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Subject and object

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Many definitions and theories of self assume that ‘self’ refers to some thing or process that exists as part of the universe. Similarly, ‘consciousness’ is assumed to refer to a property of such a part. These basic assumptions are mistaken, and generate some of the deepest confusions in the philosophy of mind. Such distinctions as seer/seen, hearer/heard, and thinker/thought generalize to subject/object. The distinction between subject and object is prior to any theories about the nature of the self: before I can even begin to wonder what I am, I must have already realized that I am. Whatever I may call it (consciousness, self, or subject) cannot be conceived correctly as any kind of object or property. The distinction between subject and object is more fundamental than the Cartesian distinction between mind and matter, with which it is commonly conflated. ‘I am conscious’ and ‘I am’ are variant expressions of the same basic realization, suggesting that ‘consciousness’ and ‘being’ are convergent concepts.
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Keywords: Consciousness; Descartes; mind and matter; self; subject

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: PO Box 2681, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568, USA.

Publication date: 01 May 1997

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