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Consciousness: From Perception to Reflection in the History of Philosophy (review)
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Reviewed by
Sara Heinämaa, Vili Lähteenmäki, and Pauliina Remes, editors. Consciousness: From Perception to Reflection in the History of Philosophy. Studies in the History of Philosophy of Mind, 4. Dordrecht: Springer2007. Pp. xii + 366. Cloth, $199.00.

Anthologies themselves rarely advance substantive theses, but according to its editors, this wide-ranging collection "argues that, even though our predecessors did not formulate their philosophical queries in terms of consciousness, they have much to offer to our current disputes concerning its central features," and "demonstrates that consciousness is not just an issue in the philosophy of mind, but is bound to ontology, epistemology, and moral theory" (1; emphasis added). While some of the fourteen papers included here bear out these aims better than others, it must be admitted that their cumulative effect makes for a pretty convincing case.

In their substantial introduction, the editors begin by articulating the volume's guiding methodology. The concept of consciousness, they write, is neither "diachronically fixed [nor] synchronically clear-cut," and yet "the diversity of terms and multiplicity of usages should not be taken to imply that the concept is useless or merely a transient cultural formation" (5–6). Consequently, we must "reach beyond the terms to what they name," and the phenomena named include "phenomenality, aboutness, reflexivity, reflection, unconsciousness, attention, selfhood, ownness, subjectivity and objectivity, and synchronic and diachronic unity" (ibid.). Following an etymological discussion of the word 'consciousness'—while being the first to use the English term in a technical philosophical sense, Ralph Cudworth seems to have appropriated the Greek 'sunaisthêsis' from Plotinus—the remainder of the introduction offers a thematic overview of the volume's contents in terms of the three most prominent aspects of conscious experience: intentionality, subjectivity, and reflexivity (10).

Given this set-up—a topical introduction to a volume whose raison d'être is to illuminate contemporary discussions of the problems of consciousness—it is puzzling to find the papers themselves organized not thematically, but chronologically. Part one, "Ancient and Arabic Philosophy," includes contributions from Amber Carpenter ("On Plato's Lack of Consciousness"), Juha Sihvola ("The Problem of Consciousness in Aristotle's Psychology"), Pauliina Remes ("Ownness of Conscious Experience in Ancient Philosophy"), and Jari Kaukua and Taneli Kukkonen ("Sense-Perception and Self-Awareness: Before and After Avicenna"). Part two, "Medieval Philosophy and Early Modern Thought," consists of articles by Joël Biard ("Intention and Presence: The Notion of Presentialitas in the Fourteenth Century"), Mikko Yrjönsuuri ("The Structure of Self-Consciousness: A Fourteenth-Century Debate"), Deborah Brown ("Augustine and Descartes on the Function of Attention in Perceptual Awareness"), Vili Lähteenmäki ("Orders of Consciousness and Forms of Reflexivity in Descartes"), and Jon Miller ("The Status of Consciousness in Spinoza's Concept of Mind"). The third and final part, "From Kant to Contemporary Discussions," features the work of Kenneth Westphal ("Human Consciousness and its Transcendental Conditions: Kant's Anti-Cartesian Revolt"), Susanna Lindberg ("The Living Consciousness of the German Idealists"), Dan Zahavi ("The Heidelberg School and the Limits of Reflection"), Neil Manson ("Contemporary Naturalism and the Concept of Consciousness"), and Sara Heinämaa ("Selfhood, Consciousness, and Embodiment: A Husserlian Approach"). The volume concludes with a bibliography of primary and secondary sources, as well as name and subject indices. [End Page 463]

As will be apparent from the titles listed above, the contributions to this volume vary considerably in scope, with some focused on single figures, others concerned with pairs and groups of figures, and still others taking on whole periods and schools. While the scholarship in all cases is impeccable, on the whole, I found this last group of contributions the most philosophically stimulating. At least in part, this is because several of the articles dedicated to single figures emphasize what divides their subjects from contemporary concerns. Carpenter, for instance, concludes that Plato's commitment to the soul "creates a great barrier for us in adopting" his lessons on the nature of perception (48). And Miller defends the view that "Spinoza lacked robust views on the nature of consciousness and its relationship to mind" (219). By contrast, for example, Remes' masterly survey of ancient conceptions of "ownness" (i.e., of what makes one's...

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