Between Kant and Hegel: Lectures on German Idealism

By Dieter Henrich; David S. Pacini | Go to book overview

17
The Paradoxical Character
of the Self-Relatedness
of Consciousness

Self-reference is one of the oldest problems in philosophy. Its importance in the history of philosophy has continuously increased. Among the early instances of the problem of self-reference, the concepts of a motion that continues itself by itself, or of a change of the body that depends entirely on the nature of the body itself, are especially significant. They emerge in the Greek concept of 'life,' which is essentially embodied motion that depends on itself. Other instances of the problem of self-reference include the early origins of the problem of propositions that make reference to themselves, for example, the 'paradox of the liar.' The examples I have just cited are instances of self-reference in ontology and logic, but they do not belong to the thematic field of the philosophy of mind.

There are among the instances of discussion about self-reference, however, some that are essential for what we call the 'mental.' Aristotle, for example, attributes to any perception an awareness of itself. In On the Soul as well as his Metaphysics, Aristotle says that mental states and acts—visual perception, for example—carry with them an awareness of themselves (as a parergon = accessory).1 There is no vision unless there is an aisthêsis, a

1. "Therefore it must be itself that thought thinks (since it is the most excellent of things),
and its thinking is a thinking on thinking. But evidently knowledge and perception and
opinion and understanding have always something else as their object, and themselves only
by the way. Further, if thinking and being thought are different, in respect of which does
goodness belong to thought? For being an act of thinking and being an object of thought are
not the same. We answer that in some cases the knowledge is the object. In the productive
sciences (if we abstract from the matter) the substance in the sense of essence and in the the-
oretical sciences the formula or the act of thinking, is the object. As, then, thought and the
object of thought are not different in the case of things that have not matter, they will be the

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