This post is by Fleur Jongepier (picture below). Starting Autumn 2017 she will be based in Cambridge (UK), working on the role and value of self-knowledge in contemporary liberalism.
In the previous blogpost
, I introduced some examples that I suggested provide a challenge to what I referred to as the ‘traditional’ approach to the notion of first-person authority, namely, the view according to which first-person authority and self-knowledge always come and go together. I ended the post by mentioning the following three views about the relation between first-person authority and self-knowledge:
- The Decoupling View. They have first-person authority despite not having self-knowledge.
- The Negative Traditional ViewThey do not have self-knowledge, therefore do not have first-person authority.
- The Positive Traditional View. They have self-knowledge and therefore have first-person authority.
One reason for thinking the second, Negative Traditional view (‘no self-knowledge, no authority’) is mistaken is because it appears to yield way too rigorous consclusions. It fails to reflect the way that we treat people’s sincere self-ascriptions. Even if someone says “I want to kill myself” and is clearly self-deceived somehow, it does not seem to be the case that we would be inclined or indeed justified to simply overrule or correct her self-ascription, and so it seems we should not deny her first-person authority.
Even if someone is wrong
when s/he says “I feel X” or “I want Y”, it is still in an important sense out of place or inappropriate to e.g. say “No you’re not” – even if you’re entitled, epistemically speaking. So even when a person issues a self-ascription that is a very poor guide to how s/he will act in the future, this does not license us to correct, challenge or overrule the self-ascription. Indeed, we need to take their self-ascriptions seriously if we want to try to make them see their mistake or change their minds. Granting someone first-person authority is a condition for e.g. engaging in psychotherapy at all (see Strijbos and Jongepier forthcoming
What about the third option? On the assumption the traditional view is right, granting that subjects have first-person authority in the given examples might also mean they therefore must have self-knowledge, given that on the traditional view, first-person authority and self-knowledge are a package deal. Those defending this option will thus want to say that e.g. the person saying he wants to kill himself in some sense does
have self-knowledge, even if he does not (luckily) take any steps to act according to his own self-ascription. The defender of the third view will thus have to argue that it’s not evident that one lacks self-knowledge if one does not act in accordance with one’s own self-ascription.
And indeed such a view has been defended (see e.g. Ferrero 2003
and Bortolotti 2009
). Luca Ferrero instance claims that “First-person authority is characteristic of self-ascriptions of present
attitudes” and that “The distinctive
first-person authority of [someone’s] self-ascriptions concerns ... whether she takes responsibility for them, not whether the self-ascribed attitude is both correct and a reliable guide to future conduct” (2003, 570 emphases in original). Lisa Bortolotti in a similar vein claims that subjects can have knowledge of their attitudes “no matter how representative of their future behaviour those attitudes would [turn] out to be” (Bortolotti 2009, 639). The subject, Ferrero and Bortolotti emphasize, has self-knowledge and responsibility with respect to what s/he is currently
thinking or judging, and it’s this type of self-knowledge that lies at the basis of his self-ascription being authoritative.