Consciousness of things and thoughts

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The mind, like the body, acquires its functions by insensible degrees, “ unseen, yet crescive in its faculty,” and we find ourselves in the possession and exercise of nature’s gifts without being able to say how we acquired them.

Consciousness proper, as above described, must possess in some degree the attributes of clearness and distinctness. Using the same term in a wider and less accurate sense, we may distinguish between an obscure or an indistinct, and a clear or a distinct consciousness. An act of consciousness, whether presentative or representative, is clear when its object as a whole can be distinguished from any other; when this cannot be done, it is obscure.

An act of consciousness is distinct when the several parts constituting its object can be distinguished from each other; when this is ’not the case, it is indistinct. To form a clear or distinct consciousness, an act of reflection must accompany the intuition. An obscure or indistinct consciousness may in some degree be obtained by intuition alone. The latter contains all the materials of the former, though not disposed in the same relations to each other.

In an obscure or indistinct intuition we may be dimly aware of the existence of differences of some kind, but be unable to say what they are. In order to obtain this latter knowledge the first step must be to separate our confused intuition into distinct portions; and in performing this task we are, as a matter of fact, invariably assisted by the distinctions of language; that is to say, by a classification already performed by the reflection of others.

By learning to recognise under their names the different portions of a confused intuition, we take the first step towards a clear and distinct consciousness of things and thoughts. It is obvious, however, from what has been said before, that the terms clear and distinct are rather relative than absolute, and that a perfectly obscure consciousness is no consciousness at all in the proper sense of the term.

***Excerpt from Henry Longueville Mansel, B.d.. Metaphysics or the philosophy of consciousness