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The Australian National University

Bruin Christensen (ANU): Consciousness, Self-Consciousness and Essential Indexicality

Date and time

Tue, 17th Feb 2015 - 4:00pm


Coombs Seminar Room B

Dan Zahavi argues for a Sartrean conception of consciousness which he regards as endorsed by numerous other thinkers in the phenomenological tradition and as superior to both contemporary “higher-order” and “one-level” (neo-)Brentanian conceptions. As Zahavi points out, all three conceptions—the ostensibly phenomenological, the “higher-order” and the Brentanian—assume that consciousness is to be explicated as a form of self-awareness. Only under this assumption, thinks Zahavi, can one endorse the thesis deriving from Nagel that a psychological state or experience is conscious only if there is something it is like to be in this state or experience. For according to Zahavi there being something it is like to be in a certain psychological state or experience implicates the givenness of something to the subject, hence what Zahavi calls the dative status of the subject.
I argue that one can accommodate, at least for conscious perceptual experience, the intuition which leads Zahavi to speak of givenness and the dative status of the subject without endorsing the thesis that consciousness is a form of self-consciousness (which I regard as implausible and for which Zahavi has no good argument). I do this by extracting what I take to be the real lessons implicit in Perry’s deliberations about essential indexicality: essential anaphora and essential spatial demonstrativeness. These two notions, taken as capturing the structure of distinctively perceptual intentional content, permit an account of conscious perceptual experience which allows one to construe what it is like to undergo such experience in a way which does not entail any kind of self-awareness.

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