On the Developmental Conditions of Self-Consciousness

Presenter: James Dow, Hendrix College


1 Comment

  1. [I’m posting this in the ‘Evolving Self-Consciousness’ thread, and the thread on James Dow’s paper, as it brings in issues from both]


    Thanks – then I suppose our primary disagreement is on the overall judgement as to whether your Mindreading account qualifies as well supported.

    But I do have a quibble with something you say above. You say that your account predicts a parallelism concerning the development of mindreading (MR) and self-consciousness (SC) competence. As I suggested in my response, I think that this is ambiguous (and, in the paper, I suspect that the emphasis is sometimes on the one, sometimes on the other disambiguation).

    First, it might mean that the conceptual resources employed in MR develop in parallel with those employed in SC. Second, it might mean than the reliablility of a subject’s judgements about other minds is equal to those about one’s own.

    For reasons given in my response, I suspect that the second isn’t predicted by the account. In any case, I presume that it is the former that you are really concerned with, so let’s concentrate on that.

    Lets assume that the conceptual resources employed by the MR system are PERSON and concepts of psychological states. At stage one, these might include WANTS, at stage two, THINKS. Let’s also assume that the conceptual resources employed SC are I and concepts of those same psychological states.

    The claim to consider is that the mindreading account predicts a parallelism between the development of the conceptual resources employed in MR and SC. But, as I indicated in my response, I don’t think that it does. For even if we grant with Strawson that concepts of mental states are, of necessity general (here is where the link comes in to James’s paper), there is no reason to think that subjects capable of thinking “She wants food” can think, “I want food”. For the subject may yet lack the first-person concept. The generality constraint (if acceptable) doesn’t force us to accept that, if I can other-attribute then I can self-attribute. For the constraint is obviously only that I must be able to attribute the psychological concept in question to those entities for which I am in possession of an individual concept. So, it is consistent with the generality constraint to think that a subject may possess the ability to think “She wants food”, yet lack the ability to think, “I want food”. And this is so, it seems to me, even if self-consciousness is nothing more than mindreading turned to oneself. Thus, the account doesn’t, of itself, predict any such parallelism.
    How might this conclusion be resisted? Here are two options.

    First, it might be held that the concept employed in MR is person but something like CONSPECIFIC. The thought might then be that, since grasping conspecific means grasping CREATURE LIKE ME, then the first-person concept will come as part of the mindreading package. But I take it that this would be a problematic move, since it seems to suggest that the capacity to depends upon a prior, unexplained, capacity for SC.

    Second, it might be denied that SC requires the employment of the first-person concept. Perhaps a representation with the content “He wants food” is self-conscious when the person denoted happens to be me. But for very familiar reasons (Anscombe, Casteñeda, Kaplan, Perry, Lewis) I think that this mischaracterises SC.

    So, my view is that the mindreading account only makes the prediction in question, on the assumption that these conceptual issues are resolved, and resolved in a certain way – a way that does not secretly import an unexplained capacity for SC into the conceptual resources for MR. Similar remarks might be made for the case of concepts of psychological states themselves. On one view of how we apply such concepts to others in such a way as to preserve the generality constraint, they presuppose the first person (here I have Peacocke in mind). Roughly, to think “She wants food” is to think, “She is in the same state as I am in when I want food”. Of course, you will reject this picture. But I think it likely that whilst such a view is inconsistent the mindreading account, it is consistent with much of the empirical data that you bring to bear. If that’s right – and I won’t even attempt to defend it now, I’ve gone on long enough already – then these issues need to be sorted out regardless of the specific prediction in question.

    Best, Joel

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