Consciousness: The transcendentalist manifesto

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Abstract

Phenomenal consciousness, what it is like to have or undergo an experience, is typically understood as an empirical item – an actual or possible object of consciousness. Accordingly, the problem posed by phenomenal consciousness for materialist accounts of the mind is usually understood as an empirical problem: a problem of showing how one sort of empirical item – a conscious state – is produced or constituted by another – a neural process. The development of this problem, therefore, has usually consisted in the articulation of an intuition: no matter how much we know about the brain, this will not allow us to see how it produces or constitutes phenomenal consciousness. Developing a theme first explored by Kant, and then later by Sartre, this paper argues that the real problem posed by phenomenal consciousness is quite different. Consciousness, it will be argued, is not an empirical but a transcendental feature of the world. That is, what it is like to have an experience is not something of which we are aware in the having of that experience, but an item in virtue of which the genuine (non-phenomenal) objects of our consciousness are revealed as being the way they are. Phenomenal consciousness, that is, is not an empirical object of awareness but a transcendental condition of the possibility of there being empirical objects of awareness.