The Most General Mental Act

Yair Levy*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

4 Scopus citations


This chapter contributes to the ongoing debate over how to understand attention. It spells out and defends a novel account according to which attending is the most general type of mental act, that which one performs on some object if one performs any mental act on it at all. On this view, all mental acts are (to a first, rough approximation) species of attending. The view is novel in going against the grain of virtually all extant accounts, which work by identifying the purported unique functional role of attention. It is inspired by Timothy Williamson’s account of knowledge as the most general factive mental state. Beyond the Williamsonian thin explanation of knowledge, the account of attention as the most general mental act is animated by two striking pre-theoretical features of attention, dubbed ubiquity and heterogeneity. The hope of accommodating these twin features seems to drive at least two other extant accounts of attention, very different from the one proposed here, offered by Mole and Wu, respectively. However, as the chapter explains, both Mole’s and Wu’s accounts fall short, leaving room for the novel account defended here, which does adequately capture both features.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMental Action and the Conscious Mind
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages21
ISBN (Electronic)9780429666230
ISBN (Print)9780367077518
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2022


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