Consciousness as a mode of being

Simona Ginsburg, Eva Jablonka

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We suggest a teleological approach to subjective experiencing or phenomenal consciousness. Like living, subjective experiencing is a teleology-constituting mode of being, which is made up of coupled, functional processes. We explicate our notion of a ‘teleological mode of being’ and distinguish between three different modes: a living (non-sentient) mode of being, a sentient mode of being, and a rational-symbolic (human) mode of being, which correspond to the three levels of soul suggested by Aristotle. These evolved teleological modes of being are characterized by the possession of distinct, hierarchically nested goals and value systems. We argue that the functions of parts and processes within living systems have to be situated within the appropriate teleological frame of reference. Our evolutionary and comparative approach to the mode of being of subjectively experiencing animals clarifies why functions are best attributed to the parts that constitute sentience. Our proposal resolves the problem of attributing functions to phenomenal consciousness, resonates with basic teleological intuitions and distinctions, and corresponds to the modern broad understanding of selection and evolution. Every actually existing consciousness seems to itself at any rate to be a fighter for ends, of which many, but for its presence, would not be ends at all. (James, 1890/1950, vol 1, p. 141, James’s emphasis).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)148-162
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Consciousness Studies
Issue number9-10
StatePublished - 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Imprint Academic 2018.


Dive into the research topics of 'Consciousness as a mode of being'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this