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William Ockham on the Scope and Limits of Consciousness

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William Ockham (ca. 1287-1347) holds what nowadays would be characterized as a “higher-order perception” theory of consciousness. Historically speaking, one of the most persistent objections to this type of theory is the charge that it gives rise to an infinite regress in higher-order states. In this paper, I examine Ockham’s efforts to respond to the regress problem, focusing in particular on his attempts to restrict the scope of consciousness so as to avoid it. In his earlier writings, Ockham holds that we are conscious only of those states to which we explicitly attend. This view, I go on to argue, is inadequate on both phenomenological and philosophical grounds. Interestingly, and perhaps for this very reason, in later works, Ockham goes on to develop an alternative explanation for his account of the limited scope of consciousness.

Affiliations: 1: Saint Louis University


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