Full transcript here.In this episode, Nic Koziolek (Washington University in St. Louis) returns to talk to me and Nora Bradford about self-consciousness. Click here to download Episode 127 of Elucidations.
Self-consciousness, as philosophers use the term, is a word for when you know something about one of your own mental states. Like when I really enjoy some pizza and note that I’m enjoying it. Someone else might ask me: ‘Hey Matt, do you like that pizza?’ And I’m typically the best person to ask about that, which is a sign that I typically know whether I like the pizza. Or when I have an itch, and I notice the itch before going to scratch it. If I noticed it, then I know that I have an itch. Self-consciousness, in the philosophical setting, is a name for me being able to tell what’s happening in my own mind, when it happens.
Now, you might wonder how I know about my own mind, when something new happens with it. Our guest argues that there has to be an answer to that question, because whenever you know something, there’s an answer to the question how you know it. And so, he argues that the way you know you’re in a mental state is by being in that mental state. So to apply the idea to the two examples we started with, you know you having an itch by having an itch. And you know you like the pizza by liking the pizza. Being in the state is what allows you to know that you’re in it.
If you think that idea sounds wacky, you’re not alone. But our guest provides some pretty interesting arguments in favor of it. And he also makes the case that understanding what’s going on when you fail to know something about your own mind can lead us to a clearer understanding of what’s going on when you fail to know that you know something—which is an age-old puzzle in philosophy.
It’s a fun discussion. I hope you enjoy it.
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If you’d like to read up on what we discussed this month, you can’t go wrong with the following two papers by our esteemed guest:
For a look at the original version of the ‘self-consciousness is when you know you’re in a state by being in it’ view, you can check out Chapter 5 of this book:
Self-Consciousness, Sebastian Rödl