Weinberg, S. (2016, ch. 2): Consciousness in Locke's Philosophical Psychology

Three interepretations

Concsiousness = Perception

Here’s the interpretation she rejects:

On the first of the three major interpretations, consciousness is understood to be merely a synonym for perception in general. Perceptual states, according to this view, just are conscious states, and there is no role for consciousness independent of perception. So, when Locke states, as he does on many occasions, that consciousness is necessary or essential to thinking, he is seen as making no distinction between consciousness and perception. [@weinberg2016-ch2, 28]

  1. Objection 1: Doesn’t cohere with Locke’s conception of the contribution of consciousness to perception

    There is then no way to account [on this interpretation] for the role of consciousness in Locke’s explanation of memory, his version of Descartes’s cogito argument for the existence of the thinker, or his accounts of sensitive knowledge and personal identity. In each of these accounts, Locke suggests that consciousness adds something to ordinary perception or even that consciousness is a special kind of awareness of a perception. [@weinberg2016a-ch2, 28]

    Weinberg takes consciousness to contribute at lest the awareness that I am the one having the perception.

  2. Objection 2: Identification fails to acknowledge import of consciousness for argument against nativism

    the argument that there are innate ideas rests on answering Locke’s challenge to show that we have ideas that are experienced as neither new to the mind nor as memories. Therefore, to understand consciousness as identical to perception in general is to ignore Locke’s explicit claim that consciousness does additional work in distinguishing or singling out memories as memories, and therefore to ignore the essential role consciousness plays in Locke’s first-line defense of empiricism. [@weinberg2016a-ch2, 29]

Consciousness = Reflection

The second interpretation is presented as follows:

Another way to interpret Locke is to attribute to him the view that consciousness contributes something to perception as some sort of second-order awareness of perceptions. This is consistent with his claim that all thinking is conscious and with consciousness being a perception of a perception. [@weinberg2016a-ch2, 29]

Here Weinberg is working from Locke’s analogy to a mirror’s reflection with respect to the involuntary nature of the mind’s generation of simple ideas, as well as Locke’s appeal to “obscure Notions” of the operations of the mind.

  1. Objection 1: Lack of reflection in young children

    Weinberg cites II.i.8 as an explicit denial that children reflect. Here’s the passage from Locke:

    And hence we see the reason, why ‘tis pretty late, before most Children get Ideas of the Operations of their own Minds; and some have not very clear, or perfect Ideas of the greatest part of them all their Lives. Because, though they pass there continually; yet like floating Visions, they make not deep Impressions enough, to leave in the Mind clear and distinct lasting Ideas, until the Understanding turns inwards upon it self, reflects on its own Operations, and makes them the Object of its own Contemplation. (II.i.8)

    if the “floating visions” are related to “obscure notions” in the II.i.25, then it looks as if Locke distinguishes consciousness, which the children have, from reflection, which they don’t.

  2. Objection 2: Identification of reflection and consciousness entails an infinite regress

    When Locke says [at II.xxvii.9] that “consciousness . . . is inseparable from thinking, and as it seems to me essential to it,” and then goes on to say that it is “impossible for any one to perceive without perceiving, that he does perceive,” it is clear that he must intend ‘perceiving’ to be synonymous with ‘consciousness.’ Therefore, if the way in which we perceive in being conscious is identified with the way in which we perceive in reflection, then the regress is unavoidable. [@weinberg2016a-ch2, 31]

Consciousness ≠ Reflection but is still Higher-Order

Here’s the presentation of the view:

The last interpretation argues that Locke means to have consciousness as different from reflection but nonetheless a higher-order awareness resulting in ideas, namely the origin of those ideas constituting the awareness of our own thinking. [@weinberg2016a-ch2, 32]

  1. Objection: Contradicts view that sensation & reflection are only sources of ideas

    Weinberg objects that this view contradicts Locke’s conception of concept empiricism:

    the problem with this interpretation is that it contradicts Locke’s II.i.4 claim that sensation and reflection are the only sources of our ideas:

    These two, I say, viz. External Material things, as the Objects of SENSATION; and the Operations of our Minds within, as the Objects of REFLECTION, are to me, the only Originals, from whence all our Ideas take their beginnings. (II.i.4)

    Thus, to interpret consciousness as productive of ideas, yet not identical to either sensation or reflection, is to attribute to Locke a conception of consciousness that directly contradicts the foundation of his empiricism. [@weinberg2016a-ch2, 32]

Weinberg’s Proposal


Locke’s commitments (or desiderata on a theory):

  1. All thinking is conscious
  2. Consciousness is a “perception of a perception”
  3. Consciousness cannot be a source of ideas (over and above sensation & reflection)
  4. Whatever consciousness is must be reconcilable with the “obscure notions” of II.i.25 and the “floating visions” of II.i.8
  5. Consciousness has a role in memory, sensitive knowledge, the cogito, personal identity, and (implicitly) in moral agency

The Proposal

Weinberg proposes that we satisfy all these claims by construing consciousness as “a reflexive self-referential awareness internal to ordinary perception” [@weinberg2016a-ch2, 32]. Consciousness is not something added to perception of an idea, but is rather something “internal” to it (p. 33).

the perception of an idea [is] a complex mental state that includes being conscious that we are perceiving the idea. Therefore, constituent in each perception of an idea is the idea perceived, as well as the consciousness of ourselves as perceiving it.

For Locke, every act of perception has an object—an idea, namely that toward which we are attending in the perceiving. But perceiving, is also, to that extent, self-consciousness. This is something of which Weinberg is aware. She says,

if animals have perception, then on my interpretation they are conscious and even to some degree self-conscious. [@weinberg2016a-ch2, 46]

But note that the notion of self-consciousness here is one which appeals to the concepts like <perception> and <first-person>. Those concepts seem far too sophisticated to attribute to (at least many) non-human animals.

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