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WILLIAM FLEMING - 1890 - Table of contents

A - B - C - D - E - F - G - H- I - J - K - L - M - N - O - P - Q - R - S - T - U - V - W  

Diccionario filosófico
Complete edition

Diccionario de Filosofía
Brief definition of the most important concepts of philosophy.


A Dictionary of English Philosophical Terms Francis Garden


Vocabulary of Philosophy, Psychological, Ethical, Metaphysical
William Fleming

Biografías y semblanzas Biographical references and lives of philosophers

Brief introduction to the thought of Ortega y Gasset

History of Philosophy Summaries

Historia de la Filosofía
Explanation of the thought of the great philosophers; summaries, exercises...

Historia de la Filosofía
Digital edition of the History of Philosophy by Jaime Balmes

Historia de la Filosofía
Digital edition of the History of Philosophy by Zeferino González

Vidas, opiniones y sentencias de los filósofos más ilustres
Complete digital edition of the work of Diogenes Laertius

Compendio de las vidas de los filósofos antiguos

A brief history of Greek Philosophy
B. C. Burt


A Short History of Philosophy





CONSCIOUSNESS (conscientia, Bewusstseyn, joint knowledge, a knowledge of one thing in connection or relation with another).—The knowledge which the mind has of itself, and of the facts of its own experience.

The meaning of a word is sometimes best attained by reference to the word opposed to it. Unconsciousness, that is, the want or absence of consciousness, denotes the suspension of all our faculties. Consciousness, then, is the state in which we are when any or all of our faculties are in exercise. It is, therefore, the accompaniment of every mental operation.

Sir William Hamilton has remarked (Discussions, p. 110, note) that "the Greek has no word for consciousness," and that "Tertullian is the only ancient who uses the word conscientia in a psychological sense, corresponding with our consciousness" (Reid's Works, p. 775).

The scholastic definition was, perceptio qua mens de presenti suo statu admonetur.


"It is altogether as intelligible," says Locke, "to say that a body is extended without parts, as that anything thinks without being conscious of it, or perceiving that it does so. They who talk in this way, may, with as much reason, say that a man is always hungry, but that he does not always feel it; whereas hunger consists in that very sensation, as thinking consists in being conscious that one thinks!... Consciousness is the perception of what passes in a man's own mind " (Essay on Human Understanding, bk. II. ch. I.).

"We not only feel, but we know that we feel; we not only act, but we know that we act; we not only think, but we know that we think; to think, without knowing that we think, is as if we should not think; and the peculiar quality, the fundamental attribute of thought, is to have a consciousness of itself. Consciousness is this interior light which illuminates everything that takes place in the soul; consciousness is the accompaniment of all our faculties; and, thus to speak, their echo... Consciousness is nothing else than the rebound of the action of all our faculties" (Cousin, Hist, of Mod. Phil., I. 274-5). On consciousness as the necessary form of thought, see lect. V. of the same volume.

"Consciousness," says Reid (Intellectual Powers, essay I. ch. I.; see also essay VI. ch. V.), "is a word used by philosophers to signify that immediate knowledge which we have of our present thoughts and purposes, and, in general, of all the present operations of our mind. Whence we may observe that consciousness is only of things present. To apply consciousness to things past, which sometimes is done in popular discourse, is to confound consciousness with memory. It is likewise to be observed that consciousness is only of things in the mind, and not of external things. It is improper to say, 'I am conscious of the table which is before me.' I perceive it, I see it, but do not say I am conscious of it."

"This word denotes the immediate knowledge which the mind has of its sensations and thoughts, and in general, of all its present operations" (Stewart, Outlines of Moral Philosophy, pt. I. sec. 1).

That consciousness is not a particular faculty of the mind, but the fundamental form of all the modes of our thinking activity, and not a special mode of that activity, is strenuously maintained by Amadee Jacques, in the Manuel de Philosophie, Partie Psychologique; and also by two American writers, Bowen in his Critical Essays, and Tappan. This view is in accordance with the saying of Aristotle, οὐκ ἔστιν αἴσθησις αἰσθήσεως—" Νοn sentimus, nisi sentiamus nos sentire—non intelligimus nisi intelligamus nos intelligere." "No man," said Reid, "can perceive an object without being conscious that he perceives it. No man can think without being conscious that he thinks." As on the one hand we cannot think or feel without being conscious, so on the other hand we cannot be conscious without thinking or feeling."

This view of consciousness, as the common condition under which all our faculties are brought into operation, and considering these faculties and their operations as so many modifications of consciousness, has of late been generally adopted; so much so, that psychology, or the science of mind, has been denominated an inquiry into the facts of consciousness. All that we can truly learn of mind must be learned by attending to the various ways in which it becomes conscious. None of the phenomena of consciousness can be doubted.

Hamilton identifies consciousness with immediate knowledge. He says consciousness and immediate knowledge "are terms universally convertible; and if there be an immediate knowledge of things external, there is consequently the consciousness of an outer world" (see Metaph., lects. XII. and XIII.).

He protests strongly also against the view that consciousness is a separate faculty, considering it rather as the condition of the exercise of all the faculties.

The reliability of consciousness has been disputed. It has been said that "the madman's delusion, which is only an extreme instance of error growing out of causes that are constantly at work to pervert an individual's feeling and to vitiate his reasoning, is of itself sufficient to excite profound distrust, not only in the objective truth, but in the subjective worth, of the testimony of an individual's self-consciousness" (Maudsley, Physiology and Pathology of Mind, p. 18, 3rd ed.). In this, consciousness and judgment are confounded.

"The immediate apprehension of the mental images immediately presented to me is necessarily true. Error is possible only when they are subsumed under a general notion. In this sense, internal perception, more trustworthy than external, is the foundation of all philosophical knowledge. That we have a perception of our own inner mental (psychic) life, into which existence immediately enters, without the admixture of a foreign form, is the first stronghold of the theory of knowledge" (Ueberweg, System of Logic, p. 88, Lindsay's transl.).

See Hamilton, Metaph., lects. XI.-XVI., and note H in Reid's Works; Mill, Examination of Hamilton, chaps, VIII. and IX.



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