A Phenomenological Theory of Self-Consciousness

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My thesis tests a novel definition of consciousness by applying it to theories of self-consciousness. This definition attempts to distinguish the phenomenon of consciousness from those of knowledge, belief, awareness, and perception by describing it as the noticing of objects and the registering of facts in thought. My investigation of self-consciousness is phenomenological in that it leaves aside questions as to whether selves exist or what their nature is and just examines what the contents of self-consciousness are. The main question, throughout the thesis, is whether there are any contents that necessarily enter self-consciousness understood as consciousness associated with meaningful use of the first personal pronoun. My answer to this question is that there are not. This answer is reached after the discussion of a range of prominent theories that have emanated from Kant. All these theories have in common that they can be phenomenologically clarified with the help of my description of consciousness. Kant’s own views of “empirical self-consciousness” are phenomenologically relatively modest; but what he says about “transcendental self-consciousness”, incorporating a priori consciousness of one’s identity, cannot be phenomenologically supported. Similar restrictions apply to Fichte’s theory, which develops the notion of transcendental self-consciousness, explicating it as consciousness of “this very consciousness”. Strawsonian theories of self-consciousness (P.F. Strawson, G. Evans, Q. Cassam) claim that self-consciousness requires some awareness of oneself as a spatiotemporally located physical object. I argue that such a claim cannot be phenomenologically substantiated. The Strawsonian theories rely on a questionable “discrimination requirement”; but even if it is assumed that they are justified in claiming that, as self-conscious beings, we have to know, believe, perceive or be aware that we are physical objects, it still does not follow that we have to be conscious, in my sense, of ourselves as such objects. There is no particular type of object that is necessarily noticed and no particular type of fact that is necessarily registered in thought by a person who can meaningfully use the first personal pronoun. In the last part of the thesis, some of the results of the earlier chapters are applied to the problem of how to explain first person authority and an explanation which is compatible with those results is suggested.



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Martin Francisco Fricke
Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico

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