Subjectivity and Non-Objectifying Awareness

Donnchadh O Conaill (Fribourg)
Informations pratiques
12 novembre 2018

IJN, Pavillon Jardin, conference room, 24 rue Lhomond, 75005 Paris


A long tradition holds that each subject is necessarily aware of her experiences as she has them (I term this the subject’s inner awareness). Inner awareness is often said to constitute the subjectivity of our experiences, their distinctively first-personal character. An important line of thought found in phenomenological thinkers such as Husserl and Sartre holds that inner awareness is non-objectifying: one’s experiences “are not given as objects; they are not something we observe from a distance and they do not stand opposite us” (Zahavi 2005, 64). The idea of non-objectifying awareness is often criticised as obscure. What is needed is a positive account of what it is for awareness to be non-objectifying. To provide such an account, I appeal to P.F. Strawson’s work on feature-placing statements (1959). These are statements where the distinction between universals and particulars does not apply, e.g., ‘Now it is snowing’ or ‘There is water here’. In contrast, a non-feature-placing statement such as ‘This is a cat’ involves a distinction between a universal term (‘cat’) and the particular instance picked out in the statement. I suggest that inner awareness is a feature-placing form of awareness: it does not involve a distinction between universals and particulars. In inner awareness one is aware of one’s experiences, which are particular events or episodes, but one is not aware of them as particulars. For example, the content of one’s inner awareness might be ‘Now it is painful’, as opposed to ‘This is an experience of pain’. This allows us to understand how inner awareness can be non-objectifying. In inner awareness, one`s experiences are not presented as discrete bounded particulars, and so they do not appear to us in the way that objects of perception or thought usually do.

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