Consciousness as a topic of investigation in Western thought

In Michel Weber & Anderson Weekes (eds.), Process Approaches to Consciousness in Psychology, Neuroscience, and Philosophy of Mind. State University of New York Press. pp. 73-136 (2010)
Authors
Anderson Weekes
Fairfield University
Abstract
Terms for consciousness, used with a cognitive meaning, emerged as count nouns in the 17th century. This transformation repeats an evolution that had taken place in late antiquity, when related vocabulary, used in the sense of conscience, went from being mass nouns designating states to count nouns designating faculties possessed by every individual. The reified concept of consciousness resulted from the rejection of the Scholastic-Aristotelian theory of mind according to which the mind is not a countable thing, but a pure potentiality. This rejection was motivated by an acute sense of the mind’s fallible subjectivity. While conditioned by recent historical events, the 17th century’s pervasive sense of subjectivity also reveals a heavy debt to Hellenistic philosophy, which had been recently rediscovered. But whereas Hellenistic thought, mistrustful of theoria, only reifies conscience, early modern thinking, more mistrustful of praxis and seeking its grounding in theoria, goes a step further and reifies consciousness. Partly modeled on theological ideas, the resulting concept of consciousness is plagued by paradoxes that have becomes notorious for their intractability. But essentially the same model of consciousness underwrites contemporary theory, embroiling contemporary debates in the same controversies that dominated the 17th century. Sidestepping these difficulties by returning to the Scholastic-Aristotelian theory of mind would be a tall order, but it is not impossible. Alfred North Whitehead's theory of consciousness offers an example. His novel theory of time enables Whitehead to rehabilitate the Aristotelian concept of passive mind in a wholly naturalistic way.
Keywords Early Modern Philosophy  Hellenistic Philosophy  Consciousness  Conscience  Subjectivity  Justification  Passive Mind  Real Distinction  Alfred North Whitehead
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