SCIENCE AND THE CONSCIOUS PERSON - METAPHYSICAL INSIGHTS FROM ANTONIO ROSMINI
Centre for Lifelong Learning, Cardiff University, 21 Senghenydd Road, Cardiff CF24 4AG, UK. Home: 2, Maes-y-Sarn, Pentyrch, Cardiff CF15 9QQ, UK
The contemporary contentious debate about the nature of consciousness is but one symptom of the unsatisfactory state of the philosophy of the human being. Similar difficulties occur over the nature and existence of the soul, self and person. A primary cause of these problems is the lack of clarity over the distinction between epistemology and metaphysics; in particular between the subjective and objective; and the ideal and real components of human experience. These problems occur in both synthetic phenomenology and analytical philosophy.
The Rosminian understanding of philosophy as the search for wisdom, that is for ultimate reasons or grounds for belief, places metaphysics (as distinct from epistemology) as that branch of philosophy dealing with theories or concepts of real being. It is therefore distinct from reality itself, which is only discovered through feeling. Rosmini's account of the phenomenology of human consciousness includes the awareness of the self as an embodied 'feeling-felt' relationship. The body induces in the soul a 'fundamental feeling' which is entirely subjective, but is the first level of animal consciousness. The sensory inputs involved in perception are modifications of this unifying fundamental feeling, which allows a distinction between the subjective feeling and the felt 'extra-subjective', sensed material world. This distinction is necessary to resolve the problem of the difference between the subjective and the scientific aspects of consciousness - the latter always involves the 'extra-subjective' component of experience.
A scientific investigation of the human person will investigate the phenomena and laws discovered in the extra-subjective world. A metaphysical one will search not only for the necessary scientific answers but also the sufficient and complete ones involving all aspects of experience. Rosmini demonstrates that the source of the cognitive ability to stand back from the world of the feeling-felt lies in the intuition of 'ideal being' or 'light of reason', which allows the human being to know objectively the reality of the felt self and world. This same ability permits a reflective process to occur whereby the self can be distinguished as conscious 'ego' and the full dignity of the human person to be discovered.