The confused conceptions of consciousness

Where philosophers have gone wrong

The emergence of the vocabulary of consciousness

The term ‘consciousness’ and its cognates are surprisingly late arrivals in the English vocabulary. No occurrence is to be found in Shakespeare. The first recorded case according to the Oxford English Dictionary is in the early seventeenth century. Initially ‘to be conscious’, like its Latin prototype ‘conscius’, meant: to be privy to something or some secret. So one might be said to be conscious to a murder or to an assignation. Applied to a person, it meant sharing a secret with another, and its common form was ‘to be conscious of such-and-such [information] to A [a person]’ from which it rapidly mutated into ‘to be conscious of such-and-such to oneself’ when the secret was not shared. What one was said to be conscious to oneself could be facts in general, facts about other people, and facts about oneself. By mid-century ‘to another’ and ‘to oneself

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