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The Varieties of ConsciousnessReview - The Varieties of Consciousness
by Uriah Kriegel
Oxford University Press, 2015
Review by Robert Zaborowski
Sep 17th 2019 (Volume 23, Issue 38)

This book was published originally in 2015 and now it reappears as a paperback. This is a fantastic work, both for its clarity of presentation and precision of analysis. It is composed of an introduction, five chapters and conclusion, plus an appendix which ends with "concluding remarks and directions for future research" (241). Kriegel's approach is both subtle and convincing, well-argued and prudent. The methodology is transparent and the plan of the outline makes it pleasant and easy to follow.

The aim of the book is to determine the number of "sui generis, irreducible, primitive phenomenolog[ies] [...] to just be able to describe the stream of consciousness" (1). To do this Kriegel proceeds in such a way as to argue, on the one hand, against both eliminativist and reductivist views and, on the other, for a primitivist view for every single form of consciousness he posits. However, there are two exceptions to this since he takes for granted perceptual and algedonic phenomenologies (see 34).

In the Introduction Kriegel displays his methodology. He argues iat length for it and makes several clarification to disentangle conceptual confusions. For example he cleverly defends introspection as a tool in investigating phenomenal experiences. His point is that while cognitive-science trend rules it out as unscientific, it is nevertheless based on it because its area of research is formed by data discovered initially through personal introspection which otherwise would have remained unknown. This is not to say that Kriegel adopts introspection uncritically: he deals with the various ways in which introspection may be used, with its methodological status and with the problem of introspective disagreement.

The first chapter is about cognitive phenomenology. Kriegel lists more than twenty examples of typical cognitive acts (judging, thinking, believing, accepting, suspecting, etc.), takes "making judgment that p" (39) as the most paradigmatic case of the cognitive, and isolates the cognitive from the perceptual and the conative. The cognitive act about p involves a mental commitment to the truth of p. As Kriegel puts it, the mental commitment to truth is not about what is represented but about how p is represented. In a word, it is not representing p-as-true but representing-as-true p. For instance in suspecting pp is represented-as-true even if in a tentative way only. To isolate the mental from the perceptual, which may also represent-as-true, Kriegel suggests to understand the mental as representing-as-true nonsensorily. His next step is to determine the phenomenal properties of the mental. His strategy is to espouse the model of Ramsey sentences. To grasp the phenomenology of the cognitive Kriegel formulates some twenty such sentences. The number of twenty is not closed and "a more sophisticated Ramsey sentence would involve a great multitude of disjuncts of variously lengthy conjunctions" (70). In short, the cognitive primitive can be characterized as "an attitudinal feature of nonsensory representing-as-true" (70).

In the second chapter Kriegel focuses on conative phenomenology, which is, again, first exemplified by nineteen acts (e.g. desiring, wanting, intending, choosing, etc.) along with their negative counterparts, then presented by its paradigmatic case which is "deciding-and-then-trying to φ" (83). And again, after arguing against eliminativist and reductivist accounts of the conative he passes on to building a primitivist account of it. In Kriegel's view deciding-and-then-trying to φ is a primitive form of consciousness insofar as it is characterized by a distinctive effort and a special kind of pull to action, which, however, does not have to result in acting inself. Its mark is "nonsensuous presenting-as-good" (87), where good is understood as generic good. Kriegel expands on deciding-cum-trying and, again, on the characterization of its phenomenology by means of Ramsey sentences including some eighteen platitudes (e.g. "deciding has a character of futurity", "deciding involves a felt stake" (95)).

Chapter three is about entertaining, a word which is used in lack of a better one. Kriegel means by it a neutral presentation of an object. Examples include apprehending, grasping, examining, supposing and, also, contemplating (I wonder why he does not adopt this last concept as a category for whole group, especially because in what follows he replaces entertaining with contemplating, see e.g. in summary, 126-127, and 127: "contemplative entertaining"). Entertaining is a kind of act which occurs when an object is simply presented to the mind without any assent, dissent, approval or disapproval. The difference between entertaining and the cognitive is similar to distinction between thinking-of and thinking-that. Kriegel draws here on Brentano's notion of presentation (Vorstellung)[[1]]. In conclusion, once again, he ends with a Ramsey sentence for entertaining. Among elements of a disjunction of conjunctions is entertaining's doxastic and axiological neutrality.

Next comes emotional phenomenology (chapter 4). Here from the very beginning Kriegel is sceptical about a sui generis emotional phenomenology (but why then he does consider it at all?). He begins by giving a number of uncontroversially emotional experiences (without providing, however, an analogous list of emotional acts as it was the case in the three previous chapters) and quickly expresses doubt about their having common and peculiar phenomenal features. Kriegel remarkably improves on the reading of the James-Lang theory and provides it a better meaning (this is what he calls the new feeling theory of emotion). Emotional states are understood as combinations of proprioceptive, cognitive, conative, and algedonic phenomenologies[[2]]. As for the phenomenology of emotions various candidates are on trial, for instance presenting-as-important but, as Kriegel remarks, important are also objects of perception and of intellectual attention, and, I think, of thinking and desiring. A question that a sentimentalist may have in mind, notably, why an object rather than any other is important, is not answered. Kriegel's more positive conclusion, inspired by Brentano, is that emotions together with the conative belong to one class of mental phenomena of which the object is interest. If so, the conative and the emotional are two facets of second-layer class, both presenting third-layer phenomenologies. This is but a small modification in the mental landscape, since, as Kriegel says, "[t]he number of second-layer phenomenal primitives is unaffected, in this picture - only the taxonomy is." (158)

The last chapter of the book concerns moral phenomenology. As I understand it, Kriegel chooses moral phenomenology to look in because of Gendler's distinction between belief and alief, the latter being a candidate for moral - and different from cognitive - phenomenology. A lot of what follows refers to and relies on this notion which explains human motivation in cases when human behavior is not clear, transparent or conscious. But there are several problems with how Kriegel approaches moral phenomenology of which the first is, I think, that it is an error to equate proclamation (even an honest one) with belief (see 168); also it may surprise to see that he mentions implicit bias studies without qualification. This means that the clear-cut distinction between alief and belief is not well grounded. In conclusion Kriegel states that "moral commitment is just a species of these [i.e. cognitive, conative, entertaining, perceptual, and algedonic] types of phenomenology" (183).

In his twenty-page Conclusion - note that conclusion as a separate chapter has become a rare animal in academic book - Kriegel first examines imagination as another candidate for phenomenal primitive (Kriegel's inspiration for that comes from Sartre) and then he presents the results of his taxonomical investigation. Imagination is worth considering because it differs importantly - not only quantitatively but also qualitatively - from perception. The categorical difference between perception and imagination lies in the way of presentation. Although they are alike in content, perception presents-as-existent while imagination presents-as-nonexistent or merely-presents the object. With that at hand Kriegel passes on to his final taxonomical model which contains six phenomenal primitives and is given in three versions two of which are two-levelled and one is three-levelled. In the first he proceeds from phenomenology through three directions of fit (mind-to-world, neutral, world-to-mind) to two sensory and two nonsensory primitives for each of them. In second classification the division of phenomenology is into sensory versus nonsensory and then into three directions of fit for both. The third classification is two-levelled and is composed of a sextad of perceptual, cognitive, imaginative, entertaining, algedonic and conative primitives. The three alternative taxonomies not only prove plasticity and openness of Kriegel's results but also, and more importantly, are operationally valid for an epistemologist as well as for a metaphysician. Near the end Kriegel asks if there is any reason to believe that the six primitives are the only ones. He answers in the negative. In order to know about the real number of primitives all candidates should be considered (see below). Kriegel briefly tests three of them - for-me-ness, attention, and aesthetic experiences.

Kriegel's book is an extremely useful contribution to taxonomy of mental phenomena and there is much more to say about the content of the book, of the discussions it comprises and nuances it runs through, both highly important and inspiring for philosophical research. I regret I cannot do justice to all of them here. Let me now make two minor and three major remarks about points which lessen the value of Kriegel's taxonomy. First, his use of the cognitive is not consistent and, I think, he does better when he speaks about the intellectual (e.g. 56, 60); this is because other primitives are or may be cognitive too. Second, the phenomenology of mood is omitted and if I am not mistaken it comes out only once - out of the blue - in Appendix (220: "a combination of cognitive, conative, and mood phenomenology"). Third, what is phenomenology itself is not explained. We learn about it only in Conclusion and only indirectly when he takes into account for-me-ness. Is is there that he says: "for-me-ness is [...] a sine qua non of all conscious experience [...] a pervasive dimension infusing all phenomenology [...] a standing dimension of all of [phenomenal features]. [...] Phenomenality as such just is for-me-ness. In other words, it is for-me-ness itself that divides into six species." (199). This is very much acceptable but if it is so - as I think it is - this is where the whole investigation should have started from, i.e. from grasping the very nature of phenomenality. As it is, there is no conceptual work at the first layer with the corollary - this is my fourth remark - that it is not clear how Kriegel selects his candidates. For instance, neither mood nor intuition come under scrutiny and imagination, as we have just seen, emerges only as late as in the Conclusion. Finally, I see a confusion around the category of feeling. It is a recurrent category and it is used to describe and explain Kriegel's primitives: the cognitive (see 65-70), the conative (see 81, 85 etc.), entertaining (see 99, 112), the moral (159: "subjective [sic] feeling"), freedom (see 215, 216, 217, 219). Aa a result, feeling seems to be at least their basis. But if so what about emotion being reducible to other phenomenologies? The rebuttal of Stocker (see 147 - for him the phenomenology of emotion lies in feeling) in this light is, I am afraid, too abrupt and insufficient. This is because I don't see why it is more accurate to analyze emotion as a combination of combinations of proprioceptive, cognitive, conative, and algedonic phenomenology rather than the other way round (I suppose, this point is connected with the third one mentioned above about for-me-ness as a mark of phenomenality). Furthermore, in this context it is absolutely surprising to read that: "I will argue that moral phenomenology does not constitute a new second-layer phenomenal primitive, instead reducing (sic) to cognitive and emotional phenomenology." (159). This is the claim made at the opening of the ch. 5, in which emotional phenomenology and emotion are the explanans for, respectively, phenomenology of moral alief and alief itself (see 176-177, 178, 179, 181: "alief is in reality nothing but emotion", 182). But if so Kriegel's conclusion is a little messy. For how can he claim that "the phenomenology of moral alief is a species of emotional phenomenology" and that "the phenomenology of moral alief would constitute a third-layer phenomenal primitive" (182), if earlier (ch. 4) he suggested that "[e]motion would be [...] at most a third-layer phenomenal primitive" (157)? I wonder if this confusion, if there is any, does not come from the order adopted by Kriegel. He has already posited five primitive phenomenologies and now is predisposed to analyze another one - emotional - in these terms. Should he have begun with the emotional, the result might have been different (this may be also related to the point mentioned in the fourth remark above).

I raise these points but I don't want them to overshadow the overall value of Kriegel's work which, among others things, lies in avoiding a conflict between third- and first-person approaches and in enriching a purely functionalist portrait of mental life with a phenomenological perspective. As such it is an outstanding contribution to the philosophy of human being. This is even confirmed by the Appendix, an admirable chapter, standing on its own and worth reading for itself by anyone interested in freedom, free action and what it is like to be a human being. This is, to use Kriegel's own words, a somewhat experimental piece and it is also the most personal one. Yet it portrays the phenomenology of freedom in the most penetrating way in context of losing and re/finding. Its feature is double: being uncompelled and being unconstrained. The final paragraph of the Appendix (and of the book) may produce a vertigo. There Kriegel lists more than eighty various phenomenologies. This makes me think that Kriegel's six primitives are but a first approximation to answer the question about their definite number.

 

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[[1]] I wonder if, however, entertaining does not presuppose its object, even if without an assent. If so, I would like to ask what is the role of presupposing the existence of an object in entertaining. If it is really neutral, i.e. devoid of any commitment, what is the range of such neutrality? Kriegel says that it is doxically neutral (see 117) and existentially neutral (see 118). But is it mentally neutral as well?

 

[[2]] Elsewhere Kriegel insists that "[i]n addition to its cognitive element, emotional phenomenology often involves a conative component as well" (135). This is puzzling insofar as the range of often is not defined and also it is not stated whether often applies to the cognitive.

 

© 2019 Robert Zaborowski

 

Robert Zaborowski, thymos2001@yahoo.fr, University of Warmia and Mazury


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