Self-Knowledge and Externalism: A Defence of Neo-rationalistic Compatibilism
It is an almost universally held assumption that we - persons - have self-knowledge. That is to say, creatures such as ourselves are capable of non-inferential (though not necessarily infallible) knowledge of the contents of our own minds as well as of the actions that we perform. That assumption, in turn, is a pre-condition for viewing ourselves as rational subjects. Another hugely influential thesis is externalism about mental content. Roughly, it amounts to the idea that the contents of our thoughts and beliefs depend on factors that are external to our minds - on the physical and social environment in which we find ourselves. A fundamental problem in the philosophy of mind is how immediate, non-inferential self-knowledge is so much as possible given that the contents of our thoughts are externally individuated. This is the issue I shall be exploring in my Ph.D. thesis. My point of departure will be the so-called Consequence Problem, which sets out in detail just why these theses appear to be in conflict with one another. My goal is to show that this problem can be positively solved.
A central advantage of my account lies in its explanation of first-person authority. Contrary to prominent thinkers - such as Davidson, Boghossian, and Wright - I believe that self-knowledge can indeed be given a substantial epistemology which involves a cognitive achievement on part of the person in question. That is to say, there is in fact a true causal-explanatory-cum-justificatory story to be told of how self-ascriptive judgments are apt to be knowledge. And, further, this knowledge is the upshot of something which the person can do. Importantly, I shall argue that this kind of authority can be accommodated without endorsing a questionable Cartesian, quasi-perceptual model of privileged access. A view that has been vigorously contested by (amongst others) the above mentioned theorists.
Thus my view is that one should, if possible, hang on to the two theses in question without deflating the phenomenon of self-knowledge, as Davidson et. al do in one way or another. I think this should be done by endorsing a neo-rationalistic account of intentional content and the nature of epistemic warrant. Now, two of the most sophisticated views of this kind in the literature are due to Burge and Peacocke. They both attempt to accommodate an intuitively adequate account of self-knowledge by endorsing a hybrid (internal and external) theory of warrant together with content externalism. But, as I am going to point out, there are some shortcomings in their accounts. However, I shall show how elements in Peacocke’s account can serve to improve Burge’s account, and vice versa.