an account of the experiential self. I also claimed that a theory of this sort was no threat to theories developed on the persons-approach. I have tried to show that the self of which we have native knowledge can be taken to be a self with a real body, and indeed that we have overpowering reasons for so taking it. In essence the enterprise I have just concluded should be viewed as an attempt to explain what the self is which has the experience of being a self and which takes itself to be a person.

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Footnotes

198. F. Brentano, 'The Distinction between Mental and Physical Phenomena', Psychologie vom empirischen Standpunkt, Vol. I, bk. II, ch. i. Reprinted in Realism and the Background of Phenomenology, ed. R.M. Chisholm (Illinois, 1960), p. 41.
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199. G.E. Moore, 'The Subject-Matter of Psychology', Proc Arist Soc., 1909-10, Reprinted in Body and Mind, ed. G.N.A. Vesey (London, 1964), p. 237.
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200. Cf. Bergmann, Meaning and Existence (Madison, 1960), p. 27 ff, and Logic and Reality (Madison, 1964).
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201. R. Grossmann, The Structure of Mind (Madison and Milwaukee, 1965), p. 39.
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202. B. Russell, The Analysis of Mind (London, 1921), pp. 17-18.
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203. Sibley, 'Seeking, Scrutinizing, and Seeing', p. 149.
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204. S. Hampshire, Thought and Action (London, 1959), p. 47.]
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205. Ibid., p. 47.
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