Constitutive Self-Consciousness

Australasian Journal of Philosophy (forthcoming)
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The claim that consciousness constitutively involves self-consciousness has a long philosophical history, and has received renewed support in recent years. My aim in this paper is to argue that this surprisingly enduring idea is misleading at best, and insufficiently supported at worst. I start by offering an elucidatory account of consciousness, and outlining a number of foundational claims that plausibly follow from it. I subsequently distinguish two notions of self-consciousness: consciousness of oneself and consciousness of one’s experience. While “self-consciousness” is often taken to refer to the former notion, the most common variant of the constitutive claim, on which I focus here, targets the latter. This claim can be further interpreted in two ways: on a deflationary reading, it falls within the scope of foundational claims about consciousness, while on an inflationary reading, it points to determinate aspects of phenomenology that are not acknowledged by the foundational claims as being aspects of all conscious mental states. I argue that the deflationary reading of the constitutive claim is plausible, but should be formulated without using a term as polysemous and suggestive as “self-consciousness”; by contrast, the inflationary reading is not adequately supported, and ultimately rests on contentious intuitions about phenomenology. I conclude that we should abandon the idea that self-consciousness is constitutive of consciousness.


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