Reconciling conscious absorption and the ubiquity of self-awareness

Alan Thomas
University of York
This paper argues that there are two compelling intuitions about conscious experience, the absorption intuition and the ubiquity intuition. The former is the claim that conscious experience consists in intentional absorption in its objects; the latter is the claim that conscious experience ubiquitously exhibits a sense that the mental subject is conscious that she is so conscious. These two intuitions are in tension with each other and it seems no single theory of consciousness can respect both. Drawing on the early work of Sartre, particularly in The Transcendence of the Ego, I argue that an adverbial theory of consciousness comes closest to doing so: it explains the first intuition and respects the phenomenon that the second intuition is supposed to capture. It emerges, therefore, as the theory of consciousness that is the most explanatory overall. The argument of this paper proceeds as follows. The first section describes the distinctive features of an adverbial approach to consciousness. The second describes the first intuition that conscious experience is typically absorbed in the objects of conscious thought whereas the third describes the intuition that our conscious experience is ubiquitously self- aware. I then turn to an examination to a range of views, influenced by Brentano, that try to reconcile these intuitions and argue that none of them succeed. I conclude with a description of how an adverbialism influenced by Sartre.
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