Ted Honderich, Actual
Publication day party, Garrick Club, Morning Room
We all believe in the objective physical world, sometimes called the scientific world. If we don't, we should. It in brief is the world that is there independently of any consciousness of it. We believe in an objective physical room, which will still be right here when we have all left. Philosophers and scientists of consciousness have always thought about consciousness, sometimes called the mind, in some connection or relation or other with objective physicality. You can take time and enumerate various characteristics of it, starting with its taking up space, being in what you can call the inventory of science, and so on.
Some philosophers and scientists, the persisting mind-body dualists, maintain that consciousness is not physical -- they just tend to say not physical, without any adjective. They take it as spiritual, or abstract, or mystifyingly subjective, or as in the paralysing novels of Virginia Wolff or the allusions or constructions of some psychoanalysts and other deep thinkers.
Some other philosophers and scientists, the many persisting objective physicalists, say the very opposite, that consciousness is objectively physical. In our human case it's just neural states and events. The mind, they say, is just the brain.
Smaller lots of thinkers about consciousness include the naive realists, given that name by Freddie Ayer, who once presided in this room with Isaiah Berlin. The naive realists, now on the rise, and now calling themselves the direct realistis, say something about the consciousness in perception in particular, consciousness in seeing and so on. The naive or direct realists leave perceptual consciousness as a seemingly mysterious relation between you or something internal to you and the objective room.
A whole industry of other philosophers and scientists, Freddie among them too, regard themselves as definitely not naive. They say that all consciousness, including consciousness in perception, is a matter of stuff of a certain character, stuff that is something like ordinary words such as the ones you are hearing and which could be recorded, and ordinary images like the ones around us on these walls. All consciousness consists, that is, only or purely in what they call representations, and maybe better called aboutnesses. You, being of the sensible cognoscenti that frequents book launches, know that is absurd. Consider any one of those paintings on the walls of this Morning Room, say that portrait of Garrick right there. It sure is a representation, it's of something. It's about something. But the room bloody well isn't. I trust you. You know the room isn't a representation. You can tell the difference between a picture, a kind of aboutness, and the room itself. The room doesn't stand for anything.
Here, I brazenly say, skipping past a lot, is the the first fact instead about consciousness. Each of us has a hold on his or her own consciousness. As a result we think and say things about it, 31 of them on my list. Your being conscious is the having of something, not in the literal way you have ankles or money. It's something being given. It's something present, something right there, something immediate, something not deduced or constructed anything like that. And so on. That is data, a database. You can sum it up or anyway label by saying consciousness is something's being actual. That is true of consciousness in perceiving and also consciousness in kinds of thinking and kinds of wanting -- so in all of the three kinds or sides of consciousness: perceptual, cognitive and affective consciousness, so much more different than my fellow-worker in consciousness these days are inclined to assume.
Your consciousness right now in seeing this room is a room's being actual -- it's actual consciousness, one kind of it. That, and all of the data, is indeed metaphorical or figurative, like so much in which theories in the whole history of science started.
And a room's being actual turns out on analysis or explanation to be a room existing, its being subjectively physical, a room just as much out there in space as the objective physical room. Your perceptual consciousness is therefore primarily a fact not internal to you but external to you, outside you. It is an external fact dependent on two things -- on the objective physical world out there and on you neurally. Its being one of a myriad number of such transient things makes it no less real. Indeed, in senses of that shifty word, it is more real than the objective physical world. For a start, it's the one we live in.
I save you a very different line or two to which I was tempted -- on what is happening in Gaza, about the endings on a beach of four small subjective physical worlds yesterday. I leave that different philosophy about humanity to Twitter, where indeed you will find it, and persist with consciousness in general, or and now the two other kinds of it.
As against perceptual consciousness, there is that consciousness of thinking and wanting, cognitive and affective consciousness. They are different. They are a matter of internal representations. But they aren't the boring representations of that whole industry of philosophers and scientists, like just lines of type and just silicon sequences in computers. Conscious representations are representations that are actual representations, uniquely subjectively physical, if differently so from subjective physical worlds.
That's enough philosophy, enough rearranging of reality, which pedantically I didn't want to leave out even in this mixed company, so as to be true to the book.
Actual Consciousness is definitely philosophy. It has what I sometimes take to be my only virtue, which is diligence. It never stops doing mainstream philosophy, which is always just concentrating on the logic of ordinary intelligence. So it is ongoing argument, with that database, and with checklists of characteristics of the objectively physical and other worlds, sets of counterpart propositions related but not identical, and passing references to a host of other philosophers, and some comradely superiority, and worry about consensus, which after all, despite some scientists, is the unsettling thing that is democracy about truth.
God knows there is a living author in the book. In conversation, not lecturing. And with some awareness of more than the imperatives of philosophy. There is attention to personal existences, including that of the guide. There is attention to dawns, my seeing them from a window. By way of dear Will's perfect line about morns, in russet mantle clad, walking o'er the dew of yon high eastward hill -- in my case the one with Ally Pally on it, that people's palace of London.
Is the literary pretence of a conversation, thinking along together, a little silly? Could be. But it may remind a reader or two that their own attention to themselves, their consciousness, their thinking along for and about themselves, is essential. And that in reading a book by a philosopher they are not in touch with a higher being, but more likely a lower. I confess to early mornings in the sunrise of having aspired to be the Darwin, the Gibbon, the Bach, of consciousness. Midmorning always came, thank God. Poor Ted instead, just trying hard.
I thank lovely Ingrid Coggin Honderich, teacher, Secretary of the Royal Institute of Philosophy, botanist, gardener, loyalist to an English culture, ideal mother and wife, for all that tolerance of me learned in Dartington Hall, that school of schools. I thank all of OUP, starting with Peter Momtchiloff and Ellie Collins, who are on hand. They and their predecessors have waited 24 years for this book. All of them served an author's needs to the extent that that is compatible with the high purposes of the greatest of academic publishers. Including the high purpose, I may say, of a secret detail of the jacket that can be seen only by a very sharp eye that knows its pictures.
Thank you too for listening along.