The 2022 Isaiah Berlin Lecture (Week 6, MT22)

beatrice longuenesse

I argue that we can find in Kant a distinction that is close to Ned Block’s distinction between “phenomenal” and “access” consciousness, namely, between there being something it’s like for the subject of a mental state to be in that state (phenomenal consciousness), on the one hand; and the state’s content being available for judging, reasoning, and guiding action (access consciousness), on the other. I argue that heeding that distinction allows us to understand the very different ways in which cognitive states (for Kant: sensations, intuitions or concepts) can be, for Kant, “with” or “without” consciousness.

Having clarified those distinctions, I argue that for Kant, more fundamental than state consciousness is what we would call “creature consciousness”: consciousness, by the subject of a state, of being, itself, in that state. However, Kant surprisingly claims that this type of consciousness can itself be something of which we are not conscious. I explain how this apparent contradiction may be resolved in light of the distinctions introduced earlier in connection with mental states: the distinction between “phenomenal” and “access” consciousness.The upshot is that Kant offers rich and subtle insights into the conscious and unconscious aspects of our mental life. Freud was wrong, then, to claim that he was the first to recognize that what is mental is not necessarily conscious. And yet, Freud was right to take his own discovery of what he called “the unconscious” to be radically novel. This is the argument of the next lecture.