Consciousness myth

Galen Strawson in the Times Literary Supplement:

ScreenHunter_1053 Mar. 06 14.46“Many historians of philosophy, with all their intended praise, . . . attribute mere nonsense . . . to past philosophers”, as Kant pointed out in 1790. The history of ideas is a zoo – of myths about what happened and what people said. I used to think the mythologizing was a relatively slow process, because the passage of time was needed to blur the past. Twenty years ago, however, an instant myth was born: a myth about a dramatic resurgence of interest in the topic of consciousness in philosophy, in the mid-1990s, after long neglect.

It’s too late to uproot it now. It’s spread like Japanese kudzu or Russian ivy. Too many people have a stake in it, including those who believe that they lived through the resurgence (especially the graduate students of the time) and have a place, however modest, among its champions. It soared on a soaring internet whose massively accumulative character then fixed it in place. So it’s worth putting it on the record that it’s a myth.

In the case of psychology the story of resurgence has some truth. There are doubts about its timing. The distinguished psychologist of memory Endel Tulving places it in the 1980s. “Consciousness has recently again been declared to be the central problem of psychology”, he wrote in 1985, citing a number of other authors. The great dam of behaviouristic psychology was cracking and spouting. It was bursting. Even so, there was a further wave of liberation in psychology in the 1990s. Discussion of consciousness regained full respectability after seventy years of marginalization, although there were of course (and still are) a few holdouts.

In the case of philosophy, however, the story of resurgence is simply a myth.

More here.

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