Dretske on Self-Knowledge and Contrastive Focus: How to Understand Dretske’s Theory, and Why It Matters

Erkenntnis 82 (5):975-992 (2017)
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Dretske’s theory of self-knowledge is interesting but peculiar and can seem implausible. He denies that we can know by introspection that we have thoughts, feelings, and experiences. But he allows that we can know by introspection what we think, feel, and experience. We consider two puzzles. The first puzzle, PUZZLE 1, is interpretive. Is there a way of understanding Dretske’s theory on which the knowledge affirmed by its positive side is different than the knowledge denied by its negative side? The second puzzle, PUZZLE 2, is substantive. Each of the following theses has some prima facie plausibility: there is introspective knowledge of thoughts, knowledge requires evidence, and there are no experiences of thoughts. It is unclear, though, that these claims form a consistent set. These puzzles are not unrelated. Dretske’s theory of self-knowledge is a potential solution to PUZZLE 2 in that Dretske’s theory is meant to show how,, and can all be true. We provide a solution to PUZZLE 1 by appeal to Dretske’s early work in the philosophy of language on contrastive focus. We then distinguish between “Closure” and “Transmissibility”, and raise and answer a worry to the effect that Dretske’s theory of self-knowledge runs counter to Transmissibility. These results help to secure Dretske’s theory as a viable solution to PUZZLE 2.

Author Profiles

Michael Roche
Idaho State University
William Roche
Texas Christian University


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