The Personal/Subpersonal Distinction

Philosophy Compass 9 (5):338-346 (2014)
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Daniel Dennett's distinction between personal and subpersonal explanations was fundamental in establishing the philosophical foundations of cognitive science. Since it was first introduced in 1969, the personal/subpersonal distinction has been adapted to fit different approaches to the mind. In one example of this, the ‘Pittsburgh school’ of philosophers attempted to map Dennett's distinction onto their own distinction between the ‘space of reasons’ and the ‘space of causes’. A second example can be found in much contemporary philosophy of psychology, where Dennett's distinction has been presumed to be equivalent to Stephen Stich's distinction between doxastic and subdoxastic states. Both these interpretations of the personal/subpersonal distinction, and also Dennett's own philosophical views of the mind, go beyond the personal/subpersonal distinction itself. They each involve supplementing the distinction between personal and subpersonal explanations with metaphysical claims about the relationship between the two kinds of explanation and the entities they posit



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Zoe Drayson
University of California, Davis

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