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
"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
which is before me.' I perceive it, I see it, but do not say I am conscious of
"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
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.