Self‐Knowledge and Rational Agency: A Defense of Empiricism

Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 96 (1):91-109 (2018)
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How does one know one's own beliefs, intentions, and other attitudes? Many responses to this question are broadly empiricist, in that they take self-knowledge to be epistemically based in empirical justification or warrant. Empiricism about self-knowledge faces an influential objection: that it portrays us as mere observers of a passing cognitive show, and neglects the fact that believing and intending are things we do, for reasons. According to the competing, agentialist conception of self-knowledge, our capacity for self-knowledge derives from our rational agency—our ability to conform our attitudes to our reasons, and to commit ourselves to those attitudes through avowals. This paper has two goals. The first is exegetical: to identify agentialism's defining thesis and precisely formulate the agentialist challenge to empiricism. The second goal is to defend empiricism from the agentialist challenge. I propose a way to understand the role of agency in reasoning and avowals, one that does justice to what is distinctive about these phenomena yet is compatible with empiricism about self-knowledge

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Brie Gertler
University of Virginia


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