Talk by Olav Gjelsvik - "Approaching the Self in Action"

Pre-read session on a chapter from Olav's book manuscript. Contact Sigurd for material.


Abstract (excerpt of a synopsis for the book):
Chapter 6. The Self in Action

This chapter leaves, at least to some extent, the fundamental epistemological questions relating to radical doubt and skepticism behind, and moves on to a positive account of ‘I’-thoughts as a ground for understanding and grasping the meanings of indexical terms.

Fred Dretske has argued that we should count three fundamental types of awareness, object-awareness, property-awareness and fact-awareness, and that they may be independent of each other, as one may have fact-awareness without having object awareness or property-awareness of the object and the property that make up the fact one is aware of. This will be further defended, and it will be shown that fact-awareness of this sort is exactly the sort of awareness one has when one has non-observational knowledge of what one is doing. This means that in intentionally ø-ing, one is aware that ‘I am ø-ing’ without having object-awareness of oneself.

This, it will be argued, is a decisive clue for making progress in understanding I-thoughts, and understanding them as involving an ‘Idea’ of oneself that can be adequate and satisfy what Gareth Evans calls the Generality constraint without that I-idea in itself needing to be of the information-invoking sort. There is standardly a distinction between rigid terms that are information-invoking and those whose reference are fixed descriptively. In the present case, we see a rigid term whose reference may be fixed in a way that differs both from that of demonstratives (which depend on awareness of the object referred to) and that of descriptive names. The suggestion is that the ‘I’’s role is grounded in non-observational knowledge of action, i.e. in fact-awareness of oneself doing something, and that this is both necessary and sufficient for the fixing of the referent. The cost, if it is a cost, is that only the intentional agent can fully grasp the meaning of the ‘I’, since only the agent has such non-observational awareness, even if the meaning of the ‘I’ has features that may be shared.

This opens for a non-reductive approach to how to think about the ‘I’ that has been largely closed since Hume argued that the ‘I’ was at best nothing but a bundle of perceptions. Of course, Kant tried to remedy the situation, but without full success, as argued by Strawson and others. When we broaden the perspective to agentive knowledge in general (non-observational knowledge of what we do), we see that having available the ‘I’ as a referring expression is essential for all the functions involved in agentive guidance as we know it. We can thus understand how we can have ‘I’ thoughts, ‘here’-thoughts and ‘now’-thoughts without having object-awareness of the subject who is doing the acting and the thinking. We recover our pre-Humean innocence about the self, and the ‘I’ as a referring expression, by getting intentional action right.

This result clearly has further implications for the philosophy of language, for the semantics of indexicals, for the issues about whether they are essential for the expression of types of thought etc. The upshot is that one can defend the essentiality of indexicals directly out of (the account of) intentional action.

Published Jan. 21, 2019 3:51 PM - Last modified Mar. 20, 2019 12:31 PM