Spring 2020 Colloquium Series - March 6
Catherine Prueitt, University of British Columbia :: Mental Perception or Reflexive Awareness? What a Distinction from Classical India Tells Us about Introspection
Friday, March 6 2020
Abstract: This talk examines the implications of a distinction from Classical Indian philosophy between two forms of awareness that capture aspects of introspection: mental perception (mānasapratyakṣa) and reflexive awareness (svasaṃvedana). The distinction between these two forms of perception clarifies an important ambiguity in contemporary discussions about what it means for awareness to know itself. When we’re talking about introspection, are we talking about an awareness that takes a particular aspect of our mental state as its object, or are we talking about knowing awareness itself in a way that is not reducible to knowing an object? According to Classical Indian theories, in mental perception, we know about specific mental objects. In reflexive awareness, we know that an action of being aware is occurring. Mental perception is subject to error and distortion; reflexive awareness is not. I will hash out the distinction between mental perception and reflexive awareness with particular attention to the works of the 7th century Buddhist philosopher Dharmakīrti. In the course of this analysis, I will address the nature of memory (which is a mental perception of a previous event of determinate awareness), the role of reflexive awareness in memory and other cognitions (to provide and encode the non-determinate causal data that is capable of being expressed as a determinate awareness), and the question of whether or not all moments of awareness contain a first-personal phenomenal feeling of “for-me-ness” (they don’t). Then, I will examine how the distinction between mental perception and reflexive awareness lends clarity and precision to contemporary discussions concerning the scope and nature of meta-awareness.