What are you conscious of when you have conscious experiences?

[Moved up from March 21, 2005. See related posts at Splintered Mind and Philosophy of Brains.]

What are you conscious of when you have conscious experiences?

Various arguments in contemporary philosophical work on consciousness boil down to alleged conceptual connections between ‘conscious’ and ‘conscious of’. To wit, some philosophers hold as pre-theoretically obvious what we can call “The Transparency Thesis”:

When one has a conscious experience all that one is conscious of is what the experience is an experience of.

To explicate this thesis in terms of an illustration, it is the claim that when one has a conscious experience of a leafy tree one is only conscious of the leafy tree and need not be conscious of any state of oneself.

In opposition, other philosophers hold as pre-theoretically obvious what we can call “The Transitivity Thesis”:

When one has a conscious experience one must be conscious of the experience itself.

To explicate this thesis in terms of an illustration, it is the claim that when one has a conscious experience of a leafy tree one must be conscious of one’s own experience of the leafy tree and thus be conscious of a state of oneself. (Note this doesn’t rule out that you are conscious of the leafy tree. It says that in addition to being conscious of the leafy tree you are also conscious of a state of yourself.)

Since each of these claims is alleged to be obvious, and since they are in opposition, I’d be interested in hearing what others think of the matter: Which is more obvious than the other?

3 Responses to “What are you conscious of when you have conscious experiences?”

  1. Eric Thomson says:

    Transparency wins hands down.

    I’ve seen trees, but am not sure if I’ve ever been conscious of an experience of a tree. I’m pretty sure my dog isn’t conscious of an experience of a tree, but of trees.

  2. WheezePuppet says:

    It seems to me that the answer is “both”; ie., some experiences fall into one category, some into the other. Isn’t this essentially the same as thinking vs. meta-thinking? In other words, most often I’m thinking about X, but sometimes I introspect and think about the fact that I’m thinking about X? In the same way, most often I’m just conscious of some phenomenon, but other times I introspect and am aware of the fact that I’m conscious of the phenomenon.

  3. Pete Mandik says:

    “Both” would be contradictory. Introducing Thinking vs. Meta-thinking allows for construction of an analogous opposition. One thesis would be that whenever one has a thought it must always be, or be accompanied by, a meta-thought. The other thesis is more than the negation of the first thesis: it would say further that meta-thought is impossible.