Self-Consciousness and Immunity

Journal of Philosophy 108 (2):78-99 (2011)
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Abstract

Sydney Shoemaker, developing an idea of Wittgenstein’s, argues that we are immune to error through misidentification relative to the first-person pronoun. Although we might be liable to error when “I” (or its cognates) is used as an object, we are immune to error when “I” is used as a subject (as when one says, “I have a toothache”). Shoemaker claims that the relationship between “I” as-subject and the mental states of which it is introspectively aware is tautological: when, say, we judge that “I feel pain,” we are tautologically aware that feels pain is instantiated and that it is instantiated in oneself. Moreover, he contends that this relationship holds not just for bodily sensations, but also for the sense of agency and for visual perception. But we deny that this relationship is tautological; instead, we treat Shoemaker’s principle (IEM) as a hypothesis. We then proceed to show that certain pathological states and experimentally-induced illusions can be adduced to show that IEM describes not a necessary relationship but a contingent relationship, one that sometimes fails to obtain. That we are not immune to error in the way Shoemaker describes has grave consequences for many aspects of his ideas concerning the first-person perspective. In the course of arguing that these empirical phenomena count against IEM, we also show that not only can the content of conscious experience be misrepresented, so too can the subject: that is, not only can the what of conscious experience be misrepresented, so too can the who.

Author Profiles

Caleb Liang
National Taiwan University
Timothy Joseph Lane
Academia Sinica

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