Jean-Paul Sartre and the HOT Theory of Consciousness

Canadian Journal of Philosophy 32 (3):293-330 (2002)
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Jean-Paul Sartre believed that consciousness entails self-consciousness, or, even more strongly, that consciousness is self-consciousness. As Kathleen Wider puts it in her terrific book The Bodily Nature of Consciousness: Sartre and Contemporary Philosophy of Mind, ‘all consciousness is, by its very nature, self-consciousness.’ I share this view with Sartre and have elsewhere argued for it at length. My overall aim in this paper is to examine Sartre's theory of consciousness against the background of the so-called ‘higher-order thought theory of consciousness’ which, in turn, will shed light on the structure of conscious mental states as well as on Sartre's theory of consciousness and reflection. Another goal of this paper is, following Wider, to show how Sartre's views can be understood from a contemporary analytic perspective. Sartre's theory of consciousness is often confusing to the so-called ‘analytic Anglo-American’ tradition, but I attempt to show how this obstacle can be overcome against the backdrop of a specific contemporary theory of consciousness.

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Rocco J. Gennaro
University of Southern Indiana


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