Session 1: Perception and Self-Awareness in the Contemporary Philosophy

Guest Speaker: Hediyeh Eghtesadi (Ph.D. candidate in philosophy, McMaster University)

JULY 28th, 2022


According to Aristotle, “Since we perceive that we are seeing and hearing, it is necessary that one perceive either by the sight that one is seeing or ….” (DAIII.2 425a12-13) My inquiry is about what is involved in “perceiving we are seeing and hearing,” with what we can call “self-awareness.” The statement implies a) the awareness of perceptual states is simultaneous with perceptual states, and b) there is a necessary link between the two. Nevertheless, we need to examine whether self-awareness is simultaneous, i.e., at the same level as perceptual states. Brentano (1874), the father of modern psychology and Aristotle’s scholar, takes the middle ground finding a twofold structure for mental states (phenomena). That shows, that while a mental act is directed to an intentional object, it points to itself as its secondary object through inner perception(self-awareness). However, the two overarching contemporary views took exclusively either higher-order or first-order states as self-awareness: 1) the higher-order theories deny that Aristotle meant the simultaneous presence of self-awareness and perceptual states during our experiences. Conversely, they claim that a first-order mental state cannot be conscious unless it is taken as an object by a relevant higher-order mental state; 2) the first order (same order) theories emphasize self-awareness does not make sense without being simultaneous with perceptual states. They argue that a higher-order state is a reflection; therefore, it is not self-awareness anymore. Both views challenge Brentano’s account as they find it contradictory, in some way or other. In my presentation, I will argue for a view in which self-awareness is first order, and so, it is non-intentional and non-reflective, guided by Husserlian phenomenology.

Suggested reading before the meeting 

Meeting report 

Hediyeh discussed how self-awareness has been conceptualized by various thinkers such as Aristotle, Husserl, and Brentano. She then gave us a brief overview of the popular contemporary views on self-awareness. Finally, she defended her own view of the matter which was aligned with the phenomenologist notion of perceptual experience and self-awareness. The Q&A session was rich and challenging. There were questions on the nature of self-hood and the relation between consciousness and self-awareness. Hediyeh helped us to have a better grasp of the topic and the merits of the phenomenologist approach.