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UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Consciousness and the evolution of conceptual frameworks Thurston, Bonnie Colleen


It is argued that any epistemological theory which takes as its starting point the assumption of a duality between a subject and some form of objective reality is doomed to failure. An attempt is made to show that it is precisely this kind of point which must be seen as underlying Wilfrid Sellars' powerful argument against the given. But while his argument against the given involves a rejection of the problematic duality at the lowest level—specifically, of the duality between a subject and its sensations—Sellars' own linguistic account of awareness involves the reintroduction of the same type of duality at a higher level—now between a subject and its linguistic utterances. For Sellars, all awareness is awareness of (something); but his own negative argument, properly understood, amounts to a demonstration that there can be, in some strong sense, no such thing as awareness of. An attempt is made to remove the impression that any argument which purports to show that there is no such thing as awareness of has got to be wrong by showing how it might be possible to account for the apparently dual state, the state of awareness of, in terms of a non-dual state, the state of awareness. whereas for Sellars, the existence of language, as an evolutionarily developed, S-R acquired phenomenon, presents no philosophical problems, and he has it playing a central role in his attempt to account for the philosophically perplexing phenomenon of awareness, an interestingly opposed and equally untenable position takes the existence of awareness, even of complex kinds of awareness, as philosophically unproblematic and presupposes it in an attempt to account for the possibility of language. The latter position is known as meaning-nominalism and is developed by Jonathan Bennett. It shares with the Sellars position the assumption that awareness is dualistic. By avoiding that dualism, the present account is able to acknowledge, and address itself to, philosophical problems in connection with both awareness and language. A simple form of awareness is held to be presupposed by language acquisition but language is held to be presupposed by the complex kinds of awareness taken as basic by nominalism. The suggested account of awareness is also held to show that, contrary to arguments by Sellars and Paul Churchland, facts about sensations must play a central and indispensable role in the meaning of common observation predicates.

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