Problems for Introspection as a Basis for Reasoning about the Self

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Virginia Tech

Through introspection we may gain insight into phenomenology and thereby learn about our own mental lives. One aspect of our phenomenology that we might wish to introspect is our experience of selfhood. In particular, Galen Strawson views phenomenology as particularly useful for reasoning about the self. He expresses this in what he calls the Equivalence Thesis, which states that there are selves if and only if there is something that has properties attributed to the self in every instance of self-experience, where self-experience refers to a phenomenological experience of selfhood. In order to arrive at a phenomenological characterization, any set of properties that characterizes the self via the Equivalence Thesis, one must examine the phenomenology of self-experience through introspection. The Equivalence Thesis can run into difficulties in at least two ways with respect to its reliance on introspection. If introspection is unreliable then the Equivalence Thesis fails as we cannot accurately examine our phenomenology. While some of the consequences of such unreliability will be explored this will not be the main focus. Instead I call into question whether or not introspection provides the information that Strawson says it does. The Equivalence Thesis depends on the ability of introspection to provide us with information about so called mental elements, which give structure to our overall phenomenology. However, this is implausible. When we introspect we can learn directly about the kind of experience we are having, but it will not allow us to form an acceptable phenomenological characterization.

self, phenomenology, introspection, metaphysics