Quoting his contemporary, GE Moore (1904: 459), James compares ‘consciousness of consciousness itself’ with the futility of attempts to introspect the sensation of blueness:
The moment we try to fix out attention upon consciousness and to see what, distinctly, it is… it seems to vanish. It seems as if we had before us a mere emptiness. When we try to introspect the sensation of blue, all we can see is the blue.
Immediate subjective bodily sensations like the redness of red which are quite incommunicable have been referred to as Qualia for some time now. Clarence Lewis (1929: 121) introduced the term a quarter of a century after James and Moore were writing:
There are recognizable qualitative characters of the given, which may be repeated in different experiences, and are thus a sort of universals; I call these qualia. But although such qualia are universals, in the sense of being recognized from one to another experience, they must be distinguished from the properties of objects... The quale is directly intuited, given, and is not the subject of any possible error because it is purely subjective.
James insists that ‘consciousness’ is “only a careless name” for a “stream of thinking” or “impalpable inner flowing.” Consciousness is certainly something strongly felt. It is a vivid, subjective, private sensation which James “recognize[s] emphatically as a phenomenon,” but decries as a philosophically “constructed entity.” He leaves us to contemplate:
That entity is fictitious, while thoughts in the concrete are fully real. But thoughts in the concrete are made of the same stuff as things are.
James, William (1904) Does 'Consciousness' Exist? Journal of Philosophy, Psychology, and Scientific Methods, Vol. 1: 477-491.
Lewis, Clarence I. (1929) Mind and the World Order. New York: C. Scribner's Sons.
Moore , G.E. (1903) Mind. Vol. XII, N.S., p. 450.