Date of Degree
David M. Rosenthal
Wide agreement exists that self-ascriptions that one would express with the first-person pronoun differ in kind from those one would express with other self-designating expressions such as proper names and definite descriptions. At least some first-person self-ascriptions, many argue, are nonaccidental—that is, they involve no self-identification, and hence in making them one cannot accidentally misidentify the subject of the ascription. I examine the support for this claim throughout the literature, paying particular attention to Sydney Shoemaker's proposal that self-ascriptions are nonaccidental in virtue of being immune to error through misidentification relative to the first-person pronoun. According to Shoemaker, such immunity results from the special way in which one is introspectively aware of the psychological property or state ascribed, a way that leaves no room for questions to arise as to whether oneself is its bearer. I contend that though it may seem from the point of view of consciousness that we are directly and immediately aware of the states of our bodies and minds as our own, both theoretical and empirical considerations strongly suggests that we have no such direct awareness. Proprioception and introspection prove in the end to be better described as types of informed, conscious self-interpretation. Taking inspiration from Dennett, Rosenthal, and Nozick, I offer the naive proposal as an alternative that explains all self-ascriptions in terms of one's relying upon a battery of commonsense self-specifying beliefs to interpret both which state or property one has and who has it. As a result, first-person self-ascriptions differ from others only in degree and not in kind, and self-misidentification always remains a possibility—even when self-ascribing properties with the first-person pronoun.
Meeks, Roblin Roy, "Identifying the First Person" (2003). CUNY Academic Works.