Does attention exist?

Wilson, K. (2007) Does attention exist? British Journal of Undergraduate Philosophy, 2(2), pp. 153-168.

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In the introduction to the Phenomenology of Perception, Merleau-Ponty (2002: 34) states that ‘Attention, [...] as a general and formal activity, does not exist’. This paper examines the meaning and truth of this difficult and surprising statement, along with its implications for the account of perception given by theorists such as Dretske (1988) and Peacocke (1983). In order to elucidate Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological account of human perception, I will present two alternative models1 of how attention might be thought to operate. The first is derived from the works of the aforementioned theorists and is, I argue, based upon a largely inaccurate computational or mechanistic understanding of the mind. The second is drawn from the works of Merleau-Ponty and cognitive scientist and philosopher, Alva Noë, and takes into account recent neurological theories concerning the role of attention in human consciousness. On the basis of these models I will argue that attention is an essential, rather than incidental, characteristic of consciousness that is constitutive of both thought and perception, and which cannot be understood in terms of the independent faculty or ‘general and unconditioned power’ (ibid. 31) that Dretske et al’s account requires. I will conclude by considering two potential counterexamples to my argument, and evaluating the threat that these pose to the phenomenological model.

Item Type:Articles
Keywords:consciousness, attention, phenomenology, psychology, perception
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Wilson, Dr Keith
Authors: Wilson, K.
Subjects:B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
College/School:College of Arts > School of Humanities > Philosophy
Journal Name:British Journal of Undergraduate Philosophy
Journal Abbr.:BJUP
Publisher:British Undergraduate Philosophy Society
ISSN (Online):1748-9393
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2007 The Author
First Published:First published in the British Journal of Undergraduate Philosophy 2(2):153-168
Publisher Policy:Reproduced in accordance with the copyright policy of the publisher

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