Active Attending or a Theory of Mental Action

Brian O'Shaughnessy

in Consciousness and the World

Published in print January 2003 | ISBN: 9780199256723
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191598135 | DOI:
Active Attending or a Theory of Mental Action

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Typically our perceptions occur in the setting of an active perceptual process. This chapter attempts to analyse active attending, and in particular, active perceptual attending. The exemplar phenomenon discussed is listening, which is a mental activity. Now mental actions fall into three different structural kinds, exemplified in soliloquy/recollecting/active attending, and the aim is the structural analysis of the latter. Theories as to the relation between listening and hearing are examined, and the conclusion reached is that listening encompasses that part of the co‐present hearing that owes its existence to the will, a sector that inevitably has no more than a probabilistic measure. But how could hearing (of realities) immediately derive from willing? This puzzle finds its resolution in the character of the special causal situation realized in listening. While will and sound are distinct existents with non‐identical causal powers, they are token‐identical causal agencies in the generation of the hearing sector of listening. This strange analysis vindicates the concept of active attending.

Keywords: attending; hearing; listening; mental action; the will; willing

Chapter.  14663 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Philosophy of Mind

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