The Ontology of Consciousness

The Ontology of Consciousness

Chris Haley

[Read as Digital Publication]

In the religious and philosophical tradition of Western thought there exists the foundational belief and cultural logic of the “self” as the essence and expression of our individual Being. In its religious guise, the self is the earthly manifestation of the eternal spirit of an individual’s soul. The explanatory power of the soul as the seat of the self gives easy support to free-will and personal identity. However, if God and soul no longer backstops the self—the “metaphysics of the subject” evaporated—the phenomenal remainder of “consciousness,” is laid bare and open to critique, inviting speculation over its ontology and capacities. We are left to consider the nature of conscious experience and whatever might be salvaged of a “self” in terms of subject-agency in fully immanent and materialist terms.[1] In this paper, I argue that John Searle’s concept of the “unified conscious field,” Edmond Husserl’s concept of “internal time consciousness,” and Jean Paul Sartre’s concept of “non-positional consciousness” are three aspects or “manifolds in identity” of the same phenomenon. While these concepts point to slightly different functions within the structure of consciousness, when brought together, their unique explanatory powers complete and expand one another. Ultimately, by focusing on the ontological claims made by Searle, Husserl, and Sartre at the level of consciousness, we can begin to account how subject-agency is “vitalized” by the structure and capacities of consciousness, which provide a fount for subject-agent causal power in terms of reflexive and recursive praxis. If subject-agency is to be ontologized, this power will be accounted through the irreducible nature of consciousness, or in Searle’s words, a “first-person ontology of the subject.”


Searle: Who are we in the first-person?


The ontological status of consciousness historically has tended toward substance dualism, classically formulated in philosophy as “Cartesian dualism,” in which mind (soul) and body (material) exist as distinct types of things in the world. The dualist position is understandable on one level. Consciousness seems qualitatively different from the brute given of materiality and the “laws of nature” shaping its expression. The conscious experience of perceiving, conjecturing, remembering, anticipating, and imagining—an “aboutness” of and in the world, consisting of our thoughts and feelings—seem radically separated from other things, people, and even our own bodies. While plants and other animals seem to live as automata, according to a preset life plan, human beings experience an uncomfortable level of awareness and openness to what we can do, might do, and have to do. Mind-material dualism captures our intuition that human consciousness is cut out on its own.

In the historical development of the Western scientific paradigm of material monism, however, not only is the theology of the “soul” expunged from the record, but also the “mental” is rejected as having any separate reality, and hence, the move towards “eliminative materialism,” reducing the ethereality of consciousness to a set of propositions rendered solely in terms of its underlying bio-chemical strata. This type of reduction to a purported set of foundational causal operations is the hallmark of scientificity, such that “if consciousness can be reduced to brain processes then consciousness is

nothing but a brain process.”[2] In this account, consciousness is epiphenomenal of underlying chemical interactions and electrical currents coursing through the neuronal system, which always logically proceed (in terms of causality) whatever we might “think” is going on. Cause and effect processes are objective, quantifiable, and subject to universal laws of determination. Consciousness as we know it, does not fit in the paradigm. How, might we ask, can the conscious intentionality of a mere “thought” move inanimate “matter?”

In answering this question, Searle gives several “conditions of adequacy.” The first is to reject any notion that reality consists of more than one “world”: dualism, trialism, etc., however conceived. Searle argues that we must adhere to a singular view of reality, such that quarks, electrons, consciousness, and baseball games are part of one world, connected by virtue of basic facts of the universe presupposing higher order, “non-basic facts.”[3] Following from the first, the second condition of adequacy is that any account of consciousness must respect “basic facts…given by physics and chemistry, by evolutionary biology and the other natural sciences” and in particular with respect to consciousness, “the atomic theory of matter and the evolutionary theory of biology.”[4] A third condition for Searle, is that any account of consciousness cannot state facts violating our conscious, lived experience, viz., a theory cannot “say anything that is phenomenologically false.”[5]

The problem however, as Searle notes, is that consciousness as the basis for intentional activity of saying, doing, and making is still largely a scientific mystery: “Right now nobody knows the answers to these questions: how is consciousness caused by brain processes and how is it realized in the brain.”[6] Moreover, brain science has yet to account for the deeper mystery, which evokes the “dualist intuition” of those moments when it appears what we “think” logically proceeds (again, in terms of causality) the precise course of electrical and chemical processes in the brain (to give a wink rather than just blink, etc.). Searle argues thusly, “in order to have a scientific account of consciousness we will need more than an account of how the brain produces subjective states of sentience and awareness. We will need to know how the brain produces the peculiar organization of experiences that expresses the existence of

the self.”[7] Consciousness is not just the sum of all intentionalities, the complex “aboutness” of the world given by sensory data and cognitive and conative powers. Some “thing” owns up to, peers at, and lurks among these intentionalities, and that thing is the “self.” Searle terms the self the “X” position of conscious awareness and activity that can react back upon the material body, such as the mundane activity of raising our arm, and with biofeedback, lowering our heart rate and mitigating affective states. If follows, therefore, that the structure of consciousness as the basis for conscious intentional activity must entail the existence of the self with an ability to react back upon and alter the very bio-chemical, “more basic facts” from which it emerges.[8]

Searle’s proposed solution to the mind-body problem undermines both the dualist and eliminative materialist positions. On the one hand, Searle outright rejects substance dualism because it fails in terms of the general world view of science, being there is no non-material “mental substance” in the universe to which we can ascribe causal powers to “move matter.”[9] Consciousness cannot be the expression of a little ball or field of mental or “spiritual energy” that stands apart from the material world, unaccounted for by the known laws of physics.[10] On the other hand, Searle rejects all varieties of “reductive” and “eliminative” materialist positions (but not materialism outright) because eliminative materialists take the fact that if conscious states “can be reduced to brain processes, then consciousness is nothing but a brain process”[11]

Searle argues however, consciousness is not an illusion to be explained by reductionist, third person analysis. Searle’s critique of “eliminative materialism,” (which he takes much more seriously as a philosophical position than dualism) rests on uncovering a confusion between the ontology of consciousness and the causality of consciousness. Searle notes that the debate between dualism and eliminative materialism rests on a mistaken assumption. Both positions presume the mental and the physical would have to be mutually “exclusive ontological categories.”[12] Eliminative materialists however, cannot countenance “irreducible mental phenomena” that cannot be given an “objective” account.[13] Eliminative materialists, seeking to avoid the unconscionable position of dualism, eliminate the mental in the name of preserving all explanation of the physical world in objective materialist terms. The materialist eliminates consciousness by rendering what is “mental” as mere epiphenomenon of its materialist base such that “the mental qua mental does not exist, that there is nothing there but the physical.”[14] A second and related problem arises because eliminative materialists conceptualize causality in the classical Humean model whereby causality is a “relation of discreet events ordered in time.”[15] Once the ‘mind-body problem’ is conceived in terms of Humean causal relations, either the conscious mind or the biological brain (or both at different times) will have temporal priority over the other. For dualists of course, this is not a dilemma: a mental ‘substance’ can effect a material substance. For eliminative materialists it is theoretically impossible: there are no mental substances therefore no conscious experience could ever be a “discreet event” occurring before a bio-chemical event in the brain. Discreet events in the brain must always precede discreet consciously experienced events.

Searle’s critique of dualism and eliminative materialism sets the stage for his theory of consciousness and solution to the mind-body problem, which he describes as “biological naturalism.” What is being fought over is the ontological status of consciousness, which, in Searle’s rather prosaic definition, “consists of those states of feelings, sentience, or awareness that typically begin when we wake from a dreamless sleep and continue throughout the day until those feelings stop, until we go to sleep again, go into a coma, die, or otherwise become ‘unconscious’.”[16] Searle’s theory retains the “dualist intuition” that consciousness is real and causally efficacious, while simultaneously correcting what he takes as the fundamental confusion over the relationship of ontology and causality that leads to eliminative materialism. Foremost, it is a mistake to assume that if consciousness is not a separate substance over and above its material brain base, consciousness is by default reducible in ontological terms to the brain, foreclosing its sui generis reality. Searle argues that conscious states are “features of the brain system, and thus exist at a level higher than that of neurons and synapses. Individual neurons are not conscious, but portions of the brain system composed of neurons are conscious.”[17] The implication is that while conscious states are causally reducible to neurobiological processes (no brain neurobiology, no consciousness), they are not ontologically reducible. Furthermore, the capacity of consciousness to react causally back upon or through the neuronal system gets lost by failing to recognize its causal power is ontologically emergent.

To begin to understand Searle’s argument for ontological irreducibility of consciousness to brain, he argues that an adequate philosophy of mind and theory of consciousness requires two fundamental distinctions. The first is between entities in the world that are ontologically objective and ontologically subjective. Ontologically objective things have existence independent of human intentions and creation such as electrons, coral reefs, tectonic plates, and our brains and bodies. Ontologically subjective things do depend on human minds and intentions, such as governments, money, aches and pains, and our ideas and theories about our brain and body. The second distinction is between human knowledge claims (and thus ontologically subjective) which are epistemologically objective or subjective. The epistemological distinction delineates knowledge claims which are epistemologically public and verifiable and hence “objective” (“the earth revolves around the sun”; water freezes at 32° Fahrenheit) and claims which are opinions and hence “subjective” (“English beer is better than German beer”; “Rainier is the world’s most beautiful mountain”).


In combination, these distinctions form a typology of human-centered knowledge claims. Entities such as the moon or a squirrel, are “ontologically objective” and “epistemologically objective.” The moon exists independently of human intentionality (objective) and we can all agree (objectively), for the most part, the moon exists. In contrast, an opinion that chocolate ice cream is better than vanilla is “epistemologically subjective” statement about an “ontologically subjective” entity.


The crucial combination are those entities that are ontologically subjective (money, the feeling of pain, governments) and epistemologically objective. For instance, dollar bills are a social construction, dependent on human “collective” intentionality for existence (subjectively), which we all agree exists and holds the purchasing power of one dollar (objectively). The existence of most ontologically subjective entities such as governments, money, and ice cream are fairly easy to verify publicly and objectively. Insofar as it is possible to give an objective account for their existence, it is a trivial point that “ontological subjectivity does not preclude epistemic objectivity.”[18] The singular contentious case is the ontological status of conscious states and experiences. The problem is that it is impossible to give a “third-person account”—the hallmark of the hard scientific paradigm— of conscious experiences. Third-person accounts are available for the locus and cause of a headache, when explained in terms of neuroscience, focusing on neuroanatomy and biochemistry. Phenomenological, first-person accounts of pain or other conscious experiences are not, and thus considered unscientific. Moreover, when conjoined by the eliminative materialist assumption of Humean causality as discreet events ordered in time, consciousness is rendered as epiphenomenal.


The point Searle draws from this typology bearing on the nature of consciousness, is that while consciousness in its manifest experience as such is not susceptible to third-person analysis, it does not follow it is ontologically irreal.[19] Many objective experiences, like hunger and pain, have an unproblematic subjective ontology, as they are discreet events with identified causal processes occurring in the brain. Consciousness, while more complicated and so far not well understood, must follow the same logical structure, pertaining to its reality and susceptibility to causal explanation. What is yet to be determined, is how all our sensory and cognitive functions “unify” into an experience of consciousness that is greater than the sum total of its interlocking intentionalities. If consciousness is neither a substance nor ontologically reducible to the physical, the third option is to begin understanding consciousness in analogy to the properties of liquidity and solidity. For both properties, the relationship of the underlying molecular structure to the physical property is one of “simultaneous causality”[20] The molecular structure causes the property of liquidity—not as a Humean “constant conjunction” of atomistic events—but as an intrinsic and occurring physical consequence of the underlying structure. Likewise, there is a relationship of simultaneous causality between the biological brain and consciousness. The unique quality of consciousness however, in disanalogy to liquidity and solidity, is that because consciousness is a subjective experience, it is impossible to derive a “third-person account” of its nature. The motivation behind the materialist reduction of this problem stems from the belief that the only legitimate, scientific account of reality is empirical, verifiable, testable, etc. What is “real,” viz., ontologically objective, can only be posited when ascertained in terms that are epistemologically objective.[21] The latter requirement for both ontological and epistemological objectivity, Searle terms a “third-person ontology,” and as we have seen above, this contrasts with entities such as pain that are ontologically subjective, but verified as “real” when justified in epistemologically objective terms, and hence have a “first-person ontology.” Whatever our experiences of our own conscious states, it does not have a “third-person ontology” that can be known and analyzed like language, text, or a collection of butterflies. Consciousness is not a thing one can trip over or find under the couch cushions. Rather, like pain, consciousness has a “first-person ontology” that only manifests as its “qualitative feel” in and of living creatures .[22] Searle writes:


“When it comes to identifying features of the mind, such as consciousness and intentionality, with features of the brain, such as computational states or neurobiological states, it looks like there have to be two features, because the mental phenomena have a first-person ontology, in the sense that they exist only insofar as they are experienced by some human or animal subject, some “I” that has the experience. And this makes them irreducible to any third-person ontology, any mode of existence that is independent of any experiencing agent.”[23]

Hence, consciousness is the expression of the active awareness of the brain of the world, including, perhaps most saliently, a highly developed awareness of its own state of being in the world.

Searle’s formal account of consciousness demonstrates that it is real, irreducible, and capable of reacting causally back upon the neuronal system from which it emerges. The first-person ontology of consciousness as being neither reducible nor eliminable vouchsafes its reality. It follows therefore, consciousness can explored via a “realist” phenomenology striving to identify the basic structure of consciousness and its features as it manifests in and of the world.[24] For Searle, there are three key features of consciousness: it is qualitative, subjective, and unified, all of which interlock and subsequently ground the consciousness of personal subjectivity. Searle notes first that conscious states are qualitative in that our cognitive experiences are differentiated by “what’s on our mind,” as, for instance, the qualitative difference between listening to Led Zeppelin or contemplating a panoramic mountain view or wallowing in self-despair. Qualitative experiences are formed out of the “intentionalities” of the mind, in that they are constituted by the “aboutness” of consciousness, whether they are features of the external world around us or features we find in self-reflection. They include perceptions, memories, feelings, and beliefs. Nonetheless, Searle argues that “consciousness” and the intentional states that typically fill our conscious awareness are not identical and should not be analytically conflated for important reasons we will see.[25]

Second, consciousness is subjective, in that what is going on in our mind—our consciousness—cannot be experienced directly by any other person—(“Can’t you feel my pain?” “Sorry, not really…”). As a first-person ontology, conscious states of animals are unique in the world in that they have a “subjective mode of existence” unlike all other entities having an “objective mode of existence.”[26] To repeat, just because consciousness is ontologically subjective, this fact does not preclude an epistemologically objective account of its nature and structure however difficult it may be in practice. Moreover, as we will see below, it is precisely the subjective experience, separate from other instances of consciousness around us, that ultimately is responsible for the psychic-physical experience of having a self.

The third feature of consciousness (and the most salient for my argument) is that conscious states (of music, the taste of food, etc.) manifest in a “unified conscious field.”[27] Even though we may be focused on one aspect (the distracting bus rumbling past; the discomfort of sitting too long in front of a laptop), all our sensory experiences are parts of a singular and all inclusive totality, which generally coheres and provides a more or less seamless flow of conscious experience. Consciousness, however, is not just the sum-total of intentionalities, agglutinated in a totality. Conscious experiences like perception do not create consciousness as a one-to-one correlation between a perceived object and its corresponding conscious state (in neurobiological theory, the “Neuronal Correlate of Consciousness,” what Searle calls the “building block” approach or what we might think of as a “5-D” experience of a very high number of pixels). In this view, consciousness is nothing more than the sum total of sensory inputs with correlating neural reactions. Searle finds this approach wanting. He argues that conscious experiences modify a “preexisting conscious field.”[28] In other words, the field is a capacity or power of receptivity, operating prior to all intentional states always and actively primed to encounter perceptions, sensory inputs, etc. that are the “subject” of consciousness. The profound philosophical implication of the unified conscious field is it necessitates an enduring “point of reference” and a requirement for “motivations” to process cognitively the torrent of intentionalities gathered within the field.

For one, Searle notes, the key feature of the unified field is the capacity so enabled to “change our attention at will” to different parts of the field. Toward our experience at any given time, even without moving our heads or eyes, we can focus our attention on different sensations, thoughts, and perceptions. We can consciously foreground and background sights, sounds, and feelings. We can multitask: cook dinner, listen to music, and talk with friends simultaneously, moving our attention rapidly and effectively to the priority task moment by moment. The first-person ontology of the unified conscious field thus grants human kind “a huge evolutionary advantage” to “coordinate a large amount of intentionality (“information”) simultaneously.”[29] The question therefore, “crudely,” as Searle puts it, is: “when I say I can shift my attention at will, who does the shifting? Why should there be anything more to my conscious life than the existence of a conscious field?”[30] Searle claims that “most philosophers” do not believe in a “self” that has any kind of ontological reality over and above the “sequence of our experiences, conscious and unconscious,” as they are situated in a “body in which these experiences occur.”[31] Searle argues that the strong hold of this Humean conception of the “Self” as a fictional cover given to bodies merely undergoing the sequencing of experiences is inadequate. It is precisely the capability to shift our attention to various features of the conscious field that suggests something “more” is in operation. This conscious power of selection and contemplation is further strengthened and expanded by additional abilities to close our eyes, turn our head, or move to a new place, which thus open infinite possibilities of new, different, or reconfigured unified fields of intentionalities.[32] The power to differentiate, separate, and focus within the unified field, as mode of efficient causation, is what is “more” for Searle, and what he takes to be the basic functional capacity as the “who” of the self, enduring in time and accumulating memories.

Two, a “self” who can range through and manipulate aspects of the unified field, moreover, must have motivations or reasons (however minimal), directing these changes in attention. For Searle, “the causes of… action in the form of the reasons [for the action]…, are not causally sufficient to determine the action. In normal non-pathological cases, the action is motivated but not determined, because there is a gap between the perceived causes and the action.”[33] Reasons in and of themselves do not directly entail subsequent actions upon which they are derived, that is to say, they do not have powers of agency to “push out” through the sentient subject. I would also include antecedents of action (behaviors) by relatively autonomous or “objective” forces running through or conditioning human Being: biological requirements, subconscious contents, and social determinations.[34] Thus, the logical structure of the unified conscious field, articulated in the primitive or foundational point of its operation (the basic logic of a reason motivating a subject to change their glance foregrounding a portion of the unified field while backgrounding the rest) holds true for the full range of potential “motivations” transposed as reasons.

Guiding this insight, is a basic argument that “the intentionality of language has to be explained in terms of the intentionality of the mind and not conversely.”[35] In other words, in all human languages, human intentionality has imbued sets of sound patterns, logographs, written marks, etc. with significance that become formalized and institutionalized. Searle terms those instances of pre-existing intentionalities, “derived intentionalities,” which constitute the living legacy in which the subject-agent is socialized into. Maps, books, knowledge, stories, institutions, the built environment, and so on, all the symbolic and material coordinates of the life-world, exist by prior intentional activity, and are uptaked and come to condition the day-to-day “intrinsic intentionalities” of subject-agents in their doing, saying, and making.[36] The point of intrinsic intentional states existing prior to language is clear for more “primitive” biological impulses: thirst, hunger, sex drive, and avoidance of suffering, but Searle argues the latter point holds true for our beliefs and desires.[37] The first-person ontology of consciousness grounds all intentionalities, such that a belief, once taken as true, even if derived from some old 18th century German philosopher, is reactivated as an intentionality, and from which reasons for action and new articulations of its truth are born out of the gap.

Nonetheless, the mediating power operating in the “gap” between reasons and actions is a formal capacity X, “something capable of initiating and carrying out actions.”[38] Our  and actions “do not just happen,” as if subjects are preprogrammed robots carrying out instructions in action. An ontological open space (which I think is best understood as a temporal gap between cause and effect moments) thus separates what behaviors ultimately manifest from a reason. Something—“the Self” through some effort, “the will”—ultimately acts, pushing these deliberations and decisions into being.[39] Moreover, the gap is responsible for the phenomenological experience we have of a basic “freedom of will” to act on our reasons, to do otherwise, to not do anything, or “even [make] the choice not to make free choices,” as the strict “determinist” would have it, are all predicated on some minimal openness and a “self” choosing choices.[40]

Searle’s theory of the self, is thus a necessary structural component of the “unified conscious field,” and is the “X” locus around which its “continuity in identity” in time is reflexively granted through acts of memory recall.[41] The self nonetheless, never operates in isolation, detached from social context and unaware of its becoming in time. Searle notes that a significant “feature of the conscious field is that I do in fact have a sense of myself as a particular person situated at a particular time and place in history, with a certain set of particular experiences and memories.”[42] In total, therefore, the self as an agent “has to be the entity that perceives, remembers, imagines, and reflects,” intentional capacities all of which enable subject-agents’ reasons for actions that a willing self instantiates in the world via her practices.[43] This latter point is crucial because it is only out of our ongoing life experience bounded by memory and anticipations of the future that the subjectivity of the self—formed by sociocultural dispositions, the obscurity of subconscious content, and our concerns and interests—gels into meaningful reasons for our actions.[44]


Husserl: Mind the Time

As I have described Searle’s concept of “unified conscious field” is largely a synchronic account of consciousness over and above the various intentionalities that predominate its field. These include our sensory impressions but also our awareness of our beliefs and desires when brought to attention. The structure of consciousness in Searle’s theory necessarily includes capacities of roaming among intentionalities, surmising their contents, and exercising volition within the gap between reasons and actions. Searle’s structural account of consciousness, nonetheless, is relatively flat, neither placing emphasis on the temporal dimension of consciousness as an unfolding awareness, nor tracing out how temporal awareness is possible. Husserl’s concept of “internal time consciousness” adds this temporal dimension and, when wedded to Searle’s unified field, adds a diachronic aspect, incorporating in much more detail how the structure of consciousness gives rise to the possibility for memories of the past and anticipations of the future . Crucially, this movement is inherently inviolable and indeterminate. Momentarily, it can be mesmerized by flashing lights, distracted by alluring images, and ordered to attention. A sudden loud sound or bright light can “cause” our attention to focus, perhaps akin to a “fight or flight” response. But the “causal” power of such shock and awe events is always transitory, whereby a moment later we normally regain our awareness and ability to focus our attention within the conscious field at will. On this account, there is no direct external power that can cause us to focus on a particularity within the conscious field.[45]

In addition, though I am unaware if Husserl explicitly addresses the nature of the relationship between the brain’s neuronal system and its manifest consciousness, I think Searle’s argument against substance/ property dualisms and reductionist/ eliminative materialisms and for an emergent, first-person ontology of the unified conscious field are both logically and ontologically consistent with Husserl’s phenomenology of consciousness. Moreover, in affinity with Searle, the enabling structure of the human experience of temporality is essential for a position of self-awareness. It is what constitutes the organizing frame by which the subject-agent can monitor the comings and goings of the thoughts and experiences occurring in subjective time. Like Searle, what emerges in Husserl’s phenomenological analysis of the structure of internal time consciousness is a formal “self” as a capacity for conscious manipulation of primary modalities of intentionality. In the act of disclosure of the world through the veritable “aboutness” of conscious experience, our memories and anticipations, our experiences and projects, are brought together in a process of “self” definition.

Husserl’s conception of the conscious experience of temporality has three dimensions. The first,  objective time, is substantiated by various technologies: calendars, clocks, Stonehenge(?), and/ or other cultural formats for organizing time.[46] Objective time is typically demarcated in discreet units and time spans, such as hours, lunar cycles, millennia, and prominent cultural/ religious events. Its modality is “public and verifiable,” which thus enables and coordinates the intersubjective experience of temporality for a collectively shared understanding of time.[47] The second dimension of time, subjective time is constituted by the conscious flow of our intentionalities and experiences as they arise sequentially and concurrently.[48] Internal time is not public but private, and is not measured by objective time. Being “immanent” to subjectivity, it is confined to the qualitative experience of temporality as a basic sequential unfolding, and as a “pre-cultural” experience of time that is inherent to the structure of consciousness. Husserl argues that objective time is derivative of subjective time, in that “if we did not anticipate and remember, we could not organize the processes that occur in the world into temporal patterns.”[49] It is only when temporality is institutionalized, such as “Coordinated Universal Time” or the “Solar Hijri” calendar used in Iran and Afghanistan, that it becomes objectified and a non-negotiable convention and profoundly doxic.

Nonetheless, presupposing both objective and subjective time, is a third dimension of temporality, what Husserl terms the “consciousness of internal time.” For Husserl, this dimension is one of the most salient capacities of human Being, arising as an intrinsic feature of the structure of consciousness. It is in a sense, a position of self-awareness, a full step back from subjective time, able to monitor the comings and goings of the thoughts and experiences occurring in subjective time (and objective time as well). Moreover, the salient feature of consciousness of internal time is that “this level…does not require the introduction of yet another level beyond itself.”[50] Sokolowski describes it as the “ultimate context” that “achieves a kind of closure and completeness.”[51] Husserl’s account of internal time consciousness is thus irreducible, and in my estimation, qualifies as an ontological claim for its emergence as a structural feature of consciousness. Internal time consciousness as a formal capacity, prefigures and enables the intelligibility of time and the existential consequences that flow from our being in time.[52] Foremost, “it constitutes the temporality of the activities that occur in our conscious life, such as the perceptions, imaginations, rememberings, and sensible experiences that we have.”[53]

Husserl argues that internal time consciousness in its “living present” is “composed of three moments: primal impression, retention, and protention,” which interlock to form the basic temporal structure of consciousness.[54] This structure accounts for the seamless flow of the events within subjective time, rather than a series of discreet and disconnected “screen shots” of subjective experience. Husserl claims that “retention” is the legacy of ongoing primal impressions that have yet to form into full-fledged memories (or most often, forgotten in their banality), and despite being no longer primal (now “absent”), their contents are retained in the living present as a trace. The counterpart to retention is the experience of “protention,” a prescience of the future adjoining primal impressions, as a continual expectation of the next moment after which the primal impression will follow.[55] The schema has a primal impression, book-ended by retention and protention, both of which stretch beyond the primal impression in opposite directions, either as part of an enduring legacy of past moments or a forecast of forthcoming moments.

Husserl’s more radical claim is that our capabilities both for memory (to recognize a memory as a past experience, as having occurred in a prior time) and for anticipation (to recognize and organize future possibilities, actions, and/or plans as occurring in a specified future we hope to experience or avoid) are enabled precisely by “the rudimentary past” of retention and “the rudimentary future” of protention.[56] Husserl’s formal explication of the temporal structure of consciousness as a “living present,” (incorporating rudimentary experiences of past, present, and future), bestows the fundamental temporal meaning on intentional contents of consciousness, or, in other words, gives intentional contents their basic significance as having a past, present, or future temporal orientation.

Husserl’s account of internal time consciousness as the basis for the human capacity for remembering and anticipating is an essential condition of possibility for the recursive power of reflexive deliberation: to think back upon ourselves and adjust for the next moment of our being. Nonetheless, there is no implication of “epistemic authority” over subjective experiences of past, present, and future. Memories are inflected and skewed by present concerns (if not false or self-serving); interpretations born from primal perceptions of the world (what Husserl calls “categorical intentionality” in dialectical relation to “object intelligibility”) are often ideological and socioculturally dispositional; and our desires for the future are conditioned by subconscious contents via, for example, Lacanian mechanisms of enculturation such as the big Other and objet petit a. What remains, however, is the living present as “the origin of our own self-identity as conscious agents of both truth and action.”[57] Its status is “pre-personal,” functioning autonomously, and resistant to conscious effort to alter its structure and temporal ordering: to slow down, accelerate, or halt its march. The constitutive effect of the living present gives the subject-agent a past of memories, a future of anticipations, and a primal impression providing the raw material for categorical intellection and understanding.

Moreover, it is precisely “when we identify and know worldly things, and when we experience our own sensations, perceptions, memories, and intellectual activities, we are always also unreflectively bringing ourselves to light as the identifiable source and receiver of such achievements.”[58] What emerges in Husserl’s phenomenological analysis is a formal “self” as a capacity for conscious manipulation of primary modalities of intentionality (precisely, mutatis mutandis, as Searle finds, a postulation of a self). In the act of disclosure of the world through the veritable “aboutness” of conscious experience, our memories and anticipations, our experiences and projects, are brought together. We write our own narratives of these phenomena (or let others write them for us) and entitle it, “The Life of Our Self.” Despite all the deformations, misrepresentations, and obfuscations in the story, ultimately, as Sokolowski defines it, “phenomenology is reason’s self-discovery in the presence of intelligible objects.”[59] Be that as it may, it follows, most crucially, how we categorize and define this “Self” in our reflexive modality. Toward our own self, we ascribe qualities and impose culturally inscribed meanings and categories in an act of self-constitution with profound implications. In the following section on Sartre, this problematic is front and center in his crusade against mauvaise foi, engendered out of the subject’s confrontation with its temporality: the inevitable and relentless absence of being the protention of time portends (with anguish).


Sartre: Freedom’s Just Another Word For Nothing Left To Lose


In the two preceding sections, we have examined Searle and Husserl’s accounts of the formal structure of consciousness and capacities for conscious awareness. As I have argued, each account, however, gives a portion of the capacities intrinsic to the “self” in terms of the subject’s conscious awareness. This “self” so far, however, lacks any original meaning or purpose other than an empty set of “reasons” presupposing conscious alterations of attention in the subject’s spatial and temporal orientation. I propose to develop further this capacity in light of Sartre’s existential-phenomenological discernment of “non-positional consciousness,” which is the continuous self-awareness that we are subjectively experiencing intentional states and experiences born from Husserl’s concept of “internal time consciousness.”[60] The implications Sartre draws from his concept of “non-positional consciousness” is a full-on existential and processual logic, rendering an inherent dialectic of desire and self-completion within the subject-agent. The limitation of Searle’s and Husserl’s concepts is an unconcern with or a failure to recognize that the capacity for a hyper-awareness (an awareness of the intentional aboutness of consciousness) is also the source for the genetic “impulse” of human Being in the world. Moreover, non-positional consciousness is the sine qua non of a first-person ontology and the necessary function required for reflexive monitoring of conscious experience. It is the condition of possibility for human agency, and presumably other sentient creatures, to have intelligible intentional states that cohere around some minimal sense of the Self, the “I” who owns to a set of memories, perceptions, anticipations, beliefs, desires, reasons, and projects in the world. The key feature of consciousness for Sartre, and where he advances beyond Searle and Husserl, is Sartre’s recognition that the existence of an always-present “gap” between positional and non-positional consciousness gives the subject an awareness of his own ontological conditions. On the one hand, the gap vouchsafes the self from “biological,” subconscious, and social determinations that would be ineluctably followed without the possibility of resisting or transcending. On the other, “inverse” hand, the subject is confronted with two existential problematics: nothingness and freedom. In the remainder of the essay I consider two ramifications of the gap as it constitutes nothingness and freedom: the emergence of “desire” as a fundamental to Sartre’s notion of “being-for-itself” and his theory-identification of “mauvaise foi” as it relates to the ontological openness of concrete existence.[61]

The structure of consciousness for Sartre is formed by two dichotomous and interlocking modalities. The first, is the difference between “reflective consciousness” and “non-reflective consciousness.”[62] In non-reflective consciousness, the noema or objects of intentionality are are given full attention with no thought to the “self” in relation to or among the objects. With a converse logic, reflective consciousness brings the “self” reflexively into conscious focus as an object of contemplation. Sartre gives the example of a man running to catch a bus. While running, his full attention is given to the action (avoiding other pedestrians, not tripping, cutting the best angle to the door, and so forth), and thus is being non-reflective. However, as soon as he realizes his attempt will fail, and his “self” is brought into consideration as an intentional object (“Drat, I’ve missed the bus! Should I get a taxi or walk now?”), he has switched to a reflective form of consciousness.

The second modality is the distinction between “positional consciousness” and “non-positional consciousness.” The concept of positional consciousness captures the basic phenomenological insight that all consciousness is intentional, that it is conscious of something. Consequently, all consciousness is always positional; it “posits” objects before us, whether perceptions, thoughts, or imaginations, etc. As we saw below with Searle, consciousness, however, is not just sequences of experiences like a 5D movie. The crucial aspect of consciousness for Sartre is the simultaneous capacity for “self-awareness” of our positional consciousness, viz., “non-positional consciousness.” Sartre writes: “Every conscious existence exists as consciousness of existing”—insofar as the subject always has a point of view towards all instances of positional consciousness.[63] There is ever-present in conscious life an awareness of the “consciousing” occurring in real time. When we are watching a film our attention is transfixed by the visual field and sound track. No matter how engrossed in the film we become, however, we never enter into the film experience and “get lost” entirely. There is a concurrent awareness that there is an existent “me” emplaced in the context of a film-showing, who is watching, listening, and deriving meaning from the narrative. It is an extraordinary feature of human consciousness to have a parallel conscious process aware of its existence per se, running next to its positional consciousness of the world of reflective and non-reflective consciousness in terms of knowledge per se. While positional consciousness is ultimately a state of knowledge of intentionalized objects, the intrinsic gap between positional and non-positional consciousness has the effect of giving the subject the possibility of awareness of his own ontological conditions, and the being to whom these conditions confront.


The first consequence of the gap entails there are no prior determinations by “universal” modes of human Being, whether some form of “human nature,” “soul,” or “the sociocultural.” Because there is always a distinction or gap between consciousness and the objects of consciousness, consciousness never collapses fully into the object (the goal of mysticism, such as union with God, Nature, or Spirit animals), nor does the object collapse into consciousness (the outcome of theories of structural determination, whether by language, discourse, symbol, or social-structural dispositions, which inhabit and operate through the subject). Non-positional consciousness is the mechanism in the structure of consciousness that gives rise to the condition of possibility for human freedom. If existence is ontologically “open,” the concrete lived reality of human Being is created ex post facto, and therefore contingent on the singular experience and choices of the subject-agent.

For Sartre, human consciousness differentiates itself from all other entities by its position of “being-for-itself.” Most things in the world are complete in their being– rocks, chairs, plants, and animals–existing in and of themselves, manifesting what Sartre terms, “being-in-itself.” Human-kind, however, is unique. The structure of human consciousness in its ongoing temporal unfolding encounters a formal condition of “nothingness,” an absence that emerges from our relationship to the past and future. As such, each instance of “human Being in the world” of non-positional consciousness is precisely a “consciousness of being.” But such consciousness is not identical with Being in the world. The gap produced in the dislocation of non-positional consciousness of our positional consciousness of non-reflective and especially of reflective consciousness (an awareness of the fact the subject is aware of himself in the world), produces a gap (as a moment, distance, absence, and/ or nothingness) between the self and the world, simultaneously to all positional consciousness of the self and the world. Being becomes “for-itself”—the existential problematic par excellence.

The second consequence of the gap is the profound implication of indeterminacy stemming from the temporality of consciousness. Whatever beliefs or desires come to the fore, they do not manifest automatically without some minimal decision (by approval, acceptance, ignorance, apathy, etc.), and thus, neither prevents nor compels us to think or behave in a certain way.[64] Because active “consciousing” is temporal, with simultaneous non-positional consciousness awareness, the effect of the absence has three bearings. Whatever has happened in the preceding moment cannot determine the next moment; whatever is about to happen cannot retroactively determine what is going to happen; and for general cognition, whatever crosses our mind cannot determine what we do “mind.” In this way, consciousness as a state of being-for-itself is permeated by nothingness. The gap is like a span of distance, over which no effects of determinations or ideals may cross, pushing the subject from behind to do this or pulling her forward to do that.

Sartre, with his usual (or perhaps French) disposition to be somewhat obtuse, reiterates the stance of consciousness —its being-for-itself—as that which “is not what it is and is what it is not.” And, as we are developing, this core dynamic of consciousness segues from Sartre’s phenomenological existentialism.[65] Sartre argues that when we attempt to define ourselves (our Being) in the mode of the in-itself, we tend to posit our beliefs and desires as the ontology of the self—as what we “really” are. In virtue of mauvaise foi, we deceive ourselves as in Sartre’s example of a waiter in a cafe, playing the part to gaudy perfection, which belies his over-identification with an ideal “waiter.” The basic logic of self-deception stems from our non-positional conscious awareness, and the unassailable gap between our desire to be a being-in-itself (secure, solid, identical with ourselves, complete, at peace, full-filled) and our inherent experience of being-for-itself (as open and contingent). To reach a state of being-in-itself and identify who we really are, for all time and from the beginning, would thus bring a sense of closure and completeness to ourselves. Sartre describes this futile striving as the desire to be like God—the “God project”—to be self-causing yet fully “self-actualized.” The impossibility of being-for-and-in-itself, however, arises from a fundamental misrecognition of the nature of human reality as an undetermined process, always unfinished, and the unfolding outcome of our self-determined choices. The search for an essence-in-itself is a strategy to avoid countenancing the nothingness that is the true “nature” of sentient Being. We fail to recognize that our own manifestation of Being is not identical with our beliefs and desires (as social categories: “native Texan,” “war veteran” “jilted husband,” “Christian evangelist,” etc. and as characterological dispositions: “machismo stud,” “victim,” “coward,” etc.). These belief and desire complexes we “find” as our essence are in fact, at its ground point, an outcome of a prior choice in terms of the projects we have undertook. Our choices made in the past (even moments ago) do not determine the present no less than the future. At every moment, we are neither what we were nor what we will become (consciousness is not what it is). Out of nothingness, subject-agents remain forced to make choices, including the choice to not-be, whether a worldly quietus or an earthly suicide. The nothingness of conscious Being, however, is also coterminous with the condition of possibility of radical freedom for the subject (consciousness is what it is not). The facticity of the past is thus mediated by our present choice of being, either reifying it as in-itself or transcending it by authentic engagement with freedom.

Moreover, the temporality of consciousness, unfolding forward in time, places the burden of finding succor in being-in-itself as a project to be realized at some future point. The “self of the moment” is thus contrasted with an anticipated, idealized, “future self.”[66] The difference between the present and future constitutes an absence (incompleteness), which can only be overcome through its elimination. This in turn prefigures one of the essential points in Sartre’s theory of consciousness: the structure of consciousness intrinsically generates Desire out of its absent center. Sartre formulates an ontological desire predicated on a lack of ontological completeness. However, the teleological thrust of the projects desire engenders remain eternally deferred, despite attempts at the mauvaise foi deception of self objectification. And yet, this desire can never be quenched (nor would we want it to) as the ideal, fully realized self always recedes from grasp. Desire always engenders new objects for its attainment.[67]

The dynamic of the “nothingness” generating desire has another far-reaching consequence. There is a homology between the existential condition of the lack emerging from the structure of consciousness and those absences, failures, destructions, etc. we perceive and experience out in the world. Lack of clean water, housing, jobs, friendship—any perceived “hole,” silence, or negativity we might identify is the outcome of the condition of being-for-itself. As Sartre argues that all instances of being-in-itself are fully self-contained, positive, and complete in their present state (whether in a process of genetic composition of form like a growing tree or entropic decomposition like fallen leaves) it is impossible per definition, that their state in the world could contain an objective absence. Only consciousness constitutes negativities, or, as Sartre writes, “the being by which Nothingness comes to the world must be its own Nothingness.”[68] Consequently, it is desire for completeness, the striving for the always-deferred project of becoming a being-in-itself, as it reaches out into the world that imposes absences. Our desires thus prefigure a world shot full of holes. And while negativities are born from the structure of consciousness, they are discovered as objective facts about the world. Some desires we fill, other desires are stymied by others, repressed by law, found unreasonable, or otherwise unattainable.

To sum up, non-positional consciousness acts as a structuring principle within conscious experience of human kind. It creates our awareness of our facticity, our thrown-ness into a world not of our choosing and yet we are responsible for how we relate to our own facticity and for possibilities of its transcendence. Sartre writes: “It means that making sustains being; consciousness has to be its own being, it is never sustained by being; it sustains being in the heart of subjectivity, which means once again that it is inhabited by being but that it is not being: consciousness is not what it is.”[69]


[1]          The compound concept of “subject-agent” I employ throughout this essay emphasizes the ontological difference between human subjectivity and the formal and innate capacity for human agency in terms of autonomous causal power. I take subjectivity to be the outlook and identity of actually existing people (in terms of their beliefs, desires, perspectives in the world, etc.), who are socialized in particular geo-historical locales.

[2]          Searle, John. 2004. Mind: A Brief Introduction. Oxford University Press. p. 76.

[3]          Searle, John. 2010. Making the Social World: The Structure of Human Civilization. Oxford University Press. p. 4.

[4]          Ibid., 4.

[5]          Searle, John. 2008. “The Phenomenological Illusion.” In, Philosophy in a New Century: Selected Essays. Cambridge University Press. p. 135. Searle has noted that perhaps no other fields of study displays greater divergence between the respected, consensus views within philosophy of mind and neuroscience and the brute, banal experience of our conscious waking life. The point here is that eliminative materialists cannot deny we experience consciousness (however “epiphenomenal” or a “mystified conceit”). And yet, to expunge from philosophical consideration this experience merely because it does not “fit the model” ought to raise questions over what assumptions drive such irrealism—assumptions we will see are undermined.

[6]          Searle, John. 2010. Making the Social World: The Structure of Human Civilization. Oxford University Press. p. 26.

[7]          Searle, John. 2008. “The Self as a Problem in Philosophy and Neurobiology.” In Philosophy in a New Century: Selected Essays. Cambridge University Press. p. 150.

[8]          It is worth noting the work of Catherine Malabou on the philosophical implications of neuroplasticity and related research developments examining how repeated behavior alters the neuronal structure in terms of strengthened neural pathways.

[9]          Substance dualism should be contrasted with the position of “property dualism,” the latter being the tendency of contemporary dualists, who do not wish to violate laws of physics. Searle argues this less ambitious argument for consciousness as not a unique “substance” but as a “property” of the brain, ultimately faces the exact same problem substance dualists face, namely explaining how a mental substance or a mental property can interact causally with the brain. Nonetheless, despite these cloistered debates over the merits of dualism, widespread belief in the “soul” among the religious maintains “dualism” as powerful symbolic formation and cultural legacy. For Searle’s critique of dualism as a philosophical position, see pages 29-33 in Mind: A Brief Introduction.

[10]         Searle, John. 2004. Mind: A Brief Introduction. Oxford University Press. p. 30.

[11]         Ibid., 76.

[12]         Ibid., 76.

[13]         Ibid., 88.

[14]         Ibid., 76. Spoiler alert: This is precisely Searle’s position, “that the mental qua mental is physical qua physical” to be explained below.

[15]         Ibid., 77.

[16]         Searle, John. 2008. “The Self as a Problem in Philosophy and Neurobiology.” In Philosophy in a New Century: Selected Essays. Cambridge University Press. p. 141.

[17]         Searle, John. 2004. Mind: A Brief Introduction. Oxford University Press. p. 79.

[18]         Searle, John. 2008. “Social Ontology: Some Basic Principles.” In Philosophy in a New Century: Selected Essays. Cambridge University Press. p. 29.

[19]         Recent and potentially revolutionary developments in the scientific study of consciousness appear to support the main thrust of Searle’s argument. See: J. Paul Hamilton, et al. “Modulation of Subgenual Anterior Cingulate Cortex Activity With Real-Time Neurofeedback.” Human Brain Mapping 32:22–31 (2011). Accessed April 23, 2014.

[20]         Searle, John. 2004. Mind: A Brief Introduction. Oxford University Press. p. 86.

[21]         This issue is what Roy Bhaskar calls the “epistemic fallacy,” prevalent in empiricism, positivism, and postmodernism, in which questions of being (ontology) is regulated and delimited by epistemological frameworks, in this case the requirement for “third-person accounts” of reality, thus preselecting what can and cannot be objects of knowledge, and hence “real.” See Bhaskar’s, A Realist Theory of Science. New York: Routledge 1988.

[22]         Searle, John. 2008. “The Self as a Problem in Philosophy and Neurobiology.” In Philosophy in a New Century: Selected Essays. Cambridge University Press. p. 142.  Let us ignore the debates over the exact extent snails and so forth have some form of consciousness.

[23]         Searle, John. 2004. Mind: A Brief Introduction. Oxford University Press. p. 68

[24]         In Mind: A Brief Introduction, Searle lists eleven separate features of consciousness (pp. 93-101). For brevity’s sake, I am focusing on only a few because the remaining features like the “mood” that accompanies all conscious states and the fuzzy distinction between “active and passive consciousness,” while important, are not central to the larger points I am gleaning from Searle’s philosophy of mind.

[25]         Let me note here in anticipation of my analysis below of Sartre’s distinction between “positional consciousness” and “non-positional consciousness,” and the functional similarity between Searle’s distinction between “intentionalities” and the “unified conscious field.”

[26]         As subjective and seemingly disconnected from all other instances of consciousness, the enduring problem of skepticism over “other minds” is raised. Searle is not impressed with this problem (c.f., pp 12-14, Mind: A Brief Introduction), as he sees it as a “special case” of the more general problem of “skepticism about the external world.” The latter problem concerns the epistemic relationship between the mind and world: How do we justify that things in the external world exist and that we know them as they are? To answer the skeptic, Searle makes a “transcendental argument for direct realism” (or, what he also calls a position of “naive realism”) based on the supposition that “a public language presupposes a public world” with the implication that intersubjectivity via language enjoins “the privacy of sense data” to mutual recognitions and shared epistemic certainties (e.g., “Don’t eat the yellow snow”; “Zombies do not exist”; and, “It’s Miller time!”). Ibid., pp. 189-191.

[27]         Searle notes that his conception is more or less identical with Kant’s notion of  “the transcendental unity of apperception.” Ibid., 142. Searle however, does not evoke a Kantian transcendental ego imposing “our sense of the phenomenal” on noumena via a grid of temporal, spatial, and causal intelligibility.

[28]         Searle, John. 2004. Mind: A Brief Introduction. Oxford University Press. p. 108.

[29]         Ibid., 134.

[30]         Searle, John. 2008. “The Self as a Problem in Philosophy and Neurobiology.” In, Philosophy in a New Century: Selected Essays. p. 143. Italics mine.

[31]         Ibid., 138.

[32]         By “reconfigured,” I mean to suggest that we have the ability to reinterpret elements within the unified conscious field, most saliently by the inclusion of memories and anticipations. For instance, I can single out a large tree in a park for contemplation in the unified field, but I can also remember climbing the tree as a child, transforming the meaning of the tree. I can also anticipate a possible future of the tree (through imagination or future orientating the tree) with the additional conscious content of bringing my yet unborn child to the park to also climb. I will discuss Searle’s notion of  the “unified conscious field” in relation to a variety of “intentional modalities,” in light of Husserlian phenomenological insights into the temporality of consciousness below.

[33]         Ibid., 147. Italics are Searle’s.

[34]         I include these three “forces” as alternative antecedents of action (with the caveat that all, some, or none of these forces may be in effect at any given time, for any one individual) to widen the scope of Searle’s argument and to stress that whatever objective conditions impinge on the subject, before manifesting into actions, the subject will have some “reason” for the action, however delusional, mistaken, rationalized, or under “false consciousness.” Consequently, given the multitude of “motivations,” I think that the gap between reason and action remains in effect, always requiring a (fallible) “self” to choose to act. This insight, of course, only strengthens the ethical task of both psychotherapy and critical social theory to transform our knowledge of what we do and why.

[35]         Searle, John. 2008. Mind: A Brief Introduction. Cambridge University Press. p. 113.

[36]         Ibid., p. 5. Incidentally, the relationship between Searle’s distinction and the relationship between “derived intentionalities” and “intrinsic intentionalities” maps onto the “agent-structure problem” in social ontology.

[37]         Let me mention as an aside: if reasons are the basis for the self changing its attention within the unified field, the self  does so because it is motivated by some value, desire, belief, intention, project, etc. Though I do not address this issue in my discussion of Sartre below, his concept of the “original project” as the foundational raison d’être of the subject, is a useful beginning to understanding our motivations, and one, as Sartre notes, could be the basis for existential psychoanalytical theory and therapy. Cf. Being and Nothingness, “Existential Psychoanalysis.”

[38]         Searle, John. 2008. “The Self as a Problem in Philosophy and Neurobiology.” In, Philosophy in a New Century: Selected Essays. p. 148.

[39]         For many routine actions the self and will are bound tightly together in a seamless flow. In these cases, our reasons for behaviors are long established and well rehearsed, being perfunctory and mindless. “Getting up in the morning,” “making another cup of tea,” and “getting ready for bed at night,” all the small daily rituals of life require little deliberation beyond the usual aggravations: “I wish he would put the toilet seat down!” Thus, in routine, if we are “selfing,” we are “willing” without notice of the gap, for instance, when changing our focus within the unified conscious field. But at any moment during a routine action, if somebody asks, “why are you doing that?” an agent can give at least a semblance of rationality (however mistaken or ideological) for the action: “As required by my religious beliefs, I light a candle every morning to venerate my husband’s ancestor spirits….” What is more interesting are those moments when we do not act, when we desire to do or say something, but remain still or silent. Or conversely, we choose to act, despite a desire out of reasons not to do or say something, in accordance with peer pressure or social mores, for example. The ability to override a reason for an action by a countervailing reason for non-action or an other-action (because of cost-benefit, fear of censure, decorum, laziness, tactical advantage, and so forth) shows that we can deliberate over several competing reasons for different courses of action and choose among them.

[40]         Ibid., 147.

[41]         Ibid., 149.

[42]         Ibid., 147.

[43]         Ibid., 149.

[44]         As a caveat to this discussion, and one we have seen before, Searle notes that scientific accounts of consciousness have yet to understand fully “how the brain produces the peculiar organization of experiences that expresses the existence of the self.” Ibid., 150. However, our awareness of the unified conscious field of experience without an ability to maneuver consciously among its elements, operating prior to particular intentionalities is precisely what enables us to differentiate between a sight of fresh cut grass and its smell, for example. The ability  to focus our attention at command on minute details within the field is presupposed by a higher order awareness of a “self” to which all these “details” are presented, both from within and without the self.

[45]         In Anthony Burgess’, “A Clockwork Orange,” Alex undergoes the “Ludovico Technique,” whereby the arch hooligan’s eyes are pried open to watch graphically violent movies and injected with drugs, conditioning him to become nauseous when thoughts of violence or sexual impulses come to mind. Notably, the prison chaplain declares this form of State power immoral, as the technique undercuts Alex’s free will.

[46]         Objective time is also termed interchangeably with “world time” and “transcendental time.” I will use only the term “objective time,” to avoid confusion and to connote a relation to Searle’s notion of “epistemologically objective knowledge,” that while objective time is “ontologically subjective,” it is public and verifiable, and thus a collective intention and epistemologically objective.

[47]         Sokolowski, Robert. 2000. Introduction to Phenomenology. Cambridge University Press. p. 130. To note, my discussion of Husserl is taken primarily from Sokolowski’s realist account of Husserlean phenomenology.

[48]         Subjective time is also termed interchangeably with “internal time” or “immanent time.” Subjective time, similar to my reasoning in footnote 48 above, meshes well with Searle’s concept of “epistemologically subjective knowledge,” that while subjective time is “ontologically objective,” like feelings of pain or hunger, it is a private and solely intrasubjective experience, and thus epistemologically subjective.

[49]         Ibid., 132.

[50]         Ibid., 131.

[51]         Ibid., 131.

[52]         I have in mind here various existential facets of being: death, freedom, willing, responsibility, personal identity, our place in history and culture, and relationship with the Other.

[53]         Ibid., 133.

[54]         Ibid., 136. (Italics are Sokolowski’s).

[55]         The mode of awareness given by protention is manipulated in horror movies. In the usual clichéd scene of a young woman walking alone in the dark, we (the audience) expect something very bad to happen, but we do not know when. We anticipate some sort of attack, and can speculate about or imagine various scenarios of the evil deed. Nonetheless, it is the effect of protention that gives rise to the ability to anticipate the future, because we know something is always about to happen. In the humdrum of daily life, we expect more of the same is coming (sometimes with horror!). In the hysteria of a horror film, we expect a radical breakout of mayhem and violence is coming (always with glee!).

[56]         Ibid., 138.

[57]         Ibid., 142.

[58]         Ibid., 144.

[59]         Ibid., 4. Italics are Sokolowski’s.

[60]         My understanding of Sartre is highly indebted to Paul Vincent Spade, whose extensive outline and explication of Being and Nothingness clarified many points of Sartre’s thought, upon which I draw. A PDF of Spade’s text is available at  <>. Downloaded, October 10, 2013.

[61]         In the English translation of Being and Nothingness (1956), Hazel E. Barnes translates “mauvaise foi” as “bad faith.” In his collection of existentialism’s “greatest hits,” Walter Kaufman proposes an alternative translation, “self-deception,” as a closer description in English of what the term in French connotes. I will follow Kaufman’s example. See, Existentialism: From Dostoevsky to Sartre. 2004. New York: Plume. p. 280.

[62]         In the phenomenological literature, “non-reflective consciousness” is interchangeable with “pre-reflective consciousness.” I will employ the former term to retain a nice homology with the second set: positional- and non-positional modes of consciousness.

[63]         Sartre, John Paul. 1956. “Introduction: The Pursuit of Being.” In, Being and Nothingness. New York: Philosophical Library. p. liv.

[64]         This critical insight of Sartrean existentialism, which I think is accurate in principle, must be modified. While this essay is concerned with the ontology of consciousness, it is a first step toward an ontology of subjectivity attuned to the process by which subject-agents intersect with the social field for antecedent conditions of subjectivity in terms of enablements and constraints.

[65]         I see Sartre as a useful bridge between the more formal explication of the structure of consciousness per Searle and Husserl and the beginning of an explication of the structure of subjectivity. The structure of consciousness for Sartre profoundly anticipates the subject as embedded in a social field (as the subject confronts nothingness, freedom, self-deception, and desire) and consequently how he will “consciously” manifest as a socialized instance of “subjectivity.”

[66]         This is the case even if that “future self” is an attempt to recover a lost golden moment in the past, such as the cliché mid-life crisis, in which a man needs to reclaim his lost youth with a younger woman and splashy Porsche.

[67]         Consider for a moment the ideal upper middle class life style as a set of key goals to attain: advanced degree, career, marriage, children, home ownership, fine dining, travel, appreciation of high culture, and sophisticated home furnishings. The complete package, once attained however, does not satisfy. There is always an absence behind every curtain: higher salary, nicer cars, better clothes, ever more exclusive social registers to join.

[68]         Sartre, John Paul. 1956. Being and Nothingness. New York: Philosophical Library. p. 23

[69]         Ibid., 62