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Tuesday, October 20, 2015


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1 Consciousness is not a thing in that it has no qualitative nature and no inhabitants. There are only its objects. In itself t is nothing.” In “The Refutation of Idealism,” Moore argued that “[T]he moment we try to fix our attention on consciousness and to see what, distinctly, it is, it seems to vanish: it seems as if we had before us a mere emptiness. When we try to introspect the sensation of blue, all we can see is the blue: the other element is as if it were diaphanous”(The Refutation of Idealism,” 25). “In general,” he wrote, “that which makes the sensation of blue a mental fact seems to escape us: it seems, if I may use a metaphor, to be transparent – we look through it and see nothing but the blue” (The Refutation of Idealism,” 20)..

2. The picture “neither excludes nor includes” consciousness in the sense that consciousness is not a thing that can be included or excluded. Compare “The furniture in the house neither excludes nor includes the Big Bang theory.

3. You say, “I also grant that empirical matters should be left to empirical scientists. But that does not change the fact that consciousness in Butchvarov's Sartrean sense is involved when a man sees a tree or imagines a tree or remembers a tree.” I agree. In addition to biology, psychology, and linguistics, which I mentioned in the previous reply, there is also phenomenological description, which is not so different from the introspective psychology of James, Wundt, and Titchener. They explicitly relied on experience, often in collaboration with others, sometimes in “laboratories.” (See page 3 of Anthropocentrism in Philosophy.)

What biology tell us about imagining a tree clearly is not enough. There is also one’s being aware of a tree, not of a mental image of a tree (as Sartre pointed out in his books on the imagination). But I question focusing on the awareness and attempting to say anything useful about it. I don’t think it is an item or a thing. One need not go to Sartre or Heidegger for this view. Moore had defended it in his “Refutation of Idealism.” (Notice that we are far more comfortable using in this example “aware” rather than “conscious.”)

What phenomenology or introspective psychology and biology would tell us about imagination clearly would not be the same as what it would tell us about memory, sense perception, emotion, etc. This is why I said that a complete answer to your original question would require a whole book or several books. It really would be a scientific project, because the data are empirical.


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