The Subject of Consciousness
© C.O. Evans

Chapter 6

The Experiential Self - 6.3.8
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3. The Dependence of a Persisting Self on Sustaining Activity

[8] In this section I apply the distinction between an activity and a state to perceptual concepts, in order to make explicit the form of dependence of states of awareness on attentive activities. In other words, the time has arrived for me to show in detail how attentive activities sustain states of awareness, and by so doing to account for the continuousness of awareness. The first thing to establish is that in the case of such pairs of concepts as 'looking and seeing', 'listening and hearing', palpating and feeling', the first member of

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each of these pairs of concepts designates an activity, and the second, a state. When this is accomplished we will be able to go on to investigate the ways in which these activities and states are connected.

My argument is considerably helped by the fact that Barnes has arrived at conclusions very similar to my own, in a paper 'On Seeing and Hearing' 179 I shall, therefore, base the discussion on that paper, both for the support it gives to my own position, and for the opportunity it affords me to define my position more precisely by showing the respects in which it diverges from Barnes's position. Moreover, it is Barnes who expresses the reservation about classifying a perceptual awareness as a state, which I mentioned, and it will be convenient to include that matter in the present discussion.

Although Barnes does not attempt, as I have done, to make explicit the logical characteristics that distinguish activities from states, to all intents and purposes he offers the same analysis of looking and seeing, and, by implication, of listening and hearing, that I have given. In the passage that follows he eliminates one possibility by rejecting the idea that seeing and hearing are activities.

I think there can be little doubt that seeing a tree, hearing a bell, etc., are neither activities nor processes and are only in a partial way states. That they are not activities can be seen from the fact that we do not normally answer questions such as "What are you doing?" or "What did you do?" with "I am seeing the moon rise" and "I saw the moon rise". The normal answers would be "I am watching the moon rise" and "I watched the moon rise". The absence of the continuous present tense seems also to prove that seeing and hearing are not processes.' 180
In such perceptual contexts as these there seems to be no room for the use of the continuous present tense of the verbs 'see' and 'hear' and that would rule out their classification as performances or transitory acts as well. To this it might be objected that there are after all contexts in which we use the continuous present tense of these verbs: e.g. 'I am seeing stars' and 'I am hearing things'. It should be clear, however, that these uses of 'see' and 'hear' are not
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perceptual ones. The point of such usage seems to be that of making it clear that one is identifying one's condition as hallucinatory as opposed to perceptual. 181 We would, therefore, be put off the track completely if we allowed such usages of 'see' and 'hear' to lead us into thinking of seeing and hearing as types of doing. After all, having an hallucination is not something we do.

A reason for wishing to treat seeing and hearing as performances, which is independent of the one just rejected, is Ryle's analysis of the verbs in question as achievement verbs. 182 But this would be a confusion because an achievement is not itself a performance, rather it is the successful culmination of a performance and that is not another performance in turn. The whole issue has been beautifully cleared up by Sibley in terms of his distinction between the 'spotting' sense of 'see' and the 'retention' sense of 'see'. 183 As he makes clear, Ryle concentrates on the first sense to the exclusion of the second and for this reason he misses the non-achievement sense of 'see'. But it is that sense that I am concerned with and which I take to belong to the category of a state. The most important feature of the 'retentive' sense of 'see' in this connection is that it describes an experience that lasts for a stretch of time. I classify seeing and hearing as states because they are not types of doing (as evidenced by the non-existence of the continuous present tense of the respective verbs when they are used in a perceptual context) and because of their characteristic of lasting for a time. This conclusion is supported by what Barnes has to say in the following passage in which he compares looking and seeing to searching and finding:

While looking for something is like searching for something in referring to an activity, seeing has a dual role, (a) like finding, which refers to the end of an activity and the beginning of a state of affairs, and (b) like possessing, which refers not to an activity but to a state of affairs. In sense (a) I may exclaim "Ah! I see it now." In this case it is plausible to say that seeing is "detecting" or "spotting". But if someone asks "Do you see that tree outside the window"' and I say "Yes, I see it: I've been looking at it for some time," I am using see in sense (b) and it does not mean detect here. "I still see it" and "I still have it in my sight" are like "I still have

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it" and "I still have it in my possession". Now although we do not use the continuous tenses of a verb such as possess, this does not mean that the state of possession cannot have any duration. We say "I had it all the time": and similarly "I saw you all the time" or "I could see you all the time". The state, though it has duration, is complete at each moment of its duration.' 184

We see therefore, that Barnes agrees with us in finding 'seeing' - and by implication 'hearing', etc. - to have all the logical features which my analysis has shown a state to have. In spite of this he is unhappy about calling seeing and hearing 'states' and his reasons are as follows:

Are seeing and hearing states? They would have to be states in which people and animals could be. Now I can, of course, be in a certain physical state, e.g., filthy, sick, or in a mental state, e.g., depressed, hilarious, or in a state which it is difficult to classify as exclusively physical or mental, e.g., tense, exhausted. And there is also a looser use of "state" in which when I have something wrong with a part of me I can be said to be in a certain state, e.g., when I have a headache or nausea. Seeing something is not very much like being in a state in any of these uses. But there is a class of verbs which refer not so much to a state in which I am as to a state of affairs in which I am central, e.g., have, possess, own. The activity or process of buying is followed by the state of having. There seems to be a certain parallel between this sort of verb and verbs such as seeing and hearing. We do not normally use the continuous tense of verbs referring to this kind of state; we do not normally say "I am having the pencil in my hand". And these verbs of ownership further resemble verbs such as seeing and hearing in referring not so much to my state as to my situation vis--vis something else. But granting these resemblances we should not normally refer to seeing and hearing as states. If they are not activities, processes or states, what are they? The answer, I think, is that they are experiences. 185
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one thing, his answer can be looked upon as a category mistake. It would be logically objectionable to say: 'There are activities, processes, performances, transitory acts, states, events, and experiences.' Experiences do not belong in such a categorial list. Rather, experiences are one of the things of which we should like to know to which of the categories in the list they belong. I suggest that we can get around Barnes's objection to classifying seeing and hearing as states, in the following way. We can insist that we are using the word 'state' in a philosophical sense to designate a particular category and not using it in its ordinary language sense. From this standpoint the ordinary language use of the word 'state' could well be more restricted than the use I am giving it such that whatever in ordinary language would be called a state would also be called a state by me, whereas some of the additional things I would classify as a state would not be so described in ordinary language. The reason for the disparity could then be the simple one that from the standpoint of ordinary language we already possess exact concepts for the things in question and have no need to resort to the very general term 'state' to describe them. Thus we have the concepts designed for the purpose, such as 'experience', 'awareness', and more specifically still 'seeing', 'hearing' and 'feeling'. Barnes's mistake, it seems to me, is the one of identifying philosophical distinctions with ordinary usage, and without going any further it can safely be said that the relation between them is not as simple as that. I conclude, therefore, that seeing, hearing, feeling, etc., are states from a philosophical point of view, even though it would not be proper in ordinary usage to call them states. Having said that, let us proceed to Barnes's analysis of looking and listening.

In this connection Barnes has this to say:

Corresponding to the experience verbs see, hear, taste, smell, feel are the activity verbs look, listen, taste, sniff (or smell), and feel186

Barnes does not explicitly make the point, although it is certainly implied in his analysis, that his list of activity verbs identifies activities, because in each case it is true of them that 'A is Øing' entails 'A has Øed'. That is, if I am looking, I must have already looked, and similarly for the remaining cases of perceiving. In other words, the result of each of these activities comes into being as soon as the activity commences, lasts for as long as the activity goes on,

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and perishes the moment the activity ceases. As a matter of fact, Barnes has a concept, which corresponds with my concept of a resulte and this concept he calls an 'upshot'.

He criticizes Ryle for not distinguishing between the concept of an achievement, and the concept of an upshot. Every action has, according to Barnes, an upshot, but not every action results in an achievement. Now Barnes does suggest that every activity also has an upshot. Dealing with the activity of walking, he points out that at each moment the walker reaches a certain point, and adds:

It would be inappropriate, as we have already seen, to refer to this as an achievement. It is a result or upshot. With any kind of movement there is a continuous upshot, consisting in the fact that at every moment what is moving is at a different point in space. 187

However, this analysis gets Barnes into trouble.

If 'looking at' has as its continuous upshot 'seeing' what is the continuous upshot of 'looking for'? The same question arises of course in the case of the other modes of perceiving. The only continuous upshot which is entailed by 'looking for' is 'having looked for' not 'seeing'. Even if we confine ourselves to such activities as 'looking at' and 'listening to' we can still distinguish the two different continuous upshots: namely, 'having looked at' and 'having listened to', and 'seeing' and 'hearing'. Plainly what Barnes has in mind is the latter sort of continuous upshot, but all his argument establishes is the former sort of continuous upshot. This is clear from his remark, 'With any kind of movement there is a continuous upshot'. What Barnes is plainly not entitled to do is to identify resultc, in this sense, with the sense in which 'seeing', 'hearing', and 'smelling' are results.

Now it would be conceptually very neat if I were able to claim that Barnes had simply overlooked my distinction between resultc, and resulte and that perceptual states were results of the latter sort. But this simple way out would be incorrect. A resulte is an end-state, which only comes into being upon completion of a task, and seeing, hearing, etc., are not states of that sort. We have no option but to recognize that seeing, hearing, etc., are a second type of result, which is rather the point of the activity in question. T his gives us grounds for distinguishing between some types of perceptual activity which do not necessarily have such a result (such as

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'looking for') and those which do (such as 'looking at'). Thus, those activities whose point it is to sustain states of awareness should be understood as ones in which a second type of resultc, comes on top of the first type of resultc: another type of continuous upshot altogether.

We come now to the crucial question of the relationship between perceptual activity and perceptual state. Barnes has this to say in connection with the particular case of looking and seeing:

Looking about is a thing that I can do and it has as its continuous upshot seeing first one thing and then another. Looking at some particular thing has as its continuous upshot seeing first one feature of it and then another. Looking for some particular thing, e.g., a gentian, in so far as it involves looking about has as its continuous upshot seeing first one thing and then another: it is crowned by achievement only in so far as it has as an upshot seeing a gentian. 188

In this passage Barnes gives us an excellent example of an activity sustaining a state. For it is evident that his description of a 'continuous upshot' is a description of a state that is dependent on a sustaining activity. A continuous upshot must last as long as the activity of which it is the upshot goes on. This means that the continuousness of the activity is reflected in the continuousness of the state kept in being by the activity.

The significance of this example is that it provides evidence of an activity sustaining a state, in one concrete case. This confirms the thesis for which I have been arguing, in as much as a general thesis is confirmed through its instantiations. Moreover, the example in question is not merely a confirming instance of the thesis. It may be regarded as a paradigm case of an attentive activity sustaining a perceptual state. It is thus a demonstration of the thesis that the continuousness of awareness is brought about by the continuousness of a sustaining activity.

We are at last in a position to substantiate the answer I gave to the question about the number of 'sightings' of a tree we make during any given time span. 189 If we think of the seeing of a tree as the 'continuous upshot' - to use Barnes's phrase - of the activity of looking at, then we can appreciate that it makes no sense to ask

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how many 'sightings' of the tree the perceiver registers, after, say, half an hour of solidly looking at the tree. We can only ask the perceiver how many times he has seen the tree if we suppose him to have taken his eyes off it one or more times. He can then reply, for instance, 'I've seen it three times now' - having looked at it thrice. But if the hypothesis is adopted that consciousness is composed of a succession of temporal units, we would have every right to expect an answer to the question 'How many visual experiences have you had of the tree since you started looking at it five minutes ago?' This question is not only manifestly absurd, but, more importantly, we can explain why it is absurd. Given that we are describing a continuous upshot - or a resultc, on my analysis - we see that we are dealing with something continuous and not with distinct episodes. We cannot, therefore, break up such a continuous upshot into units, without seriously misrepresenting its character.

We can now, finally, understand the circumstances in which a perceptual activity will be responsible for sustaining a state of awareness. I maintained that attention establishes a logical link between perceptual activity and its corresponding perceptual state. This it does when the awareness holds the attention of the perceiver. It is then a necessary condition of his paying attention to his awareness that it should be the resultc, of his perceptual activity. In this circumstance the state of awareness is of necessity sustained by the perceptual activity, and the continuousness of the seeing, hearing, or feeling, is proven.

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Footnotes

179. W. F. Barnes, 'On Seeing and Hearing', Contemporary British Philosophy, ed. H. D. Lewis (London, 1956).
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180. Barnes, 'On Seeing and Hearing', p. 70.
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181. This point was relayed to me as one made by Mr Malpas.
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182. Ryle, The Concept of Mind, p. 149.
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183. Sibley, 'Seeking, Scrutinizing, and Seeing', p 143.
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184. Barnes, 'Seeing and Hearing', pp. 74-5.
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185. Ibid., pp. 70=71.
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186. Barnes, 'Seeing and Hearing', p. 72.
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187. Barnes, 'Seeing and Hearing', p. 73.
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188. Barnes, 'Seeing and Hearing', p. 73.
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189. See above, p.190.
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