How can what is empty know itself unless there is some intelligence present? It can't. That's like expecting the eye that can see so many objects, to see it self; it cannot. Likewise, the self cannot see itself unless it does some kind of trick to do so. Without consciousness the self cannot diversify itself. John Locke has this view, and I agree with him. Just trying to get another input on Locke's view.

  • strange way of phrasing it. you are conscious, aren't you?
    – user38026
    Oct 20 '19 at 2:04
  • Because surely I cannot have been unconscious or semi-unconscious my whole life right??? Is an infant conscious? Is this infant aware of its actions? Oct 20 '19 at 2:18
  • @JamesBrewer. The self sees itself by means of intelligence, but how intelligence sees itself?
    – salah
    Oct 20 '19 at 2:20
  • oh ok i get it, sleep etc.. maybe edit your question to elaborate on what you meant
    – user38026
    Oct 20 '19 at 3:25
  • 1
    You seem to assume that personal identity is prior to consciousness. This is a very unorthodox view. The usual view among those who study consciousness 'first-hand' is that the self is a fiction, (score one for Dan Dennett) while awareness cannot be a fiction. This indicates their relationship.
    – user20253
    Oct 20 '19 at 9:50

Locke's theory was empiricist, in opposition to the Cartesian postulation of immutable soul. It is the continuity of memory that creates self-awareness, according to him, and hence personal identity, and consciousness is essential to that. Locke's view of self then is similar to Leibniz's view of space, it is a relational construct rather than a Cartesian substance. This empiricist view found completion in Hume's bundle theory of the self. For a discussion, see e.g. John Locke on Personal Identity by Nimbalkar, who mentions a criticism of Locke's theory by Butler, who cleverly turned a common objection against the Cartesian cogito against Locke:

"Joseph Butler accused Locke of a “wonderful mistake”, which is that he failed to recognise that the relation of consciousness presupposes identity, and thus cannot constitute it (Butler, 1736). In other words, I can remember only my own experiences, but it is not my memory of an experience that makes it mine; rather, I remember it only because it’s already mine. So while memory can reveal my identity with some past experiencer, it does not make that experiencer me."

Oddly enough, Locke-Hume's theory is similar to the Buddhist doctrine of anatman, the non-self, where the soul is compared to a necklace without a thread, a continuous chain of beads that come and go, giving rise to the next one.

As for the mode of self-awareness, Locke did not really address it. But it is a controversial issue that caused major disagreements in the history of philosophy. An eye can easily see itself in a mirror, the idea of self-consciousness as turning, re-flecting on itself has a long tradition. But, as Frank discusses in What is Neostructuralism?, it is not without prominent detractors. And their objection is not dissimilar to the Butler's objection to Locke:

"It is true that Leibniz, Kant, Hegel, and after them many others (for example, Husserl) actually described self-consciousness as reflection... It is not true, however , for early romanticism and not, for example, for Fichte, Franz Brentano, Hans Schmalenbach, or Sartre. These thinkers explicitly rejected the model of reflection of knowledge as insufficient when it is a matter of describing the experience that consciousness has of itself. And they did this without exception along the lines of the following argument.

If the experience of selfconsciousness were a result of self-reflection, then the following process would have to take place: the I, still without knowledge of itself, turns to itself during the process of representation and becomes aware of: itself. But how is it supposed to register this insight if it has not already previously had a concept of itself? For the observation of something (even if it is of me) will never provide me with information about that particular characteristic of my object that makes evident that it is I whom I am observing . I must rather have already had this insight, and I now bring it into play. (Only if I already know myself can the mirror tell me that it is I who is looking at him/herself. And reflection is precisely such a mirror)".

This sets off a regress of reflections to achieve self-acquaintance, and the only way to end it, it seems, is to accept that the self has a way of knowing it-self that does not rely on reflective re-presentation, some sort of direct intuitive self-awareness. This does not mean resurrecting the Cartesian substance, as Butler wanted, but it does suggest that both Cartesian and Lockian views are wanting. The romantics talked of overcoming the traditional subject/object divide in this regard, and offered a synthesis of sorts:

"If this is the case - and it is the case - then selfconsciousness has to be explained differently than on the basis of reflection, namely, as a Being-familiar-with-itself prior to all reflection which since Novalis is characterized as a nonpositing self-consciousness. Hölderlin's friend Isaac von Sinclair spoke of the "athetical" Schleiermacher of the "immediate" selfconsciousness: the "immediate" self-consciousness must not be confused with the "reflected self-consciousness where one has become an object to oneself".

[...] Schleiermacher expressly emphasized in the passage cited earlier that under the term "immediate self-consciousness" he understands only the familiarity of consciousness with itself, not the knowledge of an I - as the owner of consciousness - about itself. Consciousness is thus apersonal, it is not the consciousness of an I. The I, according to Schleiermacher, is generated as a by-product, or in the background of a reflection (it is not an inhabitant of the nonpositing self-consciousness). "We have no representation of the I without reflection"; "self-consciousness and I relate to one another as the immediate to the mediate"".

  • This is excellent and thorough, thank you very much.
    – ttnphns
    Oct 21 '19 at 19:09
  • @ttnphns Hi, you did not accept it, is there some issue?
    – Conifold
    Oct 21 '19 at 19:59
  • But that was not my Q, Conifold :-). I could only upvote it...
    – ttnphns
    Oct 22 '19 at 4:11

To answer this question we need to ask some questions, and check some situations:

  • Does the Blind dream?

  • Does the mute dream?

  • Do the mute and the blind have half I, the mute has half I, the blind has half I?.

  • What is the matter with a child born deaf, mute and blind?.

  • Does Consciousness have levels?, If yes, then what are levels of Consciousness?.

  • What is the importance of Memory?.

By answering these questions, we can say easily that there is a lower limit for the I to be present.

The Blind has complete I, and the Mute also has complete I. But to amplify our world we need more language.

Thus, the Intact has complete I, the Blind has complete I, the Mute has complete I, but the Intact has a bigger world.

Thus, Consciousness and Language are required to constitute the I.

Thus, factors important to shape the I is:

  • Consciousness.

  • Sense Organs.

  • Memory.

  • Language.

Left to know that the self is static change, namely, it's the change itself.


No, it does not.

Ego and consciousness are related but separated entities. Eg. "Somebody who has suffered a shock, temporary amnesia, psychedelic trip, dissociative identity disorder, deep meditation etc. may forget their idea of the self(ego) but not necessary their consciousness (self-awareness in this case)".

...Without consciousness the self cannot diversify itself...

Eastern philosophies such us Samkhya/Shaivism (in which Buddhism was inspired) take a totally opposite approach. Consciousness is a pure tattva(metaphysical) or pure principle of reality, the mind and ego (manas/ahamkara) are not. Ref here. In Shaivism and Vedanta there is only one consciousness playing all the egos that is to say we are all one. The same driver driving all the cars in space and time being mislead by the veil of Maya (world of illusion).

According to the Hindu text Shvetashvatara Upanishad 6.11 :

God, who is one only, is hidden in all beings. He is all-pervading, and is the inner self of all creatures. He presides over all actions, and all beings reside in Him. He is the witness, and He is the Pure Consciousness...

Here The idea of individuality of the self is clearly separated from the nature of consciousness because they are Maya(Vedanta) or Non-spiritual/material (Samkhya) Prakrti that is to say they are illusory and deceitful in nature.

You have clear examples of these in sci-fi literature and movies such us Bladeruner 1981(Personalities and memories could be imprinted in fake humans) Total Recall 1990(People can buy "ego trips" in fake virtual realities) Ghost in the Shell 1995 (People could upload their memories and personalities on line into some kind of hive mind).


According to those philosophies. Consciousness is just the silent witness of the mind it cannot think nor produce thoughts see Descartes vs Buddha. It can only experience existence. Intellect, memory, ego and therefore individuality and knowledge are part of the mind which is illusory in nature, impermanent and potentially deceitful.

"Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one." Albert Einstein

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