Rules of Language and First Person Authority

Polish Journal of Philosophy 6 (2):15-32 (2012)
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This paper examines theories of first person authority proposed by Dorit Bar-On (2004), Crispin Wright (1989a) and Sydney Shoemaker (1988). What all three accounts have in common is that they attempt to explain first person authority by reference to the way our language works. Bar-On claims that in our language self-ascriptions of mental states are regarded as expressive of those states; Wright says that in our language such self-ascriptions are treated as true by default; and Shoemaker suggests that they might arise from our capacity to avoid Moore-paradoxical utterances. I argue that Bar-On’s expressivism and Wright’s constitutive theory suffer from a similar problem: They fail to explain how it is possible for us to instantiate the language structures that supposedly bring about first person authority. Shoemaker’s account does not suffer from this problem. But it is unclear whether the capacity to avoid Moore-paradoxical utterances really yields self-knowledge. Also, it might be that self-knowledge explains why we have this capacity rather than vice versa.
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