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From the Inside: Consciousness and the First-Person Perspective

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To adopt a first-person perspective on consciousness is typically understood as a matter of inwardly engaging one's awareness in such a way as to make one's conscious states and their properties into objects of awareness. When awareness is thus inwardly engaged, experience functions as both act and object of awareness. As objects of awareness, an experience-token and its various properties are items of which a subject is aware. As an act of awareness, an experience-token is that in virtue of which items - in this case, other experience-tokens and their properties - can appear, to a subject, as objects of awareness. The precise nature of the relation between experience functioning as act and as object is a matter of dispute. However, two broad possibilities can be distinguished: (1) as acts of awareness, experiences reveal other experiences to subjects by way of a form of direct, unmediated, acquaintance, (2) as acts of awareness experiences reveal other experiences to subjects by way of modes of presentation of those experiences. I shall argue against (1). Possibility (2), I shall argue, entails a form of representationalism about experiences: experiences are defined by their representational role. However, (2) also yields a crucial but largely neglected consequence of representationalism: necessarily, in any given experience, there is an aspect of this experience that must be understood in terms of its representational role but cannot be understood in terms of its representational content. I shall call this the ineliminable intentional core of the experience. The ineliminable intentional core of the experience is, necessarily, not an object of inwardly engaged awareness. This entails a significant revision in the way we think about the concept of the first-person perspective, and of what it is to study consciousness from the inside.
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Keywords: acquaintance; consciousness; first-person perspective; mode of presentation; representationalism; third-person perspective

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Miami, USA

Publication date: 01 July 2008

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