Consciousness, by Reyes Mate

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You speak about consciousness. What is it?

Consciousness, in Hegelian terms, is understanding that thinking about reality is thinking about oneself. The world is the objects which are given to us, which we name. For example “stone.” We understand that this object has many characteristics of which one is essential: hardness. So the word stone takes us to that characteristic we define as its essence. This doesn’t mean the stone is hard, just that we call it “hard” because it’s what the human subject -which is the one who knows- is interested in. The human subject can only know if he reduces the complex world, made of objects, to an essence, which is what is knowable. Deep down, we turn the objects into the fuel of knowledge. The world only exists as long as it feeds our knowledge. Consciousness is, precisely, the result of this process of appropriating the world through knowledge. Deep down, it’s a subjective outlook on reality.

Consciousness is, therefore, clearly separated from self-consciousness.

Self-consciousness is the second moment. When the subject turns on itself to see its own contents. But what’s important about consciousness is this phenomenon of appropriating the world in a violent way which is disrespectful towards reality. Knowing is not respecting the plurality of characteristics reality possesses We reduce reality to the knowable, which we call essence. The essence is not the objective and fundamental data about the thing, it’s what knowledge needs in order to obtain it. In all the knowledge in Philosophy there is an idealist background we still haven’t got rid of.

Sometimes that Platonism has taken shelter in language.

This is one of the interpretations: at the end, the only reality is language. But there have been attempts -Heidegger is one of them- to break idealism, to come out of that hellish circle in which what’s important is to reduce the world to the fuel of knowledge. This is what Heidegger criticizes of the philosophy from Plato and it can be applied today. There are attempts -which are, strangely, related to Jewish thought in the 19th century- in which, against that idealist view of reality, an experiential view is formulated. Against a philosophy of vision, a philosophy of listening. Every idealism is a philosophy of vision, because deep down we treat reality with the light that we cast. We don’t see on objects anything but the results of our lighting. That is theory (theoreiein). In the other view, hearing doesn’t prevail, but listening. There has to be an external reality which is not alien and somehow unreachable, from which we get calls, demands. It is possible to understand Philosophy as an answer to this world which calls to us. Philosophy as a calling, as listening and not as vision. This is the attempt initiated by the German Philosophy of the 19th century with Rosenzweig, who deeply influenced Heidegger. And who later, in the first Frankfurt school, had great weight.

Could it be defined as an ordering process of the world’s diversity?

Somewhat fragmentary. When we grant that the world has unreachable diversity, we have to think it is very fragmentary. Let’s imagine, for example, a theory of justice. From a theory of vision, idealism, we can think that we can define what justice is. We define it and then we apply it. In this second view, in a Philosophy of listening, it’s impossible to understand justice this way. Justice would be the answer to injustice. It would be impossible to place injustices in order because they don’t stop and we don’t have enough memory to see them all in front of us, to put them in order. This way, we would have to understand justice as a constant answer to the questions stemming from injustice.

Wouldn’t this be the subject of a moral or political conscience?

Political conscience, which Kant calls practical conscience, forces consciousness to come out of itself. It would seem that consciousness is an individual concept and it is, fundamentally. But the individual doesn’t live alone but in the world, and the relationship with the world makes it come out of itself. Come out of its consciousness. Calling this conscience and talking about a political conscience would be to force the concept, since conscience is mainly individual. We would have to use a more appropriate concept: responsibility. Political conscience tries to interpret that which is political: the world of the others, the problems of society from the perspective of the self. The thing which gives entity to the political is the assumption that this world of relationships has a life of its own, with its demands, its questions, which affect the individual conscience through responsibility. Political conscience tries to modulate the world according to its own criteria, whereas responsibility would rather listen to the problems of society in order to answer them. They are two different perspectives. A political philosophy of conscience or a political philosophy of responsibility.

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