Dissertation, University of Warwick (1999)

In the search for the foundations of cognition philosophers often encounter a familiar problem - the problem of content. The problem of content is essentially the problem of how content, whether experiential or intentional, is possible. In practice providing a response to this problem involves providing an account of how an active self-consciousness is able to conceive/perceive, or in some way be consciousness ofx. The unique nature of this problem imposes significant constraints on the field of explanatory possibilities. Since the x which is to be accounted for is essentially the possibility of absolutely any x there is no y which is not also an x. Hence, nothing remains outside of the explanandum which can be appealed to in order to account for it without, to some extent, presupposing that which needs to be explained. In many of the theories we will examine overcoming this problem involves appealing to a transcendental “structure of awareness” which more often than not is composed of “universal-like” transcendental “entities” of indeterminate nature and ontological status. A major appeal of transcendental entities is that they can at least appear to provide a way of supplying the power of objective “determinateness” necessary to account for the possibility of determination without themselves being determinates. The general strategy of appealing to such transcendental “entities” has, however, for some time been suspiciously regarded as it is unclear how such an appeal is able to avoid the aforementioned presupposition of content. But if the appeal to transcendental cognizing intermediates is to be ‘ dismissed we may be left to face up to the fact that content simply “happens”- that the process of determination, of “judgment”, is a mysterious talent that can neither be taught nor understood. Through a critical examination of both Western and Eastern philosophical approaches to the problem of content this dissertation identifies and describes, insofar as is possible, “that” through which content is rendered possible. In so doing it draws attention to previously neglected points of contact between major philosophical traditions and clarifies the central issues surrounding the problem. The dissertation supports the conclusion that, although there is a need to acknowledge a particular role for a transcendental “self- consciousness” in providing a coherent response to the problem of content, the attempt to articulate a mechanism through which this role is fulfilled most likely misguided. Although it appears to be possible both to know something about this “self-consciousness”, and even to know it more directly, it cannot be understood in the usual sense.
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Critique of Practical Reason.Immanuel Kant - 1788 - Hackett Publishing Company.

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