Analytical Philosophy as a branch of philosophy has taken many forms, positive and negative, but there are two very influential forms which, in different ways break with the thread of continuity or what I shall call “the thread of philosophical tradition” that stretches from the Pre-Socratic philosophers to Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Kant, and the later Wittgenstein and all of their followers throughout the ages. Ironically, both these discontinuities manifested themselves in the twentieth century ( what Hannah Arendt called in 1949 “this terrible century”). The first discontinuity was logical atomism that attempted to use the principles of set theory and mathematical logic to generate “atoms” of sense data, objects, states of affairs, names and descriptions: all in the name of a concern or obsession with truth conditions that marginalised a number of traditional domains of philosophy that the “thread of the tradition” had been successfully including in its definition of philosophy as “the systematic understanding of the world as a systematic whole”. The second, discontinuity, logical positivism, born of the obsession of Science with the cloud of metaphysics hanging over theorizing, was more concerned with philosophical theories of meaning than truth and knowledge(the concern of the tradition). It too marginalized domains of philosophy where the major concern was with action, values and the many meanings of “the good”. These two tsunamis drenched and then drowned the hinterland of traditional philosophy with “logic” and “science”, flattening the philosophical landscape into atoms of debris. The major structures of ethics, aesthetics, philosophical psychology, political philosophy, philosophy of religion and metaphysics barely survived the flood and devastation. There were of course reactions and responses to the tsunami in the forms of phenomenology, existentialism, pragmatism, linguistic philosophy and the later Wittgenstein(whose earlier work had been part of the last phase of the tsunami). Some remaining structures and parts of structures are now in the process of being rebuilt in accordance with the principles of “the tradition”. Yet some of these responses were mere “reactions” to the tradition and manifested discontinuities of their own(Pragmatism, phenomenology, existentialism, instrumentalism). We explored some of these positions in part two of this essay. It was pointed out that the history of psychology and consciousness were also affected by a modernist revolution that Husserl had described in his work”The Crisis in the European Sciences. Psychology, having at the end of the 1800’s made the decision to ally itself with the forces of the tsunami that fundamentally affected how we thought about consciousness in the twentieth century, was left homeless when the flood waters finally receded. The so-called “crisis” of course had begun much earlier with the Philosophers Descartes and Hobbes who together succeeded in severing the thread of continuity leading back to Aristotle’s philosophy. Kant in his brilliant synthesis of empiricism and rationalism managed for a short time to rekindle interest in ethics, political philosophy and metaphysics. Hegel and Marx quickly neutralized these Kantian interests and Aristotle or rather the spirit of Aristotelianism was once again cut adrift(a spirit which naturally integrated logic, science, metaphysics, philosophical psychology, ethics, aesthetics, and rhetoric under one umbrella). It is difficult to identify the reasons why philosophy fragmented into the atoms of a logical/scientific epistemology. Perhaps the answer lies in the different characterizations of consciousness that have manifested themselves since the era of Descartes and Hobbes. This answer unfortunately merely raises another question concerning the fragmentation of the holistic perspective of the human being we inherited from Aristotelian and Kantian Philosophy.
We have illustrated some of the difficulties involved in abandoning a metaphysical approach to our existence in parts one and two of this essay. In this part, I wish to show firstly, how the epistemological project can result in a view of consciousness that does not constitute a break with tradition, and secondly how the “thread of tradition” views consciousness from a holistic philosophical perspective. In relation to the first goal we discuss the work of O Shaughnessy and in relation to the second, the work of P M S Hacker.
O Shaughnessy’s first work: “The Will: a dual aspect theory” was truly a metaphysical excursion into the philosophical territory of action and thought about action. He used this same combination of logic and metaphysics to analyze consciousness and its relation to the world in his work “Consciousness and the World”. In terms of the “thread of tradition” leading from Aristotle to Kant and thereafter to the work of the later Wittgenstein, much of what O Shaughnessy claimed about “experience” in the above work is consonant with the later work of Wittgenstein and the predecessors on the thread, namely Kant and Aristotle. Indeed his work is even consistent with what we have earlier referred to in this work as the two most fundamental imperatives issued by the Greek oracles in the name of Apollo: we are urged by these oracles to act in accordance with the principle “Nothing too much” and we are also urged to “know ourselves”. O Shaughnessy interestingly connects self-knowledge to consciousness and claims that this conscious self-awareness we have in our waking states is a necessary condition of viewing the world under “the aspect of the true” and rationally
Harari has claimed that a “cognitive revolution took place ca 70,000 years ago. An interesting question to ask in this context is whether he believes that this cognitive revolution was connected to consciousness as conceived above in terms of a self-awareness that is knowledge oriented. We questioned Harari’s conception of this “cognitive revolution” on two grounds. Firstly, the archaeological evidence gives very little support to Harari’s position that appears to be founded upon an over-interpretation of the significance of the find of the lion-man from Stadel dated 32000 years ago. Julian Jaynes(a researcher into the origins and nature of consciousness) in his work “The Origins of Consciousness in the breakdown of the bicameral mind” produced a veritable mountain of archeological evidence for the origins of consciousness being much much later, around 1200 bc. Secondly, Jaynes also produced linguistic evidence from both Homer and the Bible that suggested solving complex problems and thinking for oneself are key elements of consciousness. In contrast to the state of mind of men who fail to think independently and spontaneously when a new difficult to solve problem emerges, a skill or competence that these so-called bicameral men appear not to possess. Jaynes is referring to practical problems that are skill related and appears to be committed to this kind of problem in contrast to O Shaughnessy who claims that the epistemological function of consciousness lies closer to its constitution.
There is, however, an interesting shift in paradigm between the fundamental claims of William James, the American pioneer in the field of Psychology and Consciousness, and Jaynes. There is no definition of learning in James’ “Principles of Psychology” whilst Jaynes appears to be using a traditional Psychological definition: “The acquisition of knowledge, habits or skills as a result of study, being taught by others or experience”. James may well argue in response to this criticism that his account focuses on the conditions and consequences of the phenomenon of learning which does not require definition once the mechanisms involved have been revealed. Learning, that is, may require analysis in terms of conditions and consequences. The consequences of learning are evident in Jaynes’s definition, namely knowledge, skills, and habits but it must be pointed out in the light of the above point that James avoids the epistemological theme of knowledge and concentrates instead on practical skills and habits(for reasons given in part one). James then attempts to discuss habit in the context of a so-called stream of experience and surprisingly claims that habit aims to diminish the role of consciousness in the stream:
“If an act requires for its execution a chain ABCDEFG etc of successive nervous events, then in the first performances of the action the conscious will must choose each of these events from a number of wrong alternatives that tend to present themselves: but habit brings it about that each event calls up its own appropriate successor without any alternative offering itself, and without any reference to the conscious will, until at last the whole chain ABCDEFG rattles itself off as soon as A occurs just as if A and the rest of the chain was fused into a continuous stream.”(James Principles of Psychology, vol 1, p114)
This discussion reinforces James’ practical definition of consciousness given in part one, his definition relating to the intelligent choice of ends and means to ends, but it also focuses on a kind of energy regulation principle that appears to aim at regulating the amount of energy expended by consciousness in the choice of the best alternative. This is, indeed an interesting hypothesis: the power of consciousness is in a sense too powerful in its generation of alternatives and needs to select the one which will facilitate an efficient stream of events constituting either a knowing that something is the case, a habit or a skill. The selection of the correct alternative is obviously an occurrent act and an expression of a power or disposition of consciousness. If for some reason one is unable to solve the problem that has arisen, the inability to choose from a large number of alternatives will cause anxiety. Jaynes’ account appears not to agree with James’ position that consciousness is an occurrent operation of selection of ends and means to ends. According to Jaynes:
“As we saw earlier in the performance of skills, so, in the learning of skills, consciousness is indeed like a helpless spectator, having little to do. A simple experiment will demonstrate this fact. Take a coin in each hand and toss them both, crossing them in the air in such a way that each coin is caught in the opposite hand. This you can learn in a dozen trials. As you do, ask, are you conscious of everything you do? Is consciousness necessary at all? I think you will find that learning is much better described as being “organic” rather than conscious. Consciousness takes you into the task, giving you the goal to be reached. But from then on…it is as if the learning is done for you.”(“Origins of Consciousness…p33).
So, consciousness is not involved in choosing means to ends generally but perhaps only the first in the chain of means leading to an end. But how, then, should we characterize consciousness?:
“Subjective conscious mind is an analogue of what is called the real world. It is built up with a vocabulary or lexical field whose terms are all metaphors or analogs of behaviour in the physical world. Its reality is of the same order as mathematics. It allows us to shortcut behavioural processes and arrive at more adequate decisions. Like Mathematics it is an operator rather than a thing or repository. And it is intimately bound up with volition and decision.”(p55)
Jaynes then elaborates upon this point by exemplifying how we refer to mental events with visual metaphors that refer to a posited mind space rather than real space:
“We “see” solutions to problems, the best of which may be “brilliant”…we can “approach” a problem, perhaps from some “viewpoint” and “grapple” with its difficulties, or seize together or “com-prehend” parts of a problem…using metaphors of behaviour to invent things to do in this metaphorical mind-space.”
There are a number of characteristics of this mind-space. Firstly we spatialize even elements that are not essentially spatial, e.g. time: a hundred years is, for example, spread out on a time-line extending from left to right. Secondly, we excerpt or select certain aspects of a total experience to best represent or symbolize that experience: e.g. the images of a trapeze artist or clown symbolize “the circus”. Thirdly, we symbolize ourselves by a so-called “analogue I” which can move about in this metaphorical world. Fourthly, if we catch glimpses of ourselves doing what we have not actually done(so-called autoscopic images) this is referred to by Jaynes as a “metaphorical me”. In this so-called metaphorical world, it is possible one presumes for this analogue I to converse with this metaphorical me and thus provide some foundation for the Greek idea of thinking as a kind of dialogue with oneself. Fifthly, we narratise everything we experience into a story which in its turn is then also used to assimilate new events and give meaning to them. In this story we also attribute causes, real or fictional, to explain our actions or what happens to us. We can also use narratisation to attribute causes of events we experience that might have only peripheral significance in our lives, e.g. a child crying in the street may be characterized in a narrative as being “lost” and being searched for by parents. Sixthly, we assimilate events which look similar into schemes we have formed on the basis of previous experience.
The hypothesis here appears to be that consciousness has an intimate relation to language which, if true, suggests that consciousness is an emergent phenomenon based on a certain complex use of language where many other capacities are also involved. Given that Jaynes has suggested that consciousness is related to the cortex of the brain and we know that language is so related we are then provided with an interesting triangle of factors: the brain, consciousness, and language. Jaynes is however convinced that both language and consciousness are cultural entities that may require the substrate of the cortex as a condition of its operation but which cannot finally be reduced to functions of the brain. In his controversial but interesting thesis of a bicameral mind preceding the advent of consciousness Jaynes uses the hemispherical structure of the brain to situate a voice in the right half of the brain telling a listener in the left half what should be done. He speaks of the Myceneans for example who, he argues, possessed none of the 6 “characteristics” of consciousness mentioned above. When these bicameral people engaged in planning, initiating or willing anything, no consciousness was involved: a voice tells them in a friendly way what to do in a hallucination. According to Jaynes, these individuals had no mind-space in which to think about what they were experiencing or debate with themselves(the analogue “I” and the metaphorical “me”) what they ought or ought not to do. They could not even assimilate events into a narrative(but perhaps the voices they heard were from gifted individuals who possessed a more or less developed form of the narrative ability). In this context, it is of interest to note two things. Firstly, it is recorded in Plato’s dialogues that Socrates was once seen standing in the same spot in a trance-like state for a considerable amount of time “consulting” with his daemon. Secondly by the time we get to the period of Aristotle, people “hearing voices” were regarded with suspicion. These two events would fit in well with Jaynes’ thesis that mankind had only relatively recently become conscious beings. The Achilles of the Iliad is indeed a strange being in modern eyes and he only becomes heroic if we endow him with the characteristics of consciousness. And yet he is a being that could perform complex deeds(with the help of the voices of his gods, of course) In order to understand how Achilles could accomplish the complex feats in battle that he did(without being a conscious being), Jaynes asks us to imagine driving a car and having a conversation simultaneously. The latter activity would be occurring in my mind space and in that space, I would be debating with myself or conceiving of alternative responses but in the case of the former activity of driving, that would be occurring sub-consciously and involve a myriad of complex decisions that I am not conscious of making. It is thus that the Myceneans and Achilles carried out their complex tasks, being jolted anxiously out of the state of circumspection by unforeseen circumstances and being forced to stand and wait like Socrates for the voice to appear out of the mists of anxiety and confusion. In this context, Jaynes points out the power the voice has to command obedience. He uses both phenomenological arguments and etymological evidence, pointing out that hearing, as something experienced has not merely a cognitive significance but also a subjective significance such that to hear someone say something in imperative form is to be inclined to obey. The etymological evidence investigates the root of the word obedience in a number of prominent languages. The word originates from the Latin obedire which in its turn is a combination of “ob which is to face someone and audire which is to hear them.
Consider in addition the strangeness of the fact that there is no one facing you or who can be seen, merely a disembodied voice. In such circumstances to hear was to obey.
Jaynes also produces brain research support to support his hypothesis that consciousness evolved culturally. Language in conscious man is located in the left hemisphere(in the temporal and frontal lobes) but every other function is controlled and registered bilaterally in both hemispheres. Could it be, Jaynes asks, that the language function was once also bilateral and that the temporal lobe of the right hemisphere was the source of a voice carried over to the left hemisphere by the anatomical structure known as the anterior commissure? Jaynes points out that stroke patients who have sustained serious damage to the left hemisphere can still understand language using the right hemisphere and moreover can obey commands to retrieve objects with their left hands. Wilder Penfield’s studies on epileptic patients also revealed that electrical stimulation of the right hemisphere produced voices. Jaynes also produces evidence from a theory of evolution of language that he presents and he claims that the changes in language used the plasticity of the brain to perceive and attend to the environment in different ways. In this theory of the evolution of language he posits the first sentence to be an imperative and to have occurred between 25000 and 15000 bc, to be followed by thing nouns (corresponding to the time in which animal paintings were appearing in caves), the age of names of people between 10000 and 8000 bc(corresponding to the time of the emergence of agriculture and towns).
All of these reflections make it abundantly clear that for Jaynes, consciousness is not a genetically caused phenomenon but rather a culturally created phenomenon that was perhaps partly brought about by the advent of writing and a series of environmental catastrophes. It was this cultural development of language which then helped to form a mind space, an analogous I, a metaphorical me, symbolic consciousness, and a narratization function that turned life into a story.
But, one can wonder whether all this is typical of our consciousness that appears to abandon narratives in favour of more academically structured forms of discourse. The Greek philosophers and the thread of tradition looked upon the truth and knowledge function of language as a very important aspect of the relation of our consciousness to the world. If we follow this Ariadne-like thread out of the Greek cave and into modern times we encounter the work mentioned above, “Consciousness and the world” by Brian O Shaughnessy that attempts to do justice to a more philosophical answer to the question “What is consciousness”, an answer very different to the answers we have been given in the name of Psychology and Continental Philosophy(and very different to the concept Harari uses in his works).
O Shaughnessy states in the introduction to his work that a bridge of awareness extends between the mind and “the spatiotemporal scene of physical objects” and that since consciousness emerged at some point in the history of life-systems it can only be a supervenient contingent phenomenon for which there cannot be scientific criteria. This fact does not, however, prevent there from being what he calls psychological assumptions that explain behavioural phenomena. This contact with reality–this awareness is clearly based on the power knowledge has to generate explanations that are not descriptive in the way narratives are.
O Shaughnessy claims that a self-conscious being is acquainted with a general framework of the world which include individuation rules and explanations. There is, according to him, a tight circle of properties constituting the kind of consciousness possessed by self-conscious beings. These include the properties constituting the knowledge orientation of consciousness, namely the knowledge of self, time and the world as well as a rational capacity.
This is a long way from the characterization of consciousness in terms of narratization, analogues, metaphors, and symbols. Indeed the polarity of the entire investigation into the nature of consciousness seems to be reversed in this philosophical account: an account where veridical Perception of physical reality is going to play an important role in a final analysis that is going to arrive at the destination of the truth and knowledge orientation of consciousness. This, in turn, no doubt will resurrect the Aristotelian definition of man as a “rational animal capable of discourse” simply because the truth is intimately related to a rationality that knows what causes one’s beliefs and actions: i.e. one seeks to know the explanations and principles outlined in Aristotle’s Metaphysics. The truth and knowledge are also intimately bound up with the state of consciousness of awe and wonder at something existing rather than nothing: an essentially contemplative state of mind with metaphysical consequences: if by metaphysics is meant the Aristotelian search for first principles.
The correct analysis of visual experience will obviously play an important role in this analysis, an analysis that will involve the light emanating from the object and the sensation that arises and its special character of being caused by the light and simultaneously aware of its cause. This is most apparent, it is argued, when we awake in the morning and the light both floods in and “is noticed”. This is the basis of the thesis of perception being primarily extensional and only secondarily intensional. This means, O Shaughnessy argues that the core of perception in not interpretational and what is seen need not be seen “as” anything initially. This cannot but remind one of the Kantian ideas of how intuitions are related to concepts and thus to the categories of the understanding. In Kant, we find no analogical “I” or metaphorical “me” but we do find an “I think” which accompanies all representations. This “I think ” is also intimately related to the understanding, sensible intuitions, and reason. O Shaughnessy argues in this context that in this act of perception, the world casts its shadow on the mind as nowhere else. This is an important point. Consciousness, it is being argued, has both extensional and intensional objects given to it in the stream of experience in which there are non-interpretational mental objects side by side with mental phenomena that are interpretational. The stream of consciousness here has consciousness as its condition.
This division between what is extensional and what is intentional in the stream of experience is important. Thinking intensionally puts us in a certain sense at a psychic distance from the world. It is pointed out in this context that the animal cannot think intensionally given the fact that it is tied to its environment and an extensional form of perceiving, in the way a goat is tied to a post.
It is clear that on this account the function of perception in the human form of self-consciousness is cognition. The combination of the “I think” and the intuitive representation(to use Kantian terminology) involves conceptualization of the particulars of the visual field. This conceptualization rests upon knowledge of certain truths but conceptualization and a propositional understanding of reality should not be confused even if the one is a necessary condition of the other. Pre-propositional understanding and perception combine to produce an interpretational order that is constituted of a chain of phenomena before the physical object actualizes at its end.
“We desire to know” is one of the most important opening claims of Aristotle’s “Metaphysics”. In this work, In the course of a search for first principles, he produces a classification system of 4 kinds of change, three principles, and four kinds of explanation that all together circumscribe the arena of knowledge. Knowledge, of course, is dispositional in contrast to the contents of consciousness that are occurrences or episodes. Knowings and reasonings can occur in the stream of consciousness as the actualization of “knowledge”, as can learnings, rememberings, believings, conceivings, feelings, emotings, perceivings, strivings. Conceivings and perceivings can combine to produce a knowing state. Imagine you witness the event of lightning striking a tree. On the above account, this is not one event in a complex self-conscious mind but three separate events: the lightning striking the tree, the sight of the lightning striking the tree, and the event of knowing that the lightning has struck the tree. This is because consciousness is truth-oriented. Here the insistence that “I know” is universal and would be valid for every normal witness of the event. Understanding will be involved in both the seeing and the knowing: in categorizing the lightning and the tree as well as the causal relationship between the two in a causal categorial judgment. There is nothing metaphorical or fictional about this judgment. One could, of course, take the lightning striking the tree as a symbolic or metaphorical manifestation of the anger of the gods and this indeed would be a kind of narratization of the kind Jaynes envisages. In terms of Aristotle’s theory, the Understanding and Reason will be involved in different ways depending upon whether the lightning destroys the tree or not. If destruction is the result we are dealing with a substantial kind of change: the destruction of an enduring form of life situated in space S at time T: there will be both material and efficient and perhaps also formal explanations of this change in our world.
This is the kind of account of consciousness we can expect from philosophy tied to the thread of tradition stretching back to Aristotle via Wittgenstein and Kant. This approach contests both the earlier dualistic and materialistic accounts that dominate our current thoughts. It is by no means complete however because what becomes apparent is that consciousness is not identical with the realm of the mind that is composed not just of those lower elements of physiological sensations which are best explained physiologically, and the intermediate realm of what O Shaughnessy refers to as “the psychological” realm, but also of a higher realm which for current purposes we can temporarily refer to as the realm of the “mental”. O Shaughnessy refers to it as the “mental- non-psychological”. This is the realm which is responsible for reasoning and explaining that appear to be more concerned with dispositions than occurrences( or what Gilbert Ryle in his work “The Concept of Mind” refers to as “episodes”). In this context of exploring the realm of the mind from its sensory base up to its intellectual apex of intellectual dispositions, we should return to the Kantian cognitive triangle mentioned earlier.
Perhaps the term “Power” used in relation to the term “agency” might be another interesting perspective the issues involved here. P. M. S. Hacker is understandably impatient with the term”consciousness” which he traces back to the modernist revolution that began with Descartes:
“The essence of the mind, Descartes argued, is thought: but he extended the concept of thought to include sensations felt(as if in parts of the body) perceptions(understood as seeming to see,hear, smell etc) mental images, cognitive and conative functions such as thinking(as normally understood) understanding, judging and believing(which he conceived of as acts of the will, not of the intellect) as well as feeling, emotions and desire. Thought included “everything which we are aware as happening within us insofar as we have awareness of it”. Hence thinking is to be identified here not merely with understanding, willing, imaging but also with sensory awareness. Thought was therefore defined in terms of consciousness and consciousness was assimilated to self-consciousness misconceived–that is, as that of which we are immediately aware within us”(Human Nature: The Categorical Framework, p242)
Hacker is not impressed with the French Cartesian revolution. He believes that the conception of consciousness that has arisen in this tradition is like a virus infecting all scholars in almost every field of investigation interested in the human condition. For him, it is quite clear that consciousness is a biological phenomenon connected to life. He appears in this respect to be a modern Aristotelian. Hacker’s account of thought is in terms of powers which being Aristotelian and Wittgensteinian, he does not hesitate to trace back to the power of language. He works with the Aristotelian definition of man’s human nature as being a rational animal capable of discourse and has much to say on the powers of animals compared to humans. Humans, according to Hacker is a result of the evolutionary process which produced a two-legged biped capable of locomotion and possing as a consequence the powers of speech and possibly, as a consequence of these and other important biological facts, the powers of rationality both theoretical and practical. Our knowledge includes a knowledge of good and evil and feelings of guilt and shame which are properties of the soul we possess. We share with animals the capacity of attention, perception and the states of consciousness of feeling contentment hunger, thirst, and pain. Animals can become conscious of these feelings but they are not capable of self-consciousness which entails the capacity or the power to reflect on everything we experience, everything we do or undergo. Animals can think about their behaviour, but we humans have a wider scope of thought which can reach further into the past and future. This power is expressed in our imaginative storytelling and our aesthetic activity. The scope of human thought also makes us historical beings with an autobiography and an awareness of our eventual death. Out of all of this emerges our gods and myths, our stories about the gods. Much of the difference between us and animals Hacker attributes to the fact that we are language-using animals.
This is the statement of a philosopher who philosophizes in accordance with a tapestry woven of what I have called “the thread of tradition”. It weaves the truths of William James, the Continental philosophers, Harari, Julian Jaynes, and O Shaughnessy into the tapestry, thus forming a picture of the mind that realizes the philosophical intentions of Aristotle, Kant, and Wittgenstein. O Shaughnessy, however, would be somewhat more sympathetic to the Cogito argument of Descartes and the idea of consciousness it presupposes which includes a certainty relating to one’s present experiences.
What needs to be done philosophically is the detailed work of establishing which powers build upon or are integrated with other powers. Does, for example, the faculty of the imagination belong to the sensible aspect of our minds or is it a part of our understanding? How does language relate to perception and to thought? How does language relate to consciousness? Are there levels of consciousness? We need to investigate and chart the properties of the realms of the vital, the psychological and the mental and relate them to the principles they depend upon. Freud and his three principles, the energy regulation principle, the pleasure-pain principle, and the reality principles may be relevant in such a discussion.
Until all the above conceptual confusions and fallacies are avoided and the above questions are answered we will not have a clear idea of what constitutes the cognitive domain of man’s mind and the role that consciousness plays in this domain. We do, however, have a good idea, thanks to the thread of tradition leading back to Aristotle’s Philosophical Psychology.