Dorit Bar-On [Book Review]
Metapsychology 10 (38) (2006)
I am the world’s leading expert on the current contents of my left pocket. I can also lay claim to being the world’s leading expert on the contents of my mind – if I say that I think it is too warm in here, I can be assumed to be right about this. But the two cases are perhaps only superficially alike. No one else knows much about the current contents of my pockets, because no one else has checked my pockets. If someone else were to go through the steps needed to check my pockets, she would know as much as I do about their contents. The persons checking my pockets could find out that I had made a mistake – perhaps I had overlooked a subway ticket. The steps required for finding out such things are essentially the same as the steps I have to take. This does not hold for the contents of my mind. My claim to know what I am thinking right now seems to be of a different kind, when compared with my knowledge of the contents of my pockets. My thoughts are mine, and I have a special relation to them. This relation seems to be special in many ways. Perhaps even the idea of being an expert on the contents of one’s own mind is misguided; perhaps the analogy with ordinary experts is misleading – there seems to be nothing like getting better and better at judging something that is there for the experts to judge. Perhaps the whole idea of there being something there to be an expert about is wrong. When trying to come to grips with questions concerning the first person, we quickly get entangled in a whole bunch of tricky issues, issues that have occupied philosophers at least since Descartes. Descartes’ particular views on what there is to know about the contents of my own mind, and how I could come to be so good at this, have to a great extent set the agenda for virtually all later discussions of the first person, even though there is a widespread agreement that Descartes got most things wrong.
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