The Euthyphro problem of consciousness

A: So tell me about this Euthyphro problem of consciousness.

B: I take one version of the Euthyphro problem as this: abstract things have the perfection of being intelligible, eternal and unchanging, and whatever has the perfection of life, action and knowledge is concrete. So when we say God is the most perfect being, which do we mean?

A: St. Thomas says we speak of God as abstract when we want to talk about his simplicity and concrete when we want to talk about his existence.

B: That’s a fine rule for speech, but what are we supposed to think? Everyone repeats Thomas’s account of God as ipsum esse subsistens without noticing just what a scandal it is. “Esse” is an abstraction, in fact the maximal possible abstraction, but the subsistent is precisely what we abstract from to make any abstraction! St. Thomas is saying that God has two perfections which, for us, are necessarily exclusive.

A: All right, so let that be the Euthyphro problem: what’s the Euthyphro problem of consciousness?

B: I think a similar problem arises when we try to ask what consciousness is.

A: I don’t get it. My consciousness is mine, so it is concrete.

B: But the abstract just is the mind as actualized. The mind, at least when it is at work, is just what the Platonic form would be, if it existed; and yet for all that, the mind is obviously and evidently alive.

A: And so consciousness – at least so far as it knows abstractions – raises the same problem as the Euthyphro raises about God.

B: That’s my claim.

A: But then what about someone like Hume, who denies outright that we actually know abstractions?

B: There will be some tensions there, but I think they give way to a deeper agreement. I think all I’m doing here is giving a solid argument for what Hume is gesturing at when he says that the best we can do with the mind is speak of it by analogy, though its true nature is unintelligible to us. Put in our language, this is because the true nature of mind is a concrete abstraction or an abstractus subsistens, which is a nature that is unintelligible to us that can only be understood by negation and analogy.


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