Concept of self : thinking of oneself as a subject of thought
We can think about ourselves in a variety of ways, but only some of the thoughts that we entertain about ourselves will be thoughts which we know concern ourselves. I call these first-person thoughts, and the component of such thoughts that picks out the object about which one is thinking—oneself—the self-concept. In this thesis I am concerned with providing an account of the content of the self-concept. The challenge is to provide an account that meets two conditions on first-person thought. The account must show how we are aware of ourselves when we entertain first-person thoughts, so that we have an account that establishes the cognitive significance of first-person thoughts. But, in addition, this awareness must be as robust as the thinker’s ability to entertain first-person thoughts if our account is to respect the guaranteed referential success of the self-concept. I introduce both the subject matter of the thesis, and the constraints on a satisfactory account of that subject matter in the first chapter. In the second chapter I then set up a further problem: much of our self-knowledge is knowledge of our current mental states and it is often argued that we know about and can ascribe those mental states on the basis of introspection alone. The first constraint on an account of first-person thought described in the preceding paragraph requires that we be aware of ourselves in some way if our thoughts are to have the special cognitive significance of first-person thoughts. Yet, I argue, we neither do nor can introspectively observe a subject of thought and experience when we come to know about our mental states and experiences. The failure of introspection to supply us with perceptual information about a subject of thought presents us with the further potential problem. According to Fregean semantics sense determines reference: we count on the content of the elements of thought to determine the reference of terms that are used to express those elements. If we do not introspectively observe a subject of thought then we seem to be at a loss to account for the concept and we are at risk of having to accept that neither the self-concept nor the first-person pronoun are referential. In the remainder of my thesis I consider various responses that we can offer to this problem. First, I examine whether we can avoid the problem with an alternative account of first-person reference according to which reference is fixed by a reflexive rule, and whether we can also base an account of first-person thought on this account of first-person reference. Secondly, I look at the descriptivist view of first-person thought which could potentially provide both an account of first-person thought and first-person reference. These two suggestions must be rejected on the grounds that they fail to accommodate the special cognitive significance of first-person thought. A third approach to first-person thought argues that we employ an objective self-concept when we think about ourselves, a concept that is informed by bodily experience, rather than by introspective observation of a subject. Yet such an account cannot make sense of first-person thoughts in which we question our own embodiment. Lastly I consider whether it is possible to explain the cognitive significance of first-person thought in terms of non-conceptual first-person contents.