Discussions of the relationship between consciousness and language are troubled by simplistic views of both. Denying a central role of consciousness in linguistics is commonplace in generative linguistics, but self-contradictory. On the other hand, a defence of consciousness by some cognitive and functional linguists is marred by a conflation of consciousness with 'introspection'. I argue for the need to distinguish (at least) between three kinds of acts of consciousness: observation, introspection and intuition, where the last one is based on intersubjectively binding social norms. It is intuition that is the most fundamental form of consciousness for the study of language, from antiquity to the present. Furthermore, I show how the three modes of (linguistic) consciousness are related, by defining empathy (as used e.g. in typological explanations) as vicarious introspection, and intuition as conventionalized empathy.