Lockean materialism and consciousness

When:25 Mar 2014, 12:30pm - 2pm
Venue:Morven Brown 310 (map ref C20)
Who:Vili Lähteenmäki, University of Jyväskylä

Philosophy Seminar

Abstract: My paper has two parts. I will first discuss two aspects pertinent to Locke’s understanding of the relation between consciousness and thinking substance. Locke’s epistemic point concerns the conceptual distinctness of consciousness from the thinking substance. According to Locke, our mental states, as we experience them in the first-person perspective, do not reveal the nature of the substance in which they inhere.Locke’s theological/moral point is based on the epistemic one and concerns priority of our subjective experiential reality with regard to ‘to the ends of morality and religion’, for rewards and punishments are meaningful only as experienced.

In the second part I’ll discuss Anthony Collins’ view of the possibility of thinking matter. He adopts Locke’s distinction between consciousness and the thinking substance but goes further than Locke in considering the plausibility of consciousness ‘residing in a system of matter’. I will examine Collins’ response to a challenge according to which consciousness is a unity and therefore the subject in which it inheres must be a unity too. As he maintains that the relation between thinking substance and consciousness is bound to remain unclear, he attempts to satisfy the unity requirement by arguing that composite substances can have unified powers, which can give rise to unified phenomena, such as consciousness. Collins’ is a peculiar materialist position about consciousness in that its tenability requires emphatic endorsement of the subjective character of experience.

Bio: Vili Lähteenmäki is a postdoctoral researcher in the department of philosophy, University of Jyväskylä, Finland. He works mainly in early modern philosophy of mind. Currently he runs an Academy of Finland project Consciousness and Conscious Subject in Early Modern Philosophy. He has co-edited a volume on the history of concept of consciousness and published articles in British Journal for the History of Philosophy, History&Theory, Locke Studies, and Studia Leibnitiana.

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