conscientia vs. syneidesis

Apollodorus

Senior Member
English UK
conscientia vs. syneidesis

The English word “consciousness” in the modern sense was apparently coined sometime in the 17th century and is derived from Latin cōnscius, itself from con- (a form of com- (“together”)) + scīre (“to know”).

Latin cōnscius seems to have meant “to know together with another” but also “to know together with oneself” (conscius sibi), i.e., “to know (or be aware) that one knows”.

Ancient Greek similarly used words like συνείδησις, συναίσθησις, σύνεσις formed from a syn- (“with”) prefix (= Latin con-/com-) and a word meaning “knowledge”, “perception”, etc.

According to Wiktionary, Latin conscientia is “from cōnsciēns (“conscious”) +‎ -ia, a calque of Ancient Greek συνείδησις (suneídēsis)”. Unfortunately, it doesn’t give any sources.

Given that Greek grammar seems to have influenced Latin grammar, could the Latin word be a translation or calque of the Greek or otherwise have developed under its influence?

If the two words developed independently of each other, which is the earliest?
 
Last edited:
  • Sobakus

    Senior Member
    I barely know any (ancient or modern) Greek, but the word συνείδησις is clearly an action noun to σύνοιδα, based on its infinitive stem συνειδέναι. The latter ultimately goes back to a prefix meaning “with, together, beside” and *weyd-to see, to know”, and this is reflected in the Greek verb, whose meaning is “to know as witness, to be able to testify”. The word clearly goes back a long way.

    Latin natively has no corresponding verb at all, although there have been some attempts to coin cōnscīre as a calque from Greek (these have had much more success in Russian). Correspondingly, the participle cōnsciēns doesn't exist either in normal Latin. What does exist is the adjective cōnscius “privy to, aware of”, and the noun cōnscientia “the state of being aware of”. These are clearly formed after the pattern of and as antonyms to nescius/īnscius and īnscientia. The latter is transparently scientia + noun-negating prefix, but the bare adjective scius looks suspiciously like a backformation from nescius.

    From the above it's evident that cōnscientia is a relatively recent formation, and Greek συνείδησις is the only candidate as the prototype for it. This is especially likely if we consider the abstract, psychological, morally-philosophical nature of this word.

    cōnscientia is apparently first attested in Cicero, but I doubt it was coined by him as a technical philosophical term especially to translate the Greek (something he's famous for). I would think the word was already in common circulation at least in the legal sphere, where it was needed to discuss guilt.
     
    Last edited:

    Apollodorus

    Senior Member
    English UK
    it's evident that cōnscientia is a relatively recent formation, and Greek συνείδησις is the only candidate as the prototype for it

    That’s what I thought, too.

    Obviously, there is a difference between consciousness and conscience. Consciousness is awareness in general, whereas conscience refers to the capacity for critical reflection on one’s actions. You must have consciousness or awareness before you have conscience, and the term conscience seems to have developed from consciousness, at least in Greek.

    Greek writers like Plotinus (Enneads) use words for consciousness in the sense of awareness of cognitive and perceptual states, e.g., συναίσθησις (synaisthesis), σύνεσις (synesis).

    This goes back to earlier authors like Euripides, Plato and Aristotle, where the verb σύνοιδα (synoida) is used to express the awareness of one’s internal states.

    For example, in Plato’s Apology, Socrates says:

    I am aware (σύνοιδα ἐμαυτῷ, synoida emauto) that I am wise neither in great things nor in small things (21b4-5).

    Of course, consciousness or awareness of what we know is only part of it. Equally important is consciousness or awareness of the limits of our knowledge. This is the beginning of philosophy in the original sense. The awareness that there are realities “out there”, i.e., outside our everyday experience and knowledge, that we don’t know and don’t understand and that it is our task, as intelligent beings endowed with awareness and understanding, to inquire into these realities.

    Hence Socrates says:

    I thought to myself, “I am wiser than this man; for neither of us really knows anything fine and good, but this man thinks he knows something when he does not, whereas I, as I do not know anything, do not think I do either. I seem, then, in just this little thing to be wiser than this man at any rate, that what I do not know I do not think I know either(21d)”

    As it turns out from the Dialogues, Socrates actually knows quite a lot. But it is the awareness of the limits of his knowledge which impels him to embark on the quest for wisdom, that makes him a true philosopher, i.e. a "lover of, or seeker after, wisdom" or φιλόσοφος (philosophos) proper.

    In any case, there seems to be a close connection between the emergence of the concept of consciousness and the practice of philosophy.

    Cicero seems to be using conscientia in the sense of conscience at De Finibus 1.16.51 and 2.22.71:

    So your school undoubtedly preaches the pretence of justice instead of the real and genuine thing. Its lesson amounts to this – we are to despise the trustworthy voice of our own conscience, and to run after the fallible imagination of other men (2.22.71).

    But, again, to speak of a "conscience" presupposes having consciousness or awareness of it, in the first place. So, consciousness or awareness may be implied in “conscientia”.

    Incidentally, unlike Romance and Latin-influenced languages, German has Bewusstsein for “consciousness” which seems to go back to Martin Luther, but it isn’t quite clear where he got it from. It may have been formed under Latin (or Greek) influence.

    At any rate, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, it seems that even though the Greeks may not have invented consciousness as such, they certainly coined a word for it, at least as far as European languages are concerned ....
     

    Apollodorus

    Senior Member
    English UK
    The original meaning of συνίημι (syniemi) – sometimes spelled with an “ξ” (/x/) - was “to bring/to come together” as in Homer’s Illiad:

    Who then of the gods was it that brought these two [Agamemnon and Achilles] together (ξυνέηκε, xyneike) to contend? (Il. 1.5).

    But it also occurs in the sense of “perceive, hear”:

    So spake he [Ajax to his brother Teucer], and the other hearkened (ξυνέηκε, xyneike), and ran, and took his stand close beside him, bearing in his hand his bent-back bow and the quiver that held his arrows (Il. 15.442).

    And, significantly, in the sense of “be aware of, take notice, observe, understand”:

    Hieron, if you are skilled in understanding (ξυνάονες, xynaones) the true essence of words, you have learned and know the saying of former times: “The immortals dispense to men two pains for every blessing (Pindar, Pythian 3.80).

    σύνεσις (synesis), the abstract noun derived from συνίημι (syniemi), seems to have followed the same pattern as the verb. It occurs in the sense of “uniting” or “union” in Homer, where the goddess Circe (Kirke) speaks of the “meeting place” or “union” (ξύνεσίς, xynesis) of two rivers (Odyssey 10.515).

    But also in the sense of “comprehension, sagacity, wisdom”, as in Pindar:

    But to you, Thearion, she [Fate] gives a due measure of prosperity, and while you have gained a bold spirit for fine deeds, she does not impair the wisdom of your mind (σύνεσιν φρενῶν, synesin phrenon) (Nemean 7.59-60).

    By the time of Plato, σύνεσις (synesis) definitely occurs in the sense of “consciousness, understanding, intelligence”, as in Cratylus, where Socrates himself discusses the etymology of the word:

    Σύνεσις (synesis, “intelligence”) in its turn is a kind of reckoning together (συλλογισμός, syllogismos); when one says συνιέναι (synienai, “understand”), the same thing as ἐπίστασθαι (epistasthai, "to know, be conscious of, understand") is said (Crat. 412a).

    It is interesting to note that Socrates (or Plato) is not only fully aware of the psychological meaning, function and importance of consciousness, but also discusses its etymology.

    It is also clear that the capacity of being aware, perceiving, thinking, understanding, knowing, etc. is identified as a function of the intelligent soul (psyche) i.e., of that part of man that is endowed with consciousness, awareness, and intelligence:

    And ἐπιστήμη (episteme, “knowledge”) indicates that the soul accompanies (ἕπεται) things in their motion, neither falling behind them nor running in front of them (Crat. 412a).

    Consciousness or σύνεσις (synesis) here refers to the soul’s capacity (1) of standing in a relation of conscious togetherness or unity with itself and with other things (things other than soul) and (2) of bringing things together into a harmonious and coherent whole.

    In other words, a union, bringing together, or synthesis of cognitive and perceptual elements resulting in understanding.

    Moreover, to be endowed with consciousness, awareness and intelligence, meant to possess an ability to act intelligently which, for Greek philosophers, translated into acting justly.

    As Socrates puts it:

    It is easy to conjecture that the word ‘δικαιοσύνη’ (dikaiosyne, “righteousness”) applies to the understanding/intelligence (σύνεσις, synesis) of the just (τοῦ διαίον) (Crat. 412c).

    As justice was the highest of the four cardinal virtues, it was naturally associated with the highest element in man, i.e., consciousness. Perhaps by association with “acting rightly or justly”, the word “consciousness” (σύνεσις, synesis / συνείδησις, syneidesis) acquired “conscience” as a secondary meaning.

    In practical terms, being conscious ultimately meant being conscious or aware of what is right or wrong and acting accordingly. Conscience was implicitly recognized as a function of consciousness.

    "Conscience" seems to have been the primary sense in which Latin cōnscientia was used and this was later adopted by Christian and, in particular, Western Europe.
     
    Last edited:

    Apollodorus

    Senior Member
    English UK
    “Consciousness” (synesis or syneidesis) seems to have no equivalent in the Hebrew Old Testament (Masoretic Text) but it does occur a few times in the Greek OT a.k.a. Septuagint (LXX), specifically, in later books. Ecclesiastes (450 BC – 180 BC) uses syneidesis in the sense of “inner consciousness” for Hebrew מַדָּע (madda, “thought”):

    “Do not curse the king even in your thoughts (ἐν συνειδήσει σου, en syneidesei sou), or curse the rich even in your bedroom, for a bird of the air may carry your words, and a winged creature may report your speech (Ecclesiastes 10:20)”.

    Here it seems to be used in association with conscience or awareness of wrong doing, and in even later OT books like Wisdom (1st century BC - 1st century AD), composed in Greek, it appears in the sense of “awareness of right and wrong” or “conscience”:

    “For wickedness, condemned by her own witness, is very timorous, and being pressed with conscience (συνειδήσει, syneidesei), always forecasteth grievous things (Wisdom 17:11)”.

    Early Christian texts like the Didache use synedeisis in the same sense:

    “Confess your sins in church, and do not go up to your prayer with an evil conscience. This is the way of life (4.14)”.

    A similar meaning is found in the Epistles (Letters) of St Paul:

    “But not all have this knowledge. Some, through habit, even now when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been offered to a god (other than the One God), and their conscience (syneidesis) being weak, it is defiled (1 Corinthians 8:7)”.

    This use of syneidesis, i.e., as equivalent to Latin conscientia, becomes standard in later Greek Patristic literature and is sometimes adopted even by Latin writers. For example, Jerome writes:

    “And they place the fourth part, which the Greeks call syneidesis, above and beyond these three [the basic aspects of the soul: desires, emotions, reason]. This is the spark of conscience (scintilla conscientiae) by which, even when conquered by pleasure or by rage, deceived by the very similitude of reason, we realize that we sin” (Commentariorum in Hiezechielem CCL 75, 12).

    Interestingly, although syneidesis is the prototype for Latin conscientia and, ultimately, for English “consciousness”, it isn’t used by Plato or Plotinus.

    Following the Classical philosophical tradition, Plotinus (3rd century AD) continues to focus on the cognitive aspects of consciousness for which he employs words like synesis and synaisthesis, but notably, not syneidesis.

    Could the reason for this be (1) that the cognitive-psychological aspects of consciousness became increasingly less studied (the emphasis having shifted to the moral aspects of it) and (2) that by Plotinus’ time syneidesis (and its Latin equivalent conscientia) was used in the sense of “conscience” instead of “consciousness”?

    Christian writers seem to have elevated syneidesis to the level of spirit (pneuma) which occupied a position higher than the soul and roughly corresponded to the νοῦς (nous) of the Greek philosophers.

    Although nous is often translated as “intellect” or "mind", it comes close to Christian “spirit”, especially when used in the sense of divine intelligence or active principle of the universe:

    “For, in truth, this Cosmos in its origin was generated as a compound, from the combination of Necessity and Nous (Plato, Timaeus 48a).”

    "There is in the universe a Cause which orders and arranges years and seasons and months, and may most justly be called Wisdom (sophia) and Intelligence (nous) … Now do not imagine that this is mere idle talk of mine; it confirms the utterances of those who declared of old that Intelligence (nous) always rules the universe (Plato, Philebus 30c-d)."

    From the philosophers’ point of view, of course, consciousness was ontologically higher than conscience, the latter being a function of the former operating in the “sensible world” or kosmos aisthetikos (the world of appearance) as opposed to pure consciousness that was at home in the “intelligible world” or kosmos noetikos (the world of reality).

    Similarly, the spirit of the Christians was not the highest metaphysical category, spirit (as in the Holy Spirit) being subordinate to the mind of God which could be seen as a higher form of consciousness.

    For non-Christian philosophers, in embodied life, while the higher part of the nous stood outside the soul, the lower part remained in contact with it and communicated to it its moral judgement concerning the soul’s thoughts and actions. Thus, the nous was the originator of the phenomenon of conscience (syneidesis).

    So, consciousness as (a) self-awareness and (b) moral conscience were two sides of the same one consciousness, (b) being a mere subset of (a). Despite the different conceptions of consciousness, the Christian and non-Christian positions were similar.

    In any case, it seems that syneidesis initially referred to consciousness in the general sense of awareness, after which it became associated with "bad consciousness"/"consciousness or awareness of right and wrong" and, eventually, came to be used in the sense of conscience. Although this trend had been initiated by Greek thinkers, it may have been additionally encouraged by the Christian emphasis on guilt.

    According to Wikipedia, Latin conscientia was used for centuries in the sense of conscience, and only later formed the term “consciousness” in the modern sense. Latin-derived French uses conscience (< Lat conscientia) in both senses, of "consciousness" and "conscience". German is more exact, using Bewusstsein (from bewusst, "aware, conscious”) for consciousness and Gewissen (apparently, a calque of Lat conscientia) for conscience.

    In sum, it may be the case that, after the Classical Era, (Western) Europe ended up with a “conscience” but without “consciousness”, the latter being “rediscovered” in the late Middle Ages or Modern Era ….
     
    Last edited:

    Apollodorus

    Senior Member
    English UK
    In addition to Plato who uses synoida, Aristotle uses aisthanomai (αἰσθάνομαι, “to perceive (a) by bodily senses and (b) with the mind”) to refer to the act of being aware or conscious.

    In Eudemian Ethics, Aristotle writes:

    “For if it is possible to live with and share the perceptions of many at once, it is most desirable for them to be the largest possible number; but as that is very difficult, active community of perception or joint perception (synaesthesis) must of necessity be in a smaller circle” – Eudemian Ethics 1245b21-4

    In Nicomachean Ethics, he defines consciousness as the faculty by which we perceive (or are aware) that we perceive and think, and therefore exist:

    “A man who sees is aware (aisthanetai) that he is seeing, a man who hears that he is hearing and a man who walks that he is walking; and similarly in all our other activities there is something that is aware (aisthanόmenon) of them, so that if we perceive, we perceive that we are perceiving (aisthanόmetha), and if we think, that we are thinking. To be conscious that we are perceiving or thinking is to be conscious of our existence (for we saw that existence is sensation or thought). To be conscious that one is alive is something pleasant in itself (because life is by nature good, and to be conscious (synaisthanόmenoi) that one possesses a good thing is pleasant)” Nicomachean Ethics 1170a25-30 – 1170b1-5

    Similarly, by the time of Chrysippus (3rd century BC), syneidesis turns up as a term for consciousness, as Diogenes Laertius informs us:

    “An animal's first impulse, say the Stoics, is to self-preservation, because nature from the outset endears it to itself, as Chrysippus affirms in the first book of his work On Ends: his words are, "The dearest thing to every animal is its own constitution and its consciousness (syneidesis) thereof" – Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers 7.85

    Two facts become clear: (1) terms like (syn)aesthesis and syneidesis used in the Hellenistic and Medieval Eras have roots going back centuries before and (2) although Ancient Greek writers had no single technical term for consciousness, they nevertheless understood the phenomenon they were describing and took a keen interest in it.

    Cicero’s conscientia seems to have initially retained syneidesis’ dual sense of (a) consciousness, awareness and (b) consciousness of right or wrong doing, conscience. In fact, conscientia as used by Cicero and other Latin writers is often closer to “awareness of inner states” or “pure, inner awareness” than to modern “morally good conscience”.

    For example, Cicero writes:

    “But he is still more to be admired, for being able, in these unhappy times, (which are marked with a distress that, by some cruel fatality, has overwhelmed us all) to console himself, as opportunity offers, with the consciousness of his own good mind or intellect (conscientia optimae mentis).” – Brutus 250

    And:

    “I console myself with the consciousness of my uprightness in the past (consiliorum superiorum conscientia) and my moderation in the present, and apply that simile of Accius's not to jealousy, but to fortune, which I hold—as being inconstant and frail—ought to be beaten back by a strong and manly soul, as a wave is by a rock.” – Epistulae ad Familiares 9.16

    But Cicero also uses conscientia in the sense of conscience:

    “So, the offenders pay the penalty, not necessarily imposed by the courts (which once did not exist anywhere, still do not exist in many places, and where they do exist are often unsound), but they are chased and hounded by the Furies, not with burning firebrands as in the plays but with the torment of their conscience (sed angore conscientiae) and the agony of their guilt” – Laws, 1.40

    In the Eastern part of the Roman Empire, Greek writers (Clemens of Alexandria, Origen, John Chrysostom and their successors) continued to use Greek terms like synedeisis/syneidos and synaisthesis – hence also Plotinus’ use of the latter term – and these are still used in Modern Greek.

    In the fourth century AD, Bishop Wulfila (Ulfilas) translated Greek syneidenai to Gothic mitvitan and syneidesis to mitvissei. This formed the basis for Old High German giwizzani from which modern Gewissen (“conscience”), and Middle High German bewissen from which Bewusstsein (“consciousness”). This is how German ended up coining not only its own, non-Latin word for conscience, but also having a separate word for consciousness.

    However, as Latin remained the language of learning in Western Europe and conscientia had come to be used mainly in the sense of conscience, it was not until after the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the Modern Era that conscientia was reunited with its original meaning of consciousness.

    A key role in this seems to have been played by developments within Latin-derived a.k.a. Romance languages, particularly Italian and French, which were beginning to replace Latin in their respective countries, that led to the use of coscienza (Italian) and conscience (French) in the sense of consciousness.

    These developments took place within the wider context of the Renaissance Movement (1300 – 1500) and, in particular, Renaissance humanism which was characterized by a revival of interest in Classical (Greek and Roman) culture.

    The works of some Classical authors had long been available in Western Europe either in Latin or in Latin translations of Arabic commentaries. Following contact with the Byzantine Empire during the Crusades, there was growing interest in Classical literature. Italian scholars like Petrarch (1304 – 1374) initiated a movement to translate Classical works directly from the Greek originals, as well as introducing the teaching of Greek and the study of Classical authors in their original language.
     
    Last edited:

    Apollodorus

    Senior Member
    English UK
    This movement received a fresh impetus in the fifteenth century - especially following the fall of Constantinople in 1453, when a number of Greek scholars established themselves in Italy - and spread northward to France, Germany, England and other countries.

    By the time of the influential French philosopher Michel de Montaigne (1533 – 1592), a growing number of Classical texts had become available. Cicero and Seneca, two authors who were influenced by Greek writers (and who used conscientia in the sense of consciousness or awareness), were widely read among France’s educated classes and Montagne was clearly familiar with them.

    The works of the Greek philosopher and historian Plutarch (who uses terms like syneidos in the sense of knowledge, awareness or consciousness) had recently been translated and were avidly read by Montaigne who quotes Plutarch more than 500 times. In his Essays (which, by the way, makes interesting reading), he writes: “I have not had regular dealings with any solid book, except Plutarch and Seneca, from whom I draw like the Danaids, incessantly filling up and pouring out” (I: 26).

    In fact, it is clear from Montaigne’s writings that he read a wide range of Classics, from Plato to Cicero, either directly or through secondary sources, but Plutarch seems to have exerted a major influence on him. In his own words, “When I write, I prefer to do without the company and remembrance of books, for fear they may interfere with my style. But it is harder for me to do without Plutarch. He is so universal and so full that on all occasions, and however eccentric the subject you have taken up, he makes his way into your work and offers you a liberal hand, inexhaustible in riches and embellishment” (III: 5).

    Of Plutarch’s book Parallel Lives (Bioi paralleloi), translated by Bishop Jacques Amyot between 1559 and 1565, Montaigne writes: “I am grateful to him [Amyot] for having had the wit to pick out and choose a book so worthy and appropriate to present to his country. We ignoramuses would have been lost if this book had not lifted us out of the quagmire; thanks to it, we now dare to speak and write; it is our breviary” (II: 3).

    Like Cicero and other Latin writers, Plutarch in his book makes several references to consciousness, for example, “He was conscious that his prodigality had led him into criminal practices” (Demosthenes 25. 1) and “Diocles, who had no awareness of the matter” (Aratos 20. 1), where Latin translations have conscius for Greek syneidos.

    In any case, while coscienza and conscience continued to be used in the general sense of conscience, there was a gradual change of meaning, exemplified by Montaigne’s writings, with a shift of emphasis from conscience as “the voice of God in man” to “one’s own conscience”, that is, conscience as an autonomous aspect of man of which the individual is aware in an act of self-reflective cognition.

    In his Essays, following Cicero, Montaigne writes:

    “The laws of conscience, which we say are born of nature, are born of custom. Each man, holding in inward veneration the opinions and the behaviour approved and accepted around him, cannot break loose from them without remorse, or apply himself to them without self-satisfaction” (I: 23).

    “I have my own laws and court to judge me, and I address myself to them more than anywhere else … There is no one but yourself who knows whether you are cowardly and cruel, or loyal and devout. Others do not see you, they guess at you by uncertain conjectures … Therefore do not cling to their judgment; cling to your own. You must use your own judgment … With regard to virtues and vices, your own conscience has great weight: take that away, and everything falls [Cicero]” (III: 2).

    This seems to reflect Cicero’s advice at De Finibus 2.22.1 and elsewhere to “trust the voice of our own conscience”, where Latin conscientia can mean not only conscience but also consciousness or judgement. Montaigne’s successor Descartes (1596 – 1650) who had also read Cicero during his years at a Jesuit grammar school, uses conscientia in various senses, including that of cogitatio (“thinking”, “reasoning”).

    It is true that Montaigne was particularly receptive to Classical thought, or understood it particularly well, having been brought up (on his father’s instructions) with Latin as his mother tongue, after which he immersed himself in Classical authors throughout his youth and later life. But Classical studies were a dominant influence in educated society in general and enjoyed the patronage of senior church leaders and royal houses.

    It is clear, therefore, that this gradual change in meaning of the term conscience, which paved the way for its being increasingly associated with self-awareness and self-consciousness, was taking place under the influence of Classical authors. Descartes’ own ideas are no exception. Although he is often credited with being the first to develop a theory of consciousness, it is not difficult to discern certain parallels with Classical thinkers with whom, like Montaigne, he was evidently familiar.

    Descartes’ definition of thought as the sum of inner cognitive processes of which we are consciously aware (Meditations on First Philosophy, Second Set of Replies, 160, I, p. 113) and, by extension, his famous dictum “Cogito ergo sum” (“I think, therefore I am), are reminiscent of Aristotle’s own phrases such as “thought about thinking” (noesis noeseos), “awareness of being aware” (aisthesis aistheseos), etc.:

    “Therefore nous (intellect) thinks itself; and its thinking is a thinking of thinking (noesis noeseos noesis)” (Aristotle, Metaphysics 12.1074b).

    And, of course, "To be conscious that we are perceiving or thinking is to be conscious of our existence" (Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 1170a9), i.e., "I am conscious that I am perceiving or thinking, therefore I am/exist".

    Despite certain differences, Descartes’ belief that body and mind are two separate entities and that the real self is the mind, not the body, goes back to the same Classical sources, namely Plato and Aristotle. This is not in the least surprising, given that Aristotelianism was the dominant philosophy during Descartes’ school years. But Platonic influence is also evident, especially in Descartes’ Meditations, as noted by Stephen Buckle (2007):
     
    Last edited:

    Apollodorus

    Senior Member
    English UK
    “The Meditations begins, then, by forcing the seeker of truth to turn away from the things of the senses to the things of the intellect, then to reach, in the Second Meditation, the first important insight: that the intellect is inseparable from oneself … The sharpness of this divide, and the requirement that the enquirer’s task is to turn away from the senses to the intellect is undeniably Platonic. Indeed, it is central to Plato’s message. This is shown most vividly in the famous allegories of the sun, line and cave in the Republic” (pp. 304-5).

    In fact, Descartes not only has no worked-out theory of consciousness, but he did not actually invent or discover anything fundamentally new - which is precisely why he felt no need to coin a new word and continued to use conscius, conscientia and conscience which were already known to his predecessors.

    Moreover, as observed by scholars, a systematic theory of consciousness may already be found in Plotinus. For example, D. M. Hutchinson writes:

    “The assumption that Descartes is the first philosopher to investigate consciousness has become so matter-of-fact that it has prevented us from noticing the achievements of late ancient philosophy of mind and it has narrowed our conception of what consciousness is, and what it is for. My concern is to show that Plotinus prefigures Descartes in developing a theory of consciousness” (Plotinus on Consciousness, p. 2).

    Indeed, Plotinus’ influence on the development of the modern concept of consciousness should not be underestimated. Following the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, Greek had fallen out of use in Western Europe and most manuscripts of Classical authors were lost. For several centuries, Plotinus’ Enneads was available in the West only in fragments translated from Greek into Latin via Syriac and Arabic, and often under titles such as “The Theology of Aristotle” or “The Sayings of a Greek Sage” that completely ignored the real identity of the original author, or indirectly through other authors.

    This situation changed dramatically in the 1480s, when the Italian scholar Marsilio Ficino (1433 – 1499), who had earlier translated Plato's Works, obtained a copy of the Enneads and translated it into Latin with a learned commentary. (The manuscript was made available to Ficino by Cosimo de’ Medici and copied for him by the renowned Greek copyist Ioannes Skoutariotes a.k.a. Giovanni Scutariota of Thessaly.)

    This revival of Classical scholarship and the dissemination of Classical texts with the aid of the newly-introduced printing press, were followed by new developments in the ways the term consciousness was understood and used in West European philosophical circles.

    In English, the words “conscious” (often “conscious to oneself”) and “consciousness” corresponding to Latin conscius and conscientia seem to have come into use in the late 1500s or early 1600s and are used, among others, by Sir Edwin Sandys (A Relation of the State of Religion).

    By the turn of the century, the works of Plato and Plotinus had become well-known among English scholars, especially among an influential group known as “Cambridge Platonists”, formed in 1633 around Ralph Cudworth and Henry More, who influenced later philosophers.

    Cudworth (1617–1688), who coined many new terms including “inner awareness” and “psychology”, goes so far as to adopt Plotinus’ term synaisthesis, which he renders as “con-sense”, for consciousness. Following Plotinus, he also describes different forms or grades of consciousness and associates personality with “self-perception”, “reflexive consciousness” “conscious understanding” and “conscious reason”:

    “… there may be a simple Internal Energy or Vital Autokinesie, that is included in the Nature of συναίσθησις, Con-sense and Consciousness, which makes a Being to be Present with it self, Attentive to its own Actions, or Animadversive of them, to perceive it self to Do or Suffer, and to have a Fruition or Enjoyment of it self” (The True Intellectual System of the Universe, 1678, I.III.16).

    Cudworth not only rejects what he regards as Descartes’ simple equation of consciousness with cogitation, but provides a much more nuanced view of consciousness for which he is clearly indebted to Plotinus.
     
    Last edited:

    Apollodorus

    Senior Member
    English UK
    On his part, John Locke (1632 - 1704) uses the term “consciousness” as part of his own theory of mind in which he associates personal identity or self with consciousness of one’s thoughts, sensations and actions:

    “Consciousness is the perception of what passes in a Man’s own mind” (An Essay Concerning Humane Understanding, 1689, II.I.19).

    “’tis plain consciousness, as far as ever it can be extended, should it be to Ages past, unites Existences and Actions, very remote in time, into the same Person, as well as it does the Existence and Actions of the immediately preceding moment: so that whatever has the consciousness of present and past Actions, is the same Person to whom they both belong” (II.XXVII.16).

    “Self is that conscious thinking thing, (whatever Substance, made up of whether Spiritual, or Material, Simple, or Compounded, it matters not) which is sensible, or conscious of Pleasure and Pain, capable of Happiness or Misery, and so is concern’d for it self, as far as that consciousness extends” (II.XXVII.17).

    Locke is sometimes believed to have been influenced more by Aristotle than by Plato. As in the case of Montaigne’s France, the intellectual scene in Locke’s England was dominated by the works of Aristotle, Cicero and Seneca, and Locke certainly read these authors (as well as Montaigne, Descartes and Cudworth). But Plato was equally widely-read and Locke is known to have bought Plato’s Complete Works for his personal library. So, I think it wouldn’t be entirely wrong to say that the authors read by Locke comprised two major groups, Classical authors proper (Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Seneca) and authors influenced by them (Montaigne, Descartes, Cudworth, etc.).

    In sum, it follows that seventeenth-century Western European philosophies of consciousness and “consciousness” itself as a philosophical term, are in no small measure dependent on ideas introduced and developed by Greek writers more than a millennium before.

    See also:

    Johannes Stelzenberger, Syneidesis, Conscientia, Gewissen, 1963.

    Friedrich Zucker, “Syneidesis-Conscientia”, Jenaer akademische Reden, Heft 6, 1928.

    Hans-Rudolf Schwyzer, “Bewusst und Unbewusst bei Plotin”, Le sources de Plotin, 1960, 341-377.

    D. M. Hutchinson, Plotinus on Consciousness, 2018.

    P. Remes, Plotinus on Self: The Philosophy of the ‘We’, 2007.

    F. Ciccolella and L. Silvano, Teachers, Students, and Schools of Greek in the Renaissance, 2017.

    Michel de Montaigne, Les Essais, 1580, original French.

    Michel de Montaigne, Essays, English translation.

    Michael G. Paulson, The Possible Influence of Montaigne's ‘Essais’ on Descartes' ‘Treatise on the Passions’, 1988.

    Boris Hennig, "Cartesian Conscientia", British Journal for the History of Philosophy, Aug. 2007

    Stephen Buckle, "Descartes, Plato and the Cave", Philosophy, Vol. 82, No. 320 (Apr., 2007), pp. 301-337 Published by: Cambridge University Press on behalf of Royal Institute of Philosophy.

    Stephen Gersh (ed.), Plotinus' Legacy: The Transformation of Platonism from the Renaissance to the Modern Era, 2019.

    “Seventeenth-Century Theories of Consciousness”, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
     
    Last edited:

    nizzebro

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Abstracted from European philosophy and church, the essence is pretty simple. There is perception, and there is interpretation. A newborn baby is perceiving, that is, it assembles fractions into one image, but, it has no matrix of interpretation yet - with which it could associate these images; but, the process of separating some portions of the reality from outside and combining these into images anyway takes place - which is the primary sense of 'con-' in respect to the discussed notion in essence (not the term itself). Still, a child has something given in advance: the human form, body and its reactions, a specific environment, and, as long as the child grows within the society, the matrix becomes more and more definite - and, rigid. An adult person is not free anymore in their interpretations and should correlate and cast these to the set of images shared by the society. So the sense of 'con-' becomes referring not to fractions of the jigsaw puzzle around, but to compliance with other people, as discipline - and, any morals is such is only a side effect of the adopted order in interpretation of the reality, as a product of consideration. Accordingly, a relevant transformation should have been taken place in respect to the verb's root, as some drift - from vision of things, to keeping and reusing notions so that the only thing that an individual needs, is to recognize those notions - whatever the original sense of 'scire' used to be.
     
    Last edited:

    Apollodorus

    Senior Member
    English UK
    According to Babiniotis’ Etymological Dictionary of the Greek Language, the original meaning of syneidesis as used, for example, at Hippocrates, Epistles 1.13 (c. 460–370 BC), is “inner knowledge (which somebody has about himself)” (σύμφυτη, εσωτερική γνώση (που έχει κάποιος για τον εαυτό του)), the verbal root being οἶδᾰ /oida/, “to know, be acquainted with”.

    Greek oida is a cognate of Latin vīdī and Proto-Germanic *witaną and is derived from Proto-Indo-European *weyd- (“to know; see”) from which also Ancient Greek εἴδω /eídō/ (“to see”), Slavonic вѣдѣти /věděti/, etc.

    So, it seems that it all starts with consciousness in the sense of awareness or perception. We know something because we perceive it, for example, by means of our faculty of sight. To paraphrase Descartes, “I see, therefore I know”. This becomes particularly clear in Ancient Greek where “idea” (ἰδέᾱ /idéā/) literally means “shape/form”, that is, “that which is seen” (ἰδέᾱ < IE *u(e)id- "see" - R. Beekes, Etymological Dictionary of Greek).

    On a different level, “idea” (ἰδέᾱ /idéā/ or εἶδος /eîdos/) may be defined as that which consciousness sees or perceives within itself independently of sensory perception and, in some cases, even independently of imagination and recollection, for example, Plato’s “Ideas” or “Forms” as extrasensory, universal patterns within the mind of the Creator (Demiurge), on which the objects of the sensible world are modelled.

    This enables us to identify different forms or faculties of consciousness:

    1. Basic, indeterminate awareness, on the background of which all cognitive and sensory phenomena take place.

    2. Consciousness, a more determinate awareness of oneself and other things, that produces knowledge proper.

    3. Intelligence, or the capacity to process knowledge.

    Obviously, all three must operate in conjunction with each other in order for us to obtain consciousness, knowledge, knowledge of right and wrong, moral judgement, conscience, etc. But it all starts with awareness or perception.

    If we bear in mind the difference between sense-perceiving (AG aisthanesthai) and thinking (noein), we can see that our faculties of sensory perception (e.g., sight) present us with elements of sensation, such as colour, which the mind forms into a particular object of perception (S) and its predicate (f), such as shape.

    In contrast, the predicative judgement that attributes predicate f to object S (e.g., the affirmation “S is f”) is a product of thought-processes that go beyond sensory perception. The same is true of the propositional claim “the S that I perceive now is the same as the S that I perceived yesterday (or at some other point in the past)” and of moral judgments, for example, when we determine that a particular action is wrong.

    Of course, the criteria by which we determine what is right or wrong may be the product of social and cultural conditioning, in which case the con- in “conscious” may refer to knowing “with others” that something is right or wrong. But the way synoida is used by Plato at Apology 21b4-5, for example, seems to refer not to “knowing with others” but to “knowing with, in, or to, oneself” (synoida meauto).

    So, depending on the context, con- or syn- may refer (1) to the sensory and cognitive processes that form separate elements of perception or cognition into a unified and coherent whole, (2) to the act of referring the contents of cognition to oneself and (3) to the act of referring the contents of cognition to other individuals (or to others' perception of them).

    An interesting question is whether interaction with others is absolutely necessary, or a sense of right and wrong and associated “conscience” could also emerge independently ….
     
    Last edited:

    nizzebro

    Senior Member
    Russian
    1. Basic, indeterminate awareness, on the background of which all cognitive and sensory phenomena take place.

    2. Consciousness, a more determinate awareness of oneself and other things, that produces knowledge proper.

    3. Intelligence, or the capacity to process knowledge.
    There is no "basic indeterminate" or "more determinate" awareness. Awareness has a degree, it can grow, and, is a specific state. What is determinate is not awareness itself but only acquired images, corresponding to the current level of awareness, that are played back again and again - and this is which is today referred to as consciousness; and, intelligence is only about how refined and therefore complex these repeated mental images are - it is same as to know everything about, say, cranberries - but ignore the rest of the universe.
    So, depending on the context, con- or syn- may refer (1) to the sensory and cognitive processes that form separate elements of perception or cognition into a unified and coherent whole, (2) to the act of referring the contents of cognition to oneself and (3) to the act of referring the contents of cognition to other individuals (or to others' perception of them).

    (1) and (2) are the same because human is itself an manifestation of awareness; it is a complex - not only "physical", but mental as well: in such view, what human gathers together is oneself - in a certain configuration. Everything is a combination, including ourselves.

    An interesting question is whether interaction with others is absolutely necessary, or a sense of right and wrong and associated “conscience” could also emerge independently ….
    For maintaining the same state of awareness, it is absolutely necessary, otherwise not.
     

    Apollodorus

    Senior Member
    English UK
    There is no "basic indeterminate" or "more determinate" awareness.
    Well, if you don't like "more determinate", you can think of "indeterminate" and "(increasingly) determinate". Awareness has to start somewhere. And the starting point is awareness of nothing in particular, followed by awareness of a particular object, followed by increasingly clear awareness of that object. In other words, what you call "degrees of awareness".

    (1) and (2) are the same because human is itself an manifestation of awareness
    They may be "the same" ultimately, in the same way steam, water and ice may be said to be "the same". But when analysed psychologically, they are two different processes. Otherwise, it might be claimed that love and hatred are the same "because they are the manifestation or product of the same mind".

    For maintaining the same state of awareness, it is absolutely necessary, otherwise not.
    It isn't quite clear to me what you mean. Would you care to expand on it a bit?
     
    Last edited:

    nizzebro

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Well, if you don't like "more determinate", you can think of "indeterminate" and "(increasingly) determinate". Awareness has to start somewhere. And the starting point is awareness of nothing in particular, followed by awareness of a particular object, followed by increasingly clear awareness of that object.
    No objection; my point was only that there is awareness as such, and, acts of applying already adopted ideas about objects of that kind - with recognizing some known patterns and giving them a pre-existing interpretation (and the idea of "object" is also a reused pattern of interpretation; with a higher level of awareness in general, objects might appear as something else).

    They may be "the same" ultimately, in the same way steam, water and ice may be said to be "the same". But when analysed psychologically, they are two different processes. Otherwise, it might be claimed that love and hatred are the same "because they are the manifestation or product of the same mind".
    No objection again, we can generalize things in any possible way, the matter is only whether it leads us to something else or not. My point was that an individual is not actually "individual", because both physically and mentally he or she is an aggregate. This aggregation can extend, and, the idea of synergy as related to our acquiring of some external "particles", as opposed to that where it is actually those particles that are gathering together to form our existence and awareness, is only a matter of that whether we prefer an egocentric or impersonal view on things.

    It isn't quite clear to me what you mean. Would you care to expand on it a bit?
    I mean that "right" and "wrong" are only our ideas, that comply with a specific level and state of awareness; these are part of the matrix we share - which is exactly about consciousness as it is understood today (and is also an idea that marks our level and state of awareness). For a higher degree of awareness, these might be replaced, for instance, with notions like efficiency and adequacy of a certain choice in a certain situation, where the choice is being made without comparing it with any sort of "list of commandments".
     
    Last edited:

    Apollodorus

    Senior Member
    English UK
    there is awareness as such, and, acts of applying already adopted ideas about objects of that kind - with recognizing some known patterns and giving them a pre-existing interpretation (and the idea of "object" is also a reused pattern of interpretation; with a higher level of awareness in general, objects might appear as something else).

    Correct. Before interpretation, there has to be something there to interpret. That’s why, even when we speak of one single consciousness, we may still identify different forms of it – some of which are more basic or simple than others – depending on their corresponding function and type of cognition they produce.

    For example, there is a difference between seeing an undifferentiated mass of blue colour when looking at the sea at one time, and seeing different shades of blue, individual waves, sunlight reflected on them and other details at other times. There is a difference between consciousness during sleep and consciousness during waking states, etc.

    Perception or awareness comes first. Interpretation occurs at a later stage in the process. Why we interpret things the way we do is debatable, as is the question of whether consciousness is a product of matter or matter a product of consciousness, etc.

    My point was that an individual is not actually "individual", because both physically and mentally he or she is an aggregate. This aggregation can extend, and, the idea of synergy as related to our acquiring of some external "particles", as opposed to that where it is actually those particles that are gathering together to form our existence and awareness, is only a matter of that whether we prefer an egocentric or impersonal view on things.

    An individual may well be an “aggregate” of different elements, but it may be convenient for practical purposes to refer to it as one individual or person, especially as this is how we experience that “aggregate” in everyday life. In fact, this demonstrates the tendency of consciousness to unify experience into one coherent whole, like itself.

    I mean that "right" and "wrong" are only our ideas, that comply with a specific level and state of awareness; these are part of the matrix we share - which is exactly about consciousness as it is understood today (and is also an idea that marks our level and state of awareness). For a higher degree of awareness, these might be replaced, for instance, with notions like efficiency and adequacy of a certain choice in a certain situation, where the choice is being made without comparing it with any sort of "list of commandments".

    It may be the case that “right and wrong are only our ideas that are part of a common matrix”. But there may be a plurality of matrixes that differ from one cultural environment to another. My point was whether individual human consciousness living in isolation from other similar consciousnesses would develop a sense of “conscience” or of “what is right and wrong”.

    In other words, a shared “matrix” may turn out to not always be necessary for individual existence, though it may be so in terms of life within a social context. But not all forms of thought and behaviour are shaped by the environment. Some may be innate.

    Some philosophers, for example Plato, have attempted to find an answer to these and related questions by declaring that the task of philosophy is to discover the source of all knowledge (Republic 508e1-4). That source may turn out to be consciousness itself ....
     

    nizzebro

    Senior Member
    Russian
    An individual may well be an “aggregate” of different elements, but it may be convenient for practical purposes to refer to it as one individual or person, especially as this is how we experience that “aggregate” in everyday life. In fact, this demonstrates the tendency of consciousness to unify experience into one coherent whole, like itself.
    I agree that it is normal just because we start and proceed with that, born as exactly such kind of aggregates. My point was only that, in respect to con-, sticking to the level "human-and-society" is the feature of exactly conscience and consciousness, in the sense of a rigid state of awareness. An average person gets frightened when offered any kind of concept that potentially threatens individuality, like, for example, that where there is no personality at all so all people, you and me, are only aspects of the same live being (some intension of human), say, some short phases of its multidimensional activity, or a kind of hallucination of that being.

    I would define consciousness as a frozen awareness. Actually awareness even cannot freeze because it grows. To me, awareness is related to getting more and more ideas about the reality (and - working ideas), so for that, it should embrace larger and larger domains. It is a dynamic quality. Either one (that very aggregate) increases it or not. Still, it is not about increasing the number of data, rather it is an ability to reach all that data at any moment. If one chooses not to increase this ability, they actually reject it, and stick to some records that are played back in different combinations, (becoming "data" in our interpretation, while actually we use the same mechanism when acquiring it, but only do that cyclically) that might be complex and detailed, but anyway contain nothing new. It is consciousness - and conscience in the sense related to rules and morals - as the most degraded aspect of that.

    But there may be a plurality of matrixes that differ from one cultural environment to another. My point was whether individual human consciousness living in isolation from other similar consciousnesses would develop a sense of “conscience” or of “what is right and wrong”.
    In my understanding, awareness has nothing to do with cultural matrices. One who has a high level of awareness is able to act within any culture as if he or she was absolutely familiar with it. Or, they can violate some rules without any consequences - but they do that only when it is necessary for some other purpose. Awareness implies that one acts without any referring to life experience, products of education, saved ideas, or moral norms. All that stuff is not about awareness, because it actually can be uploaded to a computer memory - and a robot will function with an equal success as an average simple-minded but disciplined member of the society.
     
    Last edited:

    Apollodorus

    Senior Member
    English UK
    One who has a high level of awareness is able to act within any culture as if he or she was absolutely familiar with it.

    You could be right, but I haven’t seen any evidence that would support that view.

    I agree that awareness and culture are two different things, but awareness doesn’t exist in a vacuum and independently of all other factors involved in experience. Culture and environment in general do have an impact on how awareness operates in a given culture or environment.

    Awareness implies that one acts without any referring to life experience, products of education, saved ideas, or moral norms.

    By definition, awareness as denoted by syneidesis or conscientia implies being aware. The modern dictionary definition of awareness is “The quality or state of being aware, consciousness” (Oxford English Dictionary).

    Awareness can also mean “The understanding of a situation or subject at the present time based on information or experience” (Cambridge English Dictionary).

    Acting, with or without referring to life experience, etc., is not the same as awareness or being aware and it isn’t necessarily implied in it.

    So, theoretically, it may well be possible for an individual agent to act within any culture “as if he or she was absolutely familiar with it”. But in practice, that tends to apply to very few people, due to the fact that acting depends on the agent's understanding of a situation and his understanding is based on information or experience that differs from one agent to another.
     

    nizzebro

    Senior Member
    Russian
    The modern dictionary definition of awareness is “The quality or state of being aware, consciousness” (Oxford English Dictionary).

    Awareness can also mean “The understanding of a situation or subject at the present time based on information or experience” (Cambridge English Dictionary).
    The issue with all these collapsed dictionary definitions that they do not mean much in cases like this, as proceeding from the principle of categorizing things - while awareness is that basic phenomenon, on which the very our ability to reasoning is based. These definitions do not provide any insights but only produce a vicious circle. It's a real fun to read definitions of terms related to such basic notions in dictionaries and wikis; my favorite term is "meaning".
    So, theoretically, it may well be possible for an individual agent to act within any culture “as if he or she was absolutely familiar with it”. But in practice, that tends to apply to very few people, due to the fact that acting depends on the agent's understanding of a situation and his understanding is based on information or experience that differs from one agent to another.
    I fully agree with this.
    but awareness doesn’t exist in a vacuum and independently of all other factors involved in experience.
    In my understanding, this is not that false or true, but cannot be defined clearly, it is like that chicken and egg. The well-known Chinese picture reflects the basic dichotomy behind everything we can only conceptualize - at least while being humans (if to remove those small inner circles from it, which have probably some sense as picturing the principle of projection, but, are distracting from the sense of duality as such). Awareness is the boundary between these two sides - black and white. As any boundary, it doesn't exist as an object - it is only a consequence of the duality, but, any concepts like "cause and consequence" are themselves all embodied within that picture; strictly speaking, there is nothing primary or secondary from this universal perspective - only the dichotomy - and there is dynamics within it only because there are two sides - and, this dynamics is awareness. Ideas of "personal", "collective", "higher" or "lower" awareness, as well as the idea of our individuality, are only self-reflections of the dichotomy, which all, again, are just embodied in it - on an equal basis with every other notion. Somehow they can combine, but what that could mean except that we use to think about it, I don't know.

    Let's take a notion of "1" (one, a unit of count), or, just "object" which is a related notion. Any object implies that there is something else, that is, there is everything else that is not that thing. "One" is still not the most elementary sense, because it is always two-sided, no matter which aspect of that "one" we use. At the very millisecond we are aware of that, we produce "two" as a projection of the dichotomy that allowed us to be aware of the "one". But, we couldn't say that there is some primary order or hierarchy - because every notion is already there. I believe this is the maximum, or close to maximum, of that could be said about awareness in a rational manner and without leaving the currently adopted vocabulary and syntax - it does not mean that it is any close to some absolute knowledge, or that such exists, or that it doesn't exist. There is no way to say anything about it. But, we can say that awareness can "grow" - and, it doesn't mean that that boundary on the Chinese picture grows. It is always the same. Our personal awareness grows, but, it is itself there, within that picture.

    Why don't we stick to such definition as that perception is about reflection; awareness is about repeating the same reflection - and that consciousness refers to some adopted set of repeated reflections. Animals also have awareness, but, it is simplistic - or more precisely, it doesn't correspond to the set of reflections we humans use. But the trick is that live beings are themselves instances of awareness. One could think of them as a combination of "matter" and "awareness" - but, any idea we use, including that of "matter", is itself awareness - so it would be logical to say that matter is also an aspect of awareness, but it is not bound to our ego directly - the difference is like that between "1" and "2".
     
    Last edited:
    Top