Today's post is by Annalisa Coliva on her new book The Varieties of Self-Knowledge.
I am Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Irvine. My main interests lie in epistemology, philosophy of mind and the history of analytic philosophy.
The Varieties of Self-Knowledge (Palgrave 2016) is a sustained defence of pluralism about self-knowledge. I argue that, contrary to what behaviourists, several cognitive scientists, theory-theorists and inferential theorists have maintained in the last seventy years or so, there is an asymmetry between first- and third-personal self-knowledge. Hence, empirical studies that tend to show that we can be mistaken about, or ignorant of several mental states of ours do not in fact impugn the existence of first-personal self-knowledge. Rather, they show that the scope of first-personal self-knowledge is more limited than philosophers have thought. Hence, in many cases, we do know our own mental states in a third-personal way.
That is to say, we know our own dispositional mental states and character traits based on third-personal methods. By contrast, when we do know our occurrent phenomenal mental states, but also our intentions, passing thoughts, basic emotions, perceptions and commissive propositional attitudes, we know them in a distinctively first-personal way. Hence, in my view, both first- and third-personal self-knowledge are philosophically interesting and in need of explanation.
In particular, it should be recognized that the ways we gain third-personal self-knowledge are many and diverse. There is not just inference to the best explanation, starting with the observation of our own overt linguistic and non-linguistic behaviour and further inner promptings. There is also inductive inference, simulation, inferential conceptual deployment (or “hermeneutics”) and—last but not least—testimony. Indeed, we can get to know some of our dispositional psychological properties by trusting what other people tell us about ourselves.