The uses and abuses of the personal/subpersonal distinction

Philosophical Perspectives 26 (1):1-18 (2012)
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Abstract

In this paper, I claim that the personal/subpersonal distinction is first and foremost a distinction between two kinds of psychological theory or explanation: it is only in this form that we can understand why the distinction was first introduced, and how it continues to earn its keep. I go on to examine the different ontological commitments that might lead us from the primary distinction between personal and subpersonal explanations to a derivative distinction between personal and subpersonal states. I argue that on one of the most common metaphysical interpretations of the explanatory distinction, talk of a distinction between personal and subpersonal states simply makes no sense. When people insist on applying the personal/subpersonal terminology to psychological states, I allow that they are often making a genuine distinction, but one that it is best understood in terms of Stich's (1978) distinction between doxastic and subdoxastic states. I end the paper by considering some other common misinterpretations of the personal/subpersonal distinction, such as those involving consciousness, normativity, or autonomy.

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Zoe Drayson
University of California, Davis