Often times the word 'awareness' is said to mean simply the having of an impression, or the state of knowing which terminates in the object known itself. So for example, the presence of the impression of a dog to my mind, in which I think 'there is a dog', is the embodiment of awareness. But can it be said that there is another sort of 'awareness' in which our knowledge doesn't terminate in the object itself insomuch as it terminates in the state of knowing? This sort of awareness would be represented by the sentence 'I think there is a dog'. Where one sort of statement bears in mind only the dog or impression itself, the other bears in mind a notion of the agent by which the dog is known; a sort of self-awareness brought on by self-reflection. There seems to be a necessary difference in that where the first can bear no relations since it terminates in the distinct impression, the latter can, and seems to give rise to such notions as truth and error which require the associative act of comparison.

Can there be said to be these two different senses of awareness, or is the latter merely an extension of the first, being identical to it in nature?

  • 1
    This sounds like Husserl's noema (object intended) and noesis (state of intending), he characterizes them as "poles" of every intentional act, and consciousness can "slide" between the two by shifting focus between mental content and I. This establishes "reflective continuity" between experience and thought. Husserl does credit Hume as the principal forerunner of his phenomenology, if you are interested Mall's book describes its relation to Hume in detail books.google.com/…
    – Conifold
    Feb 14, 2016 at 23:19
  • This is more of a neuroscience question than a philosophy one. Current research would suggest that yes, awareness is quite separate from perception. Split-brain patients, for example, with a severed corpus collosum can interact correctly with objects with one half of the brain while the other half is completely unaware of them, and will even fabricate justifications for the actions of the opposite hand. There are also things like Anton's syndrome and hysterical blindness. Apr 2, 2018 at 20:02

2 Answers 2


There's a lot of bits in the question that are written with apparent certainty that appear to be idiosyncratic. I don't follow your vocabulary, so I'm going to ignore that and just give a general answer.

The general answer across contemporary philosophical schools is that having an impression and attending to that impression are distinct. In most schools, they are also viewed as possibly different, but much of the difference hinges on what precisely is meant by "having" vs. "attending to". Probably, the clearest version of this is going to be in Husserl's phenomenology.

But the basic idea is that consciousness is consciousness of, i.e., it is the directing of my attention towards an object whether that object be in the world or in my own mind. So then we can distinguish between:

  1. Me looking out the window at a squirrel (which by itself wouldn't be something I could articulate in those terms)
  2. Me thinking about [Me looking out the window at a squirrel]
  3. Me thinking about [me thinking about [...]

Note that I said above "distinguish". The question, however, is what is different between the things I'm doing with consciousness. For phenomenologists, the answer would be:

  1. in the above 1, My consciousness is attending to an object out there in the world -- that's the object of my focus.
  2. In 2 and 3, the object of my focus moves to myself and to what my mind is doing.

Of course you're right that when I reflect on the 1 at the top, I realize that this too is a mental process and not just something out there in the world. So in a sense, all consciousness is arguably of the form of the top 2 and 3. But this is a more debated and contentious point -- the distinction still remains between this sort of reflective engagement on our thoughts and our impressions from things in the world.


It is one characteristic of human thinking, that we are able not only to think but also to think about the fact that we are just thinking. Human thinking can operate on different hierarchical levels: on a first level, then on a metalevel, thinking about our thinking on the first level, then on a second metalevel thinking about our thinking on the previous metalevel etc.

Back to your example: On level 1 I have a conscious perception, and on level 2 I think about my perception, etc.

What do you mean by "the first can bear no relations"?

  • I mean that in themselves, our perception of impressions on the 'first level' is not where relations are perceieved, for impressions are in themselves distinct. Our understanding of relations comes in a later stage of knowledge, after our associative agent derives such from the data of our impressions.
    – Chosen One
    Feb 13, 2016 at 17:34
  • @Chosen one From the viewpoint of neuroscience also our perceptions are the result of a distinguished processing by our mind: They result at least from our sensory input and our stored experience, which is necessary to interpret the sensory input by relating the visual components of the input. Otherwise we would not perceive a "dog". A perceptions is not a photographic image.
    – Jo Wehler
    Feb 13, 2016 at 17:46

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