Content and Self-Consciousness

Dissertation, The University of Chicago (2000)

Philip Robbins
University of Missouri, Columbia
A naturalistic account of self-consciousness is developed within a general framework in which thought contents are structured by concepts but conceptual content need not be exhausted at the level of reference. To motivate the first feature of this framework, possible-worlds- and property-based theories of thought content, which eschew structure, are criticized for overestimating and/or underestimating the attitude stock of ordinary agents. To motivate the second feature, it is argued that neo-Russellian and neo-Fregean accounts, which incorporate structure but differ on the semantic classification of psychological modes of presentation, are more or less on a par with respect to standard parameters of evaluation . Though non-notational differences between these accounts remain, these differences add up to less than is commonly supposed. ;Neo-Russellians and neo-Fregeans agree on the explanatory relevance of conceptual modes of presentation, understood as reference-sustaining functional mechanisms; what they disagree about is whether those modes contribute to the content of a concept. Once the semantic dispute is set aside, questions about the nature of these mechanisms come to the fore. In the case of the self concept, what appears to distinguish this concept from coreferring items in an agent's conceptual repertoire is its privileged relation to inputs from internal monitoring systems, on one side, and outputs in control systems, on the other. Self-consciousness emerges as an atomistic conceptual capacity, sustained by both interoceptual mechanisms and agentive ones
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