Self in Mind. A Pluralist Account of Self-Consciousness

Dissertation, (2020)
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Abstract

This thesis investigates the relationship between consciousness and self-consciousness. I consider two broad claims about this relationship: a constitutive claim, according to which all conscious experiences constitutively involve self-consciousness; and a typicalist claim, according to which ordinary conscious experiences contingently involve self-consciousness. Both of these claims call for elucidation of the relevant notions of consciousness and self-consciousness. In the first part of the thesis ('The Myth of Constitutive Self-Consciousness'), I critically examine the constitutive claim. I start by offering an elucidatory account of consciousness, and outlining a number of foundational claims that plausibly follow from it. I subsequently distinguish between two concepts of self-consciousness: consciousness of one's experience, and consciousness of oneself (as oneself). Each of these concepts yields a distinct variant of the constitutive claim. In turn, each resulting variant of the constitutive claim can be interpreted in two ways: on a 'minimal' or deflationary reading, they fall within the scope of foundational claims about consciousness, while on a 'strong' or inflationary reading, they point 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 readings of either variant of the constitutive claim are plausible and illuminating, but would ideally be formulated without using a term as polysemous as 'self-consciousness'; by contrast, the inflationary readings of either variant are not adequately supported. In the second part of the thesis ('Self-Consciousness in the Real World'), I focus on the second concept of self-consciousness, or consciousness of oneself as oneself. Drawing upon empirical evidence, I defend a pluralist account of self-consciousness so construed, according to which there are several ways in which one can be conscious of oneself as oneself – through conscious thoughts, bodily experiences and perceptual experiences – that make distinct determinate contributions to one's phenomenology. This pluralist account provides us with the resources to vindicate the typicalist claim according to which consciousness of oneself as oneself – a sense of self – is pervasive in ordinary conscious experiences, as a matter of contingent empirical fact. It also provides us with the resources to assess the possibility that a subject might be conscious without being conscious of herself as herself in any way.

Author's Profile

Raphaël Millière
Macquarie University

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