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The Unity of Consciousness Discussion The Unity of Consciousness Discussion The Unity of Consciousness Discussion The unity of consciousness was a main concern of most philosophers in what is often called the ‘classical modern era’ (roughly, 1600 to 1900), including Descartes, Leibniz, Kant, Hume (in a way; see below), Reid, Brentano, and James. Consider a classical argument of Descartes’ for mind-body dualism. It starts like this: When I consider the mind, that is to say, myself inasmuch as I am only a thinking thing, I cannot distinguish in myself any parts, but apprehend myself to be clearly one and entire. [Descartes 1641: 196] Descartes then asserts that if the mind is not made of parts, it cannot be made of matter because anything material has parts. He adds that this by itself would be enough to prove dualism, had he not already proven it elsewhere. Notice where it is that I cannot distinguish any parts. It is in “myself inasmuch as I am only a thinking thing” (ibid.); that is, in myself as a whole—which requires unified consciousness of myself as a whole. The claim is that this subject, the target of this unified consciousness, is not a composite of parts. In Kant (1781/7), the notion that consciousness is unified is central to his ‘transcendental deduction of the categories’ (see the entry on Kant’s view of the mind and consciousness of self for a fuller treatment of Kant). There Kant claims that in order to tie various objects of experience together into a single unified conscious experience of the world, we must be able to apply certain concepts to the items in question. In particular, we have to apply concepts from each of four fundamental categories of concept: quantitative, qualitative, relational, and what he called ‘modal’ concepts. Kant’s attempt to link the unity of consciousness to the structure of knowledge continues to capture the imaginations of philosophers: Arguments of this form can be found in P. F. Strawson (1966), Cassam (1996), Hurley (1994, 1998) and Revonsuo (2003), and are examined critically in Section 7.3 and in Brook (2005). Kant was familiar with arguments of the kind that we just saw Descartes mount (chiefly from similar reasoning in Leibniz and Mendelssohn) but he was not impressed. For Kant, that consciousness is unified tells us nothing about what sorts of entity minds are, including whether or not they are made out of matter (1781, chapter on the Paralogisms of Pure Reason). He argues that the achievement of unified consciousness by a system of components acting together would be no more or less mysterious than its being achieved by something that is simple, i.e., has no components (1781: A352). Click here to ORDER an A++ paper from our Verified MASTERS and DOCTORATE WRITERS: The Unity of Consciousness Discussion Leibniz, Hume, Reid, Brentano, and James held a variety of positions on unity. Briefly, for Leibniz (see the entry on Leibniz’s philosophy of mind) unified consciousness and the noncompositeness, the indivisibility that he took to be required for it seem to have served as his model of a monad, the building block of all reality. With Hume (1739), things are more complicated. It should have The Unity of Consciousness Discussion followed from his atomism that there is no unified consciousness, just “a bundle of different perceptions” ([1739] 1962: 252). Yet, in a famous appendix, he says that there is something he cannot render consistent with his atomism (p. 636). He never tells us what it is but it may have been that consciousness strongly appears to be more than a bundle of independent ‘perceptions’. Reid (1785), almost an exact contemporary of Kant’s, made extensive use of the unity of consciousness, among other things to run Descartes’ argument from unity to indivisibility the other way around. Brentano (1874) argued that all the conscious states of a person at a time will and perhaps must be unified with one another. (He combined this view with another strong thesis, that all mental states are conscious.) Finally, late in the 19th century James developed a detailed treatment of synchronic (or ‘at a time’) unity of consciousness. We will discuss his view later (see also entries on David Hume, Thomas Reid, Franz Brentano, and William James). Early in the 20th century, the unity of consciousness almost disappeared from the research agenda. Logical atomism in philosophy and behaviourism in psychology had little to say about the notion. Logical atomism focussed on the atomic elements of cognition (sense data, simple propositional judgments, protocol sentences, etc.), rather than on how these elements are tied together to form a mind. Behaviourism urged that we focus on behaviour, the mind being either a myth or at least something that we cannot and do not need to study in a science of the human person. One partial exception to this pattern of neglect was Gestalt psychology. Indeed, Gestalt psychology was sufficiently influential in its time that some positivists tried to make their systems compatible with it (Smith 1994: 23). For instance, Carnap chose to avoid any commitment to atoms of experience as the elements of his system, opting instead for ‘total experiences’. As we will see, a notion similar to his concept of irreducible experiential wholes can be fruitful (Section 7.4). However, Carnap seems to have had something rather different in mind from what philosophers now have in mind when they speak of the unity of consciousness. Gestalt unity is a unity in a structure of which one is conscious, where the way in which each part appears is derived from the structure of the whole (Tye 2003: 11–5; Bayne & Chalmers 2003: 27). This is distinct from unity in one’s consciousness of objects, objects that need not themselves exhibit the qualities of gestalt structures. Order Now