Virtual reality as a path to self-knowledge

Synthese 202 (87):1-21 (2023)
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I discuss how virtual reality can be used to acquire self-knowledge. Lawlor (Philos Phenomenol Res 79(1):47–75, 2009) and Cassam (Vices of the mind: from the intellectual to the political. OUP, Oxford, 2014) develop inferential accounts of self-knowledge in which one can use imagination to acquire self-knowledge. This is done by actively prompting imaginary scenarios and observing one’s reactions to those scenarios. These reactions are then used as the inferential basis for acquiring self-knowledge. I suggest that the imaginary scenarios can be in principle replaced with scenarios in virtual reality in a way that still provides an inferential basis for self-knowledge. Instead of internal prompting in imagination, I call this external prompting in virtual reality. I discuss the advantages and disadvantages of external prompting. On one hand, external prompting avoids some of the common biases that can intervene with internal prompting in imagination. On the other hand, external prompting comes with some challenges of its own. External prompting might be more time-consuming and might be open to a game-like approach of the agent leading to a different sort of distortion that gets in the way of self-knowledge. I suggest that these are practical challenges, but nevertheless, external prompting seems worthwhile for self-knowledge that is otherwise especially difficult to acquire.

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Lukas Schwengerer
University of Duisburg-Essen


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