Dissertation Abstract

 

            My dissertation seeks to illuminate the contemporary consciousness debate with a number of insights found in the works of Brentano and Husserl, primarily Husserl's notion of time-consciousness.  I argue that the particular way in which we are always aware of the passage of our own mental life as delinated at first in Brentano's notion of incidental awareness and then more fully in Husserl's notion of time-consciousness, are the best candidates to account for ubiquitous self-awareness in normal, everyday consciousness–the kind of awareness currently debated in the contemporary consciousness debate.  What follows are detailed accounts of how my dissertation proceeds, chapter by chapter.  The first two chapters are historically oriented, while the remaining chapter deals with contemporary applications of those historical findings. 

 

            In the first chapter, I begin with an exploration of Brentano's account of consciousness from his Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint, paying particular attention to the historical context in which his account emerges.  This entails looking at Brentano's founding the then new discipline of psychology as on par with other natural sciences insofar as it is restricted to phenomena only.  It also includes a consideration of his claim that consciousness is marked by an occurrent awareness of both primary objects and secondary objects, and both observational and incidental awareness.  Brentano argues that when one is aware of anything as a primary object via observational awareness, one is also aware of that awareness as a secondary object via incidental awareness. 

 

            In the second part of the first chapter I present Husserl's notion of consciousness in general from his Logical Investigations.  This consideration shows how Husserl engages in direct dialogue with Brentano through his survey of the then extant uses of the word "consciousness."  Along the way I show how Husserl argues that Brentano's metaphysical presupposition about the phenomena-only access that consciousness has to the world is a kind of phenomenalistic psychologism of real things, akin to the psychologism of ideal objects that Husserl argues against in the Prolegomena to his Logical Investigations.  I also show how Husserl's engagement with another of Brentano's metaphysical presupposition accounts for Husserl's change in attitudes towards the existence of a unifying ego: in the First Edition Husserl accepted Brentano's metaphysical presupposition of doing a science of the phenomena of the soul, and not the soul itself, which leads to Husserl's similar rejection of the existence of a unifying ego.  In the Second Edition however, Husserl gave up on that metaphysical presupposition allowing him, I argue, to acknowledge the existence of a unifying ego.  I conclude this chapter by defending my reading of Husserl against Gloy who argues that Husserl fails to appreciate anything more than object-awareness in consciousness, as opposed to non-objectifying act- or subject-awareness. 

 

            In the second chapter I show how Husserl's account of time-consciousness fills out his account of consciousness, in the spirit of Brentano's notion of incidental awareness.  In this chapter I first introduce the retentions, primal impressions, and protentions that serve as the structure of time-consciousness, then show how Husserl argues that the time-consciousness that is ubiquitous to consciousness is responsible for our capacity to be aware of objects, experiences, and ourselves over time.  That entails a consideration of the distinction between impressional and representational consciousness, and an emphasis on an often-neglected notion of a temporal background.  For instance, I argue that Husserl's notion of a temporal-background allows him to avoid the consciousness-of-consciousness regress (if awareness requires self-awareness, then it also seems to require self-awareness of self-awareness, and so on).  Rather, self-awareness can be understood as awareness of a temporal part of the self that yields awareness of the broader self, albeit in an incomplete way (loosely analogously to the way in which I am aware of an entire building by seeing its front side, albeit incompletely). 

 

            I conclude the second chapter in two parts.  First, I defend Husserl against Gloy's objection that in his theorizing on time-consciousness Husserl continues to exclusively restrict consciousness to object-awareness only.  I argue instead that Husserl's notion of time-consciousness, with its retentions and protentions, allows him more than mere object-awareness inasmuch as retentions and protentions are the proper objects of phenomenological reflection–just as the un-"seen" backsides of buildings are among the proper objects of phenomenological reflection.  In the second part of the conclusion to the second chapter I support Brough's interpretation of the structure of time-consciousness against Zahavi's challenges; Husserl's On the Phenomenology of the Consciousness of Internal Time, including his published text and the notes collected in that volume, supports Brough's interpretation of the second level of the constitution of temporal meaning where temporal "object" is not understood as being the kind of temporal object from the first level of the constitution of temporal meaning. 

 

            The third chapter presses the fruits of the first two chapters into the contemporary debate over self-awareness and the Grand Illusion within the developing realm of consciousness studies.  In the first part of this chapter I begin by showing how time-consciousness provides us with a principled reason to assert the existence of self-awareness as opposed to the many seemingly ad hoc assertions of its existence in the current debate, as evinced by higher-order theorists such as Rosenthal and lower-order theorists like Gennaro, and Kriegel, amongst others.  I then go on to argue that, unlike higher- and lower-order theories, a theory of consciousness that includes the fruits of the structure of time-consciousness does not suffer from the misrepresentations objection–an objection that asserts that theories of self-awareness that entail higher- and lower-order content fail to accommodate for possible differences in higher- and lower-order content). 

 

            The second part of this chapter seeks to assist NoĎ in dispelling the Grand Illusion worry. 

In light of recent cognitive scientific studies on the human visual system, some have been lured into thinking that much of the richness of the detail in the periphery of the visual field is the result, not of the world, but of the brain's guess work–the so-called "Grand Illusion" worry.  While NoĎ with his careful phenomenological reflection, which reveals that we do not take ourselves to experience such a richly detailed world in the periphery of our visual field at any particular instant, has done much to dispel this worry already, his account of how we do experience the world, spelled out in terms of virtual and actual presence, fails to account for the difference of experience between the center and the periphery of the visual field.  I argue that a theory of consciousness that includes the fruits of the structure of time-consciousness better accounts for the experiential differences between the center and the periphery of the visual field. 

 

            I conclude by arguing that future research into other aspects of consciousness ought not turn a blind eye to historical research projects into the same phenomena.