Cudworthian Consciousness

Oxford Studies in Early Modern Philosophy (forthcoming)
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Abstract

Ralph Cudworth’s The True Intellectual System of the Universe (1678) is credited with the first instance of the English word “consciousness” used in a distinctively philosophical sense. While Cudworth says little in the System about the nature of consciousness, he has more to say in his (largely unpublished) freewill manuscripts. I argue that, in these manuscripts, Cudworth distinguishes two kinds of consciousness, which I call “bare consciousness” and “reflective consciousness”. What both have in common is that each is a kind of reflection or reflexive perception that therefore involves a “duplication” of the soul as both subject and object. While it is less clear how Cudworth takes these two kinds of consciousness to differ, I argue that the central difference for Cudworth is that, whereas bare consciousness is always directed towards individual cogitations, reflective consciousness is the kind of consciousness that the soul achieves through reflection upon itself as a whole. As a result, reflective consciousness introduces a unity into our experience that is not present at the level of bare consciousness.

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