Senses of Self: Approaches to Pre-Reflective Self-Awareness

ProtoSociology Volume 36
Books on Demand (Verlag)
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  • erschienen am 11. Mai 2020
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  • 574 Seiten
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978-3-7519-3912-6 (ISBN)
This collection has its origins in four interdisciplinary workshops, one held annually at the Berlin School of Mind and Brain from 2010-2012 (Origins of Self-Consciousness I-III, Workshop on Pre-Reflective Self-Consciousness), and one at the Zentrum für interdisziplinäre Forschung (ZiF) in Bielefeld in 2013 (Self-Representationalism, Pre-Reflectivity, and Mental Impairment). This original interdisciplinary approach, especially the dialogue with neuroscientists and psychiatrists, has been retained in this collection. However, the collection has been enlarged by a number of solicited contributions that highlight special aspects of the core theme: self-consciousness.
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978-3-7519-3912-6 (9783751939126)
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Manfred Frank


Fifty years ago, Dieter Henrich wrote an influential little text on 'Fichte's Original Insight'. Seldom so much food for thought has been put in a nutshell. The essay, bearing such an unremarkable title, delivers a diagnosis of why two hundred years of penetrating thought about the internal structure of subjectivity have ended up so fruitless. Henrich's point was: Self-consciousness cannot be explained as the result of a higher-order act, bending back upon a first-order one, given that "what reflection finds, must already have been there before" (Novalis). Whereas Henrich's discovery had some influence in German speaking countries (and was dubbed the 'Heidelberg School'), it remained nearly unnoticed in the anglophone (and now dominant) philosophical world. This is starting to change, now that a recent view on (self-) consciousness, called 'self-representationalism', is beginning to develop and to discover its Heidelbergian roots.

I. History Part One: Instead of an Introduction

Unlike physical states, mental states, when occurring consciously, seem to have been "always already self-registered" (Henrich 1971, 12, 17).

Here we take up once again one of the oldest and most persistent intutions of occidental philosophy. Plato, in his early dialogue Charmides, considers whether prudence or soundness of mind (s?f??s???) doesn't by necessity imply a kind of self-knowledge (t? ?????s?e?? ?a?t??, 164 d, 165 b). He even wonders if this self-related knowledge is carried by our mind as something rather formal or as an additional objectual content (169 d ff., 170 d ff.) but doesn't come to a definite conclusion. Aristotle, however, emphasizes at various places in his work that psychic events may be called conscious just because, besides their external content, they always also co-apprehend themselves as the vehicle (De Anima III, 2, 425b, 12; Metaphysics ?, 9; cf. I,7. p. 1072, b 20; I,9, p. 1075 a, 3-6). Franz Brentano, a great authority in Aristotelian studies and founding-father of the phenomenological movement which he practiced as "descriptive psychology", famously adopted this formula and quotes it in many of his writings (cf. for instance, Brentano 1973, 185, n. 2). Now-a-days defenders of the shift-of-attention view translate Aristotle's ?? pa????? ("on the side", "along the way") by 'marginal' or 'peripheral' (for instance, Horgan & Kriegel 2007, 132). According to this view, an 'inner awareness', even though inattentive or implicit, is 'built into' every intentional consciousness, functioning like a dimmer which can be turned up in order to shed its full light upon the more obscured parts of the event. A view "out of the corner of one's eye" can thus be transformed into explicit "selfknowledge".

The older Stoa, above all Chryippos (3rd century BC), remained faithful to Plato's and Aristotle's intuition when finding an accompanying knowledge (s??e?d?s??) built into the survival instinct even of animals (Arnim 1964, III, Nr. 178, 138; Long & Sedley 1987, 2, 343 [text 57 A]). It would provide their "original urge or desire (p??t? ??µ?)" with some self-knowledge or rather self-feeling (l. c., 43 f.; the Latin "sensus sui", sense of self, just being a translation of the Greek "a?s??s?? ?a?t??"). In other words, this sense of self is responsable for the impulsion's being assigned to the right agent or acting subject. This appropriation is also labeled ???e??s?? (Arnim 1964 IV, 102; II, 206).

If there is little risk of disagreement over the existence of the phenomenon, philosophers widely disagree on the interpretation of the "registration mechanism". Most of them defend(ed) a higher-order view, this term just meaning a higher-order mental act's aiming at or registering a lower-order one. This view, far from being new, is widespread throughout the tradition of modern subject-philosophy. Let's call it the "reflection model" of consciousness. It takes the old latin verb reflectere literally and understands by 'consciousness' the outcome of our mind's turning back upon itself-with the result of rendering an otherwise unconscious event conscious.

Here are three classical illustrations of the higher-order view:

  1. Descartes (1648): "Being conscious is representing18 and reflecting on one's representation (conscium esse est quidem cogitare et reflectere supra suam cogitationem)" ("Interview with Burman" in: Descartes 1982, 12; Descartes 1953, 1359). Let's just note that Descartes holds a generally representationalist view of self-consciousness. For instance he writes that the "idea of cogito" is such "that thereby I represent myself to myself" (Descartes 1953, 291 [my emphasis]).19 So self-consciousness is a matter of reflection:20 a self-representation of thinking-where the identity of both moments is presupposed though not explicated.21
  2. John Sergeant (1697, 121 ff.): contradicts Locke's idea that thinking is (reflectively, but simultaneously) knowing that one thinks, but still subscribes to the idea that consciousness rests on reflection. Reflection is in turn first-order and becomes conscious only through a new "reflex act" (124), which (a) is numerically distinct from the primary thought, (b) comes "afterwards" and (c) has as its sole and unique object the preceding thought (and not, however marginally, the reflex act, too). Since the hierarchy of reflex acts leaves an unconscious thought "at its top", the chain of reflections, taken as a whole, lacks self-consciousness.
  3. Leibniz (1714): In perceiving something other, perception may also represent itself, at least in the case of distinct perceptions (opaque and confused perceptions lack this explicit self-awareness, though some of them are "felt" as my own [Nouveaux Essays, Book II, chapt. xxvii, § 9]): perception ad-perceives (apperceives) itself. This ability of a representation to point to itself while simultaneously aiming at an object is what Leibniz calls reflection. It is constitutive of (and coextensive with) consciousness (§ 4 Principes de la Nature et de la Grace; §§ 23 & 30 Monadologie).

An eye-catching disadvantage of this model is that it makes the reflecting act of consciousness and reflected act break down into two numerically (at least conceptually)22 distinct relata, whereas the nominalized reflexive pronoun 'self' present in 'self-consciousness', despite its two-place form, indicates a strict identity in terms of the content: the cognized act and the cognizing act are identical. Apart from the nearly unnoticed exception of Johann Bernhard Merian (Merian 1749; cf. Thiel 1994; Frank 2002, 164 ff.; Thiel 2011, 365 ff.), it was first Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1797) to have clearly analyzed the shortcomings which undermine the reflection model. More than that, Fichte showed posterity a way-out. (We'll deal with "Fichte's original insight" in section III.)

II. Shortcomings of the "Reflection Model" of Self-Consciousness

We agreed to call the model underlying the idea of an inner "selfregistration"of mental events the "reflection model of consciousness". It starts out from the assumption that self-awareness is a special case of hetero- or object-awareness and that in principle all consciousness entails an inner accusative separating content and vehicle into two or creating two different contents: a "primary" and a "secondary one". Let's call this view of consciousness as being intentionally directed upon objects the "objectual" view. This view takes it that it is essential to consciousness to be representational, i.e., consciousness of; there is no consciousness without an aboutness. Unlike a consciousness's pointing to outer objects, self-awareness is supposed to be objectually (or representationally) directed upon itself, but precisely upon itself as an object (even though this object mustn't be presented physically). This is what "reflection" means: bending representionally back upon oneself and so realizing who or what I am (leaving it open here if "selfconsciousness" means anonymous state-consciousness or awareness of a state-owning I or Ego). According to the reflection model, selfawareness is modelled on the schema of objectual consciousness where vehicle and content (or primary and secondary object) fall apart numerically. This view seems to lead...

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