Affective ignorance

Erkenntnis 71 (1):123 - 139 (2009)
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According to one of the most influential views in the philosophy of self-knowledge each person enjoys some special cognitive access to his or her own current mental states and episodes. This view faces two fundamental tasks. First, it must elucidate the general conceptual structure of apparent asymmetries between beliefs about one’s own mind and beliefs about other minds. Second, it must demarcate the mental territory for which first-person-special-access claims can plausibly be maintained. Traditional candidates include sensations, experiences (of various kinds), thoughts, beliefs, desires, and also affective states such as emotions. I reconstruct five prominent privileged access claims that have traditionally been maintained for emotions and discuss logical relations among them. I then argue that none of these claims stands up to scrutiny. The truth is that we often suffer from affective ignorance, and that third-person ascriptions of emotional states should often be credited with more rather than less authority than corresponding self-ascriptions. I conclude by considering, and rejecting, five potential objections to my argument.

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Christoph Jäger
University of Innsbruck


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