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Fred Dretske’s Concept of Consciousness Essay

Consciousness is an aspect of mind that puzzles several philosophers throughout history. The conscious experience of self and the world is the focal issue in theorizing people’s minds. In an scholarly attempt to identify what consciousness truly means and what constitutes this philosophical phenomenon, a vivid understanding of its place in nature and how it associates with the nonconscious aspects of reality is established in order to avoid a debacle and put all the clashing arguments concerning consciousness into a compromise.

The nature of consciousnes is one of the most perplexing area of study in within the realm of philosophy its concept is equivocal. The term “consciousness” is an abstract noun that is not commonly used by itself in literary debates but is originally extracted from the Latin con meaning with and scire that means to know (Robertson 10). According to Robertson, consciousness “is what I am aware of in the most intimate way, ‘with’ or in relation to myself, what I ‘know with myself’” (10). He furthers his definition by adding the concept of self-consciousness which refers to the “experience specially of Me, of my Ego”(Robertson 10).

In the view point of psychology, consciousness means that a person is in his state of perceiving all the objects which surround him, feeling pleasure or pain, or even in a state of communing with his own self, reflecting and looking within (Robertson 10). Categorized between objective and subjective, consciousness constitutes the whole of our mental experience which makes it a puzzling material not only in the realm of psychology but most importantly in the study philosophy. Sense Experience According to Fred Dretske

Fred Dretske is a philosopher greatly acknowledged for his contributions to the philosophy of mind. He dwells not on the distinction between perceptual experience and perceptual belief but thrives on the nature of conscious experience and consciousness itself as a mental phenomena (Dretske, “Conscious Experience” 773). Dretske puts much significance on the role of experience in the study of consciousness and relies on the idea of the difference in the experiencer. According to the philosopher, sense experience is the primary focus of consciousness .

Dretske argues that the “phenomenal experience-the look, sound, taste and feel of things dominates our mental lives” (1). His locus is on the quality of experience or how things appear to people at the sensory level. He says that some people are conscious of having experience while others are not aware of it (Dretske 97). He adds that the difference lies not in the difference in the experience but in the experiencer: “a difference in what the person knows about the experience he or she is having” (Dretske 97). The difference in the experiencer is exemplified by the philosopher through Clyde’s piano playing.

It is noted that there is a difference between hearing Clyde play the piano and seeing him play the piano and this scenario establishes the distinction between perceptual experience and perceptual belief (Block, Flanagan and Guzeldere 773). According to Dretske, one can distinguish perceptual experience from perceptual belief by pairing the two with concept-charged mental state and concept-free mental state, respectively (“Conscious Experience” 773). Dretske’s notion on conscious experience as the building block of consciousness is remarkable in explicating that what a person sees and believes in is not exactly the meaning of consciousness.

Dretske suggests that people have to go beyond their belief on things in order to gain a conscious experience. Creature and State Consciousness The differences between creature consciousness and state consciousness are commonly recognized. The former refers to whole cognitive organisms which are consciousness or simply awake while the latter speaks of the individual mental states as conscious (Gennaro 2). Moreover, state consciousness is the “sense in which certain mental states, processes, events, and attitudes are said to be either conscious or unconscious” (Dretske 98).

According to Dretske, creature consciousness refers to the cognitive systems such as humans who are not merely conscious, but are conscious of the objects, properties, events, properties and facts which envelop them (98). In identifying the connection between creature and state consciousness, the philosopher affirms that, “states, unlike the creatures in which they appear, are not conscious of anything or that anything is so although their occurrence in a creature may make that creature conscious of something or that something is so” (Dretske 98).

In this association, it can be derived that the state consciousness is defines the quality of the cognitive and conscious human beings. The essence of consciousness is to create meanings to the symbolic elements perceived through the perceptual senses of humans. Gennaro implies that the fundamental idea in the association of creature and state consciousness is is that “content if a mental state depends, in part, on the powers of the organisms which consume that state, e. g. the kinds of interferences which organisms can make when it is in that state” (4).

Creature and state consciousness are both reflecting the idea of higher-order theories which are definitely suited for mankind. Both consciousness declare that man have the capacity to create meanings out of the symbols being fed to him by the environment. They show man’s superiority over other organisms by showing how perceptual systems work in harmony with the mind and brain. Awareness of Facts and Awareness of Things The philosopher breaks down his concept of state consciousness down to two categories: awareness of things and awareness of facts.

The categories stress that the people can be conscious of objects without the being aware of facts concerning those subjects. Dretske has made a clear distinction between the awareness of facts and the awareness of things by providing an example, Clyde playing the piano. In the example, Dretske is able to constrast consciousness of things with consciousness of facts by identifying between specific or spatial objects and temporal events on one side from facts involving these things on the other (“Conscious Experience” 774).

Clyde is an example of a physical object, his piano is the other object, and Clyde playing his piano is an event or a fact (Dretske, “Conscious Experience” 774). In the awareness of things, Dretske is quick to point out that the things are neither true nor false based from the given example. In applying the idea on the reality, things are neutral in nature or do not have value, in case of events, states of affairs, and other defining conditions (Dretske, “Conscious Experience” 774). Take for example a man looking at a plant wherein a camouflaged tiny insect is sitting.

The man is not aware of the insect sitting at the plant yet you are seeing or looking at it. The percepts then enters the man’s visual system and processed such information. For the philosopher, the man is object-conscious of the insect but not fact-conscious of the insect. The man sees the thing but is not aware that the object is actually an insect. This idea translates to Dretske’s nonepistemic type of seeing without knowing or the perception that does not need any belief or knowledge. People can see something even if they do not know that they see it.

Another concrete example given by Dretske is by looking at a pair of pictures (“Conscious Experience” 780). The two images are almost the same except for that the other one contains an extra spot. The pictures are almost identical that seeing them for the first time one cannot notice the difference in terms of the number of large spots randomly scattered. People see the pictures as entirely the same and do not notice the difference in the number of spots. But still, the difference is there. The other picture contains an extra spot in right corner.

Dretske refers to this example as awareness of things without being aware of the fact (“Conscious Experience” 780). The awareness of things appear in the absence of attitudes,beliefs, identification and recignition and thus, it is tremendoulsy opposed to the awareness of facts. When it comes to looking at things or objects, seeing is not knowing and it is not presenting a belief either. In the example, people are object-aware of the difference in the pictures (the extra spot on the other picture), but they are not aware of the fact that there is a difference.

People are not fact-aware whether there is a difference. This concept leads to the assumption that the differences in conscious experience do not need to be mirrored out in conscious belief (Dretske, “Conscious Experience” 781). In Dretske’s account, it is viewed that being aware of objects or things is portrayal of the relationship between the perceiver and the objects and events that can appear without the perceiver’s knowledge and understanding of what is being seen.

It is argued that being an object-aware is like the sense of touch, the connection between a cognitive organism and a thing, existing or not existing, without identification or recognition by the cognitive organisms such animals or human beings. It is to say that an individual does not need a knowledge of a thing to see it, or a person does not need to understand a thing for to touch it. Assessment of Dretske’s Concept of Consciousness Philosopher Fred Dretske has provided a valuable insight on the theory of mind and consciousness that directly attacks other theories such as the higher-order theories.

It is said that a clearer and greater understanding of consciousness can be obtained through the application of higher-order theories, Dretske has given a mew dimension in the scholarly debate on the nature of consciousness. This is by introducing the idea that consciousness is not only situated only in the awareness of the mental states of people or in their experience of those states. Higher-order theories state that a mental state can be deemed conscious only when it is assisted by higher-order thought.

The theories reflect that the absence of higher-order in the mental state, then that particular state is not in its conscious state. However, Dretske confronted this belief by illustrating that it is possible for the subjects to be in their conscious state without being aware of without being aware of any facts or traces of knowledge on all of the objects in this world. This idea is the outcome of the distinction between awareness of things and the awareness of facts made by the philosopher in which he vividly upholds his nonepistemic type of seeing without knowing or the perception without the need for recognition or knowledge.

Perhaps, the scholars and concerned individuals would cast their doubts on Dretske’s idea of seeing without knowing in relation to the distinction he made between object- and fact-awareness. This is to say that being object-aware does not necessarilyt points to conscious experience and nonepistemic type of seeing would not substantiate the conceptualization of consciousness. As seeing necessisitates an conceptualization that only occurs in the fact-awareness, then all objects would seem invisible to the eyes.

Works Cited Dretske, Fred, I. Naturalizing the Mind. Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1997. Print. —. “Conscious Experience. ” The Nature of Consciousness: Philosophical Debates. Eds. Ned Block, Owen Flanagan, and Guven Guzeldere, 1997. Print. 773-785 Gennaro, Rocco, J. ed. Higher-Order Theories of Consciousness: An Anthology. Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing, 2004. Print. Robertson, George, C. Elements of Psychology. South Carolina: Biblio Bazaar LLC, 2009. Print. Fred Dretske’s Concept of Consciousness : A Summary


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