Philosophy (forthcoming)

Human beings who have mastered a natural language are self-conscious creatures: they can think, and indeed speak, about themselves in the first person. This dissertation is about the significance of this capacity: what it is and what difference it makes to our minds. My thesis is that the capacity for self-consciousness is essential to rationality, the thing that sets the minds of rational creatures apart from those of mere brutes. This, I argue, is what Kant was getting at in a famous passage of his Critique of Pure Reason, when he claimed that a representation which could not be “accompanied with the ‘I think’” would be “nothing to me” as a thinking being. I call this claim the Kantian thesis. My dissertation seeks to explain and defend the Kantian thesis, to show how it entails that the advent of self-consciousness brings with it a new kind of mind, and to sketch the implications of this point for a philosophy of mind that seeks to understand the minds of rational creatures. This involves, on the one hand, an investigation of the kinds of capacities that characterize a rational creature, and, on the other hand, an argument connecting reason with self-consciousness. I show that a rational creature, in the interesting sense, is one capable of conceptual representation, and I argue that (1) to represent conceptually is to represent in a way that decouples information from any particular context or purpose, (2) this special form of representation is possible only in a creature that can reflect explicitly on grounds for judging a proposition true, and (3) to have this capacity to reflect explicitly on grounds is necessarily to have the crux of self- consciousness. If this is right, then the representations of a rational creature must differ from those of a nonrational creature not merely in complexity but in kind. The dissertation sketches the implications of this point for various forms of naturalism and reductionism in the philosophy of mind, for debates about how to explain “first person authority,” and for our understanding of the sort of failure of self-consciousness involved in self-deception
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