The nature and reach of privileged access
In Anthony E. Hatzimoysis (ed.), Self-Knowledge. Oxford University Press (2008)
Many philosophers accept a “privileged access” thesis concerning our own present mental states and mental events. According to these philosophers, if I am in mental state (or undergoing mental event) M, then – at least in many cases – I have privileged access to the fact that I am in (or undergoing) M. For instance, if I now believe that my cat is sitting on my lap, then (in normal circumstances) I have privileged access to the fact that I now believe that my cat is sitting on my lap. Similarly, if I now imagine a parade coming down Main Street, then (again, in normal circumstances) I have privileged access to the fact that I am now imagining a parade coming down Main Street. And again, if it now visually appears to me as if there is a cloud in the sky, then (again, in normal circumstances) I have privileged access to the fact that it now visually appears to me as if there is a cloud in the sky. In each of these aforementioned cases, if circumstances are normal, then, these philosophers say, I have a distinctive kind of privileged epistemic access to facts about my own mental states or events. Of course, I don’t have privileged epistemic access to all facts about my own mental states or events. For instance, I don’t have privileged epistemic access to facts about which unconscious mental states or events I have. But I do have privileged epistemic access to many facts about my own mental states or events, and in particular to the various facts listed above.
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