Cudworth on Self-Consciousness and the I Myself

in Vivarium
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In the last two decades, Ralph Cudworth (1617-88) has been acknowledged as one of the paramount figures in the history of theories of consciousness. This paper discusses the interpretation defended by Udo Thiel (1991) and Vili Lähteenmäki (2010). Both contend that, for Cudworth, the reflexivity defining consciousness does not constitute self-consciousness, which, they say, requires self-determination for practical ends. On the contrary, I argue that for Cudworth any degree of consciousness implies a species of self-perception that must be considered a degree of self-consciousness. To do justice to Cudworth’s full position, I claim, we must take into account a kind of consciousness that I call ‘to-oneself ’ consciousness. Furthermore, I argue, the problem of the ethical self-formation of every human soul as one personality (which Cudworth calls “I myself in every man”) should be seen as going beyond the mere consideration of practical rationality.

Cudworth on Self-Consciousness and the I Myself

in Vivarium




Thiel‘Cudworth and Seventeenth-Century Theories of Consciousness’92.


Lähteenmäki‘Cudworth on Types of Consciousness’25.


Thiel‘Cudworth and Seventeenth-Century Theories of Consciousness’93.


Lähteenmäki‘Cudworth on Types of Consciousness’27.


Thiel‘Cudworth and Seventeenth-Century Theories of Consciousness’94. See also U. Thiel ‘Hume’s Notions of Consciousness and Reflection in Context’ British Journal for the History of Philosophy 2 (1994) 75-115: Thiel highlights (94) that the duplication or self-relation included in consciousness according to Cudworth must not be equated with “individual reflection” “which is possible only on a higher rational level of life.”


Lähteenmäki‘Cudworth on Types of Consciousness’27. It should be noted that even though they are the source from which Thiel and Lähteenmäki draw their restrictive interpretation on self-consciousness neither of these two commentators gives a broad range of quotations from the texts dealing with self-determination in Cudworth. Also Darwall’s very helpful development on this topic (The British Moralists 109-148) is not mentioned in Lähteenmäki’s later article.




Ibid.221. Cf. tfw VI 169.

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