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  • Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement, Volume 67
  • October 2010, pp. 21-44

How to Become Unconscious

  • Stephen R. L. Clark (a1)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 July 2010

Consistent materialists are almost bound to suggest that ‘conscious experience’, if it exists at all, is no more than epiphenomenal. A correct understanding of the real requires that everything we do and say is no more than a product of whatever processes are best described by physics, without any privileged place, person, time or scale of action. Consciousness is a myth, or at least a figment. Plotinus was no materialist: for him, it is Soul and Intellect that are more real than the phenomena we misdescribe as material. Nor does he suppose that consciousness depends on language (as Stoics and modern materialists have sometimes said): wordless experience is actually superior. And much of what counts towards our present consciousness is to be discarded. It is better not to remember most of what now seems more significant to us; better to discard images; better that the intellect be ‘drunk’ than ‘sober’, losing any sense of separation between subject and object. The goal of the Plotinian intellectual is to join ‘the dance of immortal love’, but it is a mark of the good dancer that she is not conscious of what she does. There is therefore a strange confluence between Plotinus and modern materialists: our experience at least is transitory, deceitful, epiphenomenal, and ‘reality’ is to be encountered when we have shed our illusions.

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Andrew Smith , ‘Unconsciousness and Quasi-consciousness in Plotinus’, Phronesis 23 (1978), 292301

Richard E. Aquila , ‘On Plotinus and the “Togetherness” of Consciousness’, Journal of the History of Philosophy 30 (1992), 732

Alastair Hannay , ‘Comments on Honderich, Sprigge, Dreyfus and Rubin, and Elster’ in Synthese 98 (1994), 95112

T. L. S. Sprigge , ‘Final Causes’, Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 45 (1971), 149–70

William James , The Principles of Psychology (New York: Macmillan, 1890)

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Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplements
  • ISSN: 1358-2461
  • EISSN: 1755-3555
  • URL: /core/journals/royal-institute-of-philosophy-supplements
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