Non-Conceptual Content, Experience and the Self
Poellner (Peter)
Source: Journal of Consciousness Studies, Volume 10, Number 2, 2003 , pp. 32-57(26)
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    Traditionally the intentionality of consciousness has been understood as the idea that many conscious states are about something, that they have objects in a broad sense - including states of affairs - which they represent, and it is on account of being representational that they are said to have contents. It has also been claimed, more controversially, that conscious intentional contents must be available to the subject as reasons for her judgments or actions, and that they are therefore necessarily conceptual. This paper challenges the assumptions (1) that all conscious intentional contents are representations of objects, and (2) that they are essentially conceptual. Both assumptions will be shown to be intimately connected. The first main part of the paper offers an account of conscious intentionality that is not prejudicial on the issue of whether all intentional contents of conscious mental states represent objects which the mental state can be said to be about. The author then shows that many personal-level perceptual contents, including those involved in our evaluative stance towards aspects of the world, have non-conceptual components even on a wide construal of the conceptual sphere (associated especially with the work of John McDowell), allowing for demonstrative concepts. In the second main part of the paper it is argued that experiences themselves, as contrasted with what they are experiences of, are non-conceptual contents. To this purpose the author reconstructs and develops some suggestive observations found in the phenomenology of Husserl to the effect that experiences as directly presented or 'lived through' are not objects of consciousness. It is argued that this thesis, properly understood, is true and that it entails that experiences as directly presented in consciousness are themselves non-conceptual intentional contents. Husserl's thesis is illuminating and important, allowing among other things a more satisfactory account of the elusive phenomenon of depth we normally attribute to the conscious self - the idea that there is always more to our experienced selves at any moment than what we are capable of articulating at the time.


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