Consciousness and the World

By Brian O'Shaughnessy | Go to book overview

7 The Attention

It seems to me that the attention, a phenomenon which stands in close relation to perception, has been insufficiently studied by philosophers. Now it is clear that the attention is closely linked also to consciousness. Then I hope in the course of the ensuing discussion in Part II of this work, by tracing out some of the connections between these three phenomena, to shed light upon the essential nature of perception, and in particular to show how it is that perception exemplifies one of the two major functions of consciousness. I aim in this way to reveal its central status in the mind. In the present chapter I confine the discussion to an examination of the attention itself.


1 The Attention as Container

(a) The Non-Cognitive Function of the Attention

There is a sense of the word 'perception' in which one who grasps a truth has a perception. Plainly, the sense of 'perception' in the expression 'sense-perception' is different. In this sense of the term, which is that exemplified in (say) the seeing and hearing of phenomena, a perception is a noticing. That is, it is an event in the attention, which is such that some phenomenal reality is the object of that attentive event. As we express it, perception is making attentive contact with some actual existent.

What do we mean in talking of 'The Attention'? Are we referring to a particular faculty? In particular, do we mean the capacity to harbour certain idiosyncratic phenomena which link one in a pre-eminent fashion cognitively with the environment? I do not think we do. Such a characterization of attention fits the capacity for sense, which is to say the capacity to support the special arrays of sensation that are capable of being put to use in sense-perceptual experience. However, there are reasons for doubting whether it is an adequate characterization of either perception or the attention. One reason consists in the fact that the attention has a use or function in mental life which is distinctively different from its use in perceptual cases.

A notable example of the latter occurs in act-situations. Thus, it is certain that intentional action makes demands of some kind upon the attention—whatever precisely those demands may be. Think of remarks like: 'Because I was attending

-275-

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Consciousness and the World
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Consciousness and the World iii
  • Contents vii
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I Consciousness 35
  • 1: The Experience 37
  • 2: The Anatomy of Consciousness 68
  • 3: Self-Consciousness and Self-Knowledge 102
  • 4: 'Translucence' 164
  • 5: Consciousness and the Mental Will 200
  • 6: Interiority and Thinking 233
  • Part II the Attention and Perception 265
  • 7: The Attention 275
  • 8: The Attention and Perception (1) 291
  • 9: The Attention and Perception (2) 302
  • 10: Perception and Truth 318
  • 11: The Imagination (1) 339
  • 12: The Imagination (2) 362
  • 13: Imagination and Perception 371
  • 14: Active Attending or a Theory of Mental Action 379
  • Part III Seeing 407
  • 15: 'Blindsight' and the Essence of Seeing 415
  • 16: Seeing the Light 439
  • 17: Sense-Data (1) or the Ways of the Attention 465
  • 18: Sense-Data (2) 502
  • 19: Secondary Qualities 515
  • 20: The 'Perceptual Given' and 'Perceptual Mediators' or the Formation of the Visual Experience 538
  • 21: Appearances 570
  • 22: Perceptually Constituting the Material Object 592
  • Part IV Perception and the Body 621
  • 23: Proprioception and the Body Image 628
  • 24: The Sense of Touch 656
  • Conclusion 681
  • Index 697
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