Historical and Philosophical Antecedents

  • Ronald A. Cohen


Philosophers from the time of Plato and Aristotle struggled with the nature of the mind, its relationship to the body and to objective physical reality. For Aristotle, sensations and their relationship to perception and reasoning were of central importance. Attention was not an essential aspect of Aristotle’s epistemology; sensory experience was thought to take on the form of the external world [1]. Descartes in his quest to create a philosophy of the mind observed “Regarding those matters which I think I see utterly clearly with my mind’s eye … when I turn to the things themselves which I think I perceive very clearly, I am so convinced by them that I spontaneously declare: let whoever can do so deceive me” [2]. In his writings and those of the other renaissance philosophers of his time, one sees the emergence of the role of consciousness in the process of perceiving, as in his use of the idea of “my mind’s eye.” Clearly based on introspection, Descartes made a crucial distinction between “external” sense perception and perception that was genuinely clear and distinct. For Descartes, the external senses resulted in “a spontaneous impulse to believe something,” but he did not view this type of impulse as irresistible, whereas clear and distinct perceptions that become conscious were seen as irresistible. While it is beyond the scope of this chapter to review the various philosophical perspectives on consciousness and the nature of attention, it is apparent that even though many of the renaissance philosophers did not explicitly use the term attention, they were struggling to make sense of experiential phenomena that was at in its essence attentional.


Prior Entry Distinct Perception Attentional Phenomenon Attentional Scope Term Attention 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ronald A. Cohen
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  1. 1.Departments of Neurology, Psychiatry and AgingGainesvilleUSA
  2. 2.Center for Cognitive Aging and MemoryUniversity of Florida College of MedicineGainesvilleUSA
  3. 3.Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior Warren Alpert School of MedicineBrown UniversityProvidenceUSA

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