Quoted from Pascal's Pensées. Today I'm aiming to look more closely at 'consciousness of isolation' versus 'isolated consciousness'.
I said previously that isolation can be apprehended as a phenomenon in the world, but that this seems distinct from 'being isolated'. That is, isolation can be a phenomenal aspect of objects/places in the world: not a natural property (though places can have the natural property of being isolated in fact) but nonetheless an aspect of things 'out there' in the world, so that one finds that a location is remote, abandoned, etc. Yet it doesn't seem that when I myself inhabit solitude, loneliness, etc. I do so by regarding myself as an object in the world and discovering a property of that object; or at least not primarily. Perhaps that does occur, e.g. in understanding causes: 'I feel lonely [inner] because nobody at this party seems to want to talk to me [outer, circumstantial]'. (Ignoring certain questions about 'direct access' in knowedge of mental states—yes, one does have a privileged position with regard to oneself, so there isn't going to be the sort of chain of inference there is with regard to other objects. Still, I don't think this is just an epistemological difference...) If it does that needn't be a problem. However, it seems to me to be an incomplete story regarding isolation.
When I discover that I am alone, what's the object of my consciousness? The surface grammar might suggest that 'I' am; but in discovering that I'm alone I discover something about my circumstances rather than a property possessed by myself: the discovery refers itself to 'others'. Okay: I'm conscious of the absence of others; but I am conscious of their absence from my universe—so the ego finds itself smuggled in after all. (Shades of Husserl?) Yet the ego as it's found here isn't itself an object in the universe: it's posited by the experience rather than discovered as an item within it. (Yes: Husserl.) What then can it be that is alone? Well, clearly 'I' am; but what I immediately discover is that 'nobody else is present': isolation is the discovery of an other-directed consciousness. I discover 'my' isolation as a fact in my universe. (If I then do consider myself 'from the outside', this at least comes second.)
Now of course Husserl thought you could employ the notion of the transcendental ego to make all sorts of interesting observations if you managed to perform the epoché; whereas I'm trying to say something about isolation specifically, and as part of everyday experience. I think it's a fair observation/criticism that what I've said so far can be equally characteristic of encounter: consider the case of embarrassment, directed towards the scrunity of onlookers. (Sartre does seem to discuss 'the look' in terms of a certain kind of self-consciousness.) Just mix in Sartrean Négatités and you can extend this to cover absences—so what? But that line of argument would overlook the curious characteristics of isolation: embarrassment, by contrast, isn't a way of finding oneself in certain circumstances but a mental state caused by whatever circumstances. (Although it is itself isolation in a different sense: feeling 'on show' for one's audience, thus apart from them...) To an extent one can at least try to play the same game with isolation ('Loneliness is a mental state caused by circumstances of one's need for human contact not being satisfied'), but what I've said above counts against the possibility of that being the whole story.
Indeed, it seems to me that isolation is discovered as a fact about my world as a whole: clearly its epistemological conditions are that each physical co-ordinate in my vicinity is found to be unoccupied by another person, but in finding myself alone I don't discover an agglutinative array of absences. When someone is present, of course this person occupies a certain place and what Sartre has to say about relations with other 'things in my universe' applies; but besides whatever visual impressions I have of this person's spatiality, I discover him as a presence in my universe and, as such, as directly having to do with me. (It's most apparent where there's interaction: that person 'over there' is the friend I'm about to greet, or the assassin from whom I must hide, etc.) Presence is a fact of the matter which happens within my whole universe. Cf. Merleau-Ponty on emotions and the body:
Imagine that I am in the presence of someone who, for one reason or another, is extremely annoyed with me... [W]here is this anger? ... None of this takes place in some otherworldly realm, in some shrine located beyond the body of the angry man. It really is here, in this room and in this part of the room, that the anger breaks forth. It is in the space between him and me that it unfolds. ... When I recall being angry at Paul, it does not strike me that this anger was in my mind or among my thoughts but rather, that it lay entirely between me who was doing the shouting and that odious Paul who just sat there calmly and listened with an ironic air... The location of my anger... is in the space we both share... and not in me.
The World of Perception, pp. 83-5
There we've got emotion located spatially, insofar as it occurs between and around two physical bodies. This is presumably to be taken as an indefinite spatiality, i.e. nobody's going to suggest that an occurrence of anger has dimensions of x square feet or whatever; and I think the same can be said of presence, in that one is present 'in' a place but one's presence as a phenomenon hasn't the definite spatiality of one's body. (Cf. 'He had a tremendous presence', etc.) Phenomenally, another is present 'opposite me', 'beside me', 'too close to me', etc. and all these of course depend on bodily location, but they are matters of spatiality in my universe (cf. Sartre).
So if presence is like that, what about absence? Well, that too is indefinite: in fact, others are absent from my whole universe, from nowhere in particular 'within' it. An empty room isn't length x width x height of non-presence, but an enclosure which encloses nobody. Isolation is spatial – it's an aspect of the space in which one finds oneself – but it isn't spatially limited, isn't something that happens 'in' the world around one. (One doesn't ordinarily turn to the companion present beside one and point out the gaping absence on the other side of the room—although of course one might comment on the absence of a specific person, e.g. of the recently deceased Pierre from his favourite chair. Though perhaps there are special cases of spatial absences, e.g. the gap in a crowd that forms around something repulsive; but that would fall into the category of 'consciousness of isolation'.)
So: 'consciousness of isolation' versus 'isolated consciousness'. Perhaps that's turned out to be a misleading way of putting it. Both awareness of a place/thing as isolated and awareness of one's own isolation seem to be directed outwards as forms of engagement with the world; the difference, I think, is that the former deals with things 'in' the world (e.g. 'this abandoned shack'), the latter with the whole structure of finding oneself in a world.
Having got this far, the next problem will be tying what I've got here into everything else. In particular there's the question of what it has to do with normativity.