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Wednesday, February 07, 2018


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Hi Bill,
Very interesting responses. I don't really have any views about this, and I'm just not sure what I think about most of these points you make. Maybe I'll try to simply address this initial reply to my common sense appeal to 'self-consciousness':

"A latter-day Humean might offer the following description. There is in the speaker awareness of: the audience, the expressions on their faces, the body and sensations in the body such as dryness in the mouth and sweat forming on the forehead, a bit of queasiness in the stomach, the less-than-confident sound of one's voice, feelings of anxiety, nervousness, self-doubt, and so on. There needn't be a self that is aware of all this physical and mental data. There is just (subject-less) awareness of it."

Okay, a first thought about this. Regardless of whether I am aware _of_ my awareness of all these things--sweat, sound of my voice, etc--the Humean is at least saying that the awareness exists. It might be useful here to repeat your earlier point about awareness as some kind of unifying or unified thing over time. In this example, the awareness will extend over a period of time, and it will somehow integrate the different sights and sounds, kinesthetic sensations, self-doubting or self-undermining thoughts, and all of that kind of thing. It wouldn't be a normal familiar experience of (what we call) self-consciousness if it weren't like that. But then how does the Humean explain the nature of 'the' awareness that somehow includes or just is that unified complicated temporally extended thing? I mean, isn't the Humean going to have to rely implicitly on the idea of someone (a self or subject) who is having or doing or undergoing that 'manifold' of phenomenal events? If not, I just don't think I understand this 'description' of self-consciousness.

A second thought--not sure how it relates to the first one--has to do with the phenomenology of self-consciousness. I admit that normally when I feel 'self-conscious' I don't seem to be aware of any mysterious entity that might fit a theorist's account of what the 'self' is (or would be, if there were such a thing). On the other hand, don't _I_ as the self-conscious person have to be aware of something that is somehow the source or center of all this phenomenal data? And don't I have to identify myself with this thing, and be aware of it in a special way that inclines me to negative thoughts about myself, i.e., it? Otherwise it would be hard to understand why any of this would make me feel uncomfortable or, more specifically, inclined to have certain kinds of thoughts about me and my shortcomings; but all of that has to be there if I'm feeling self-conscious.

Whatever the 'data' might be that exhausts the Humean description, there is no contradiction in supposing a thinker who is aware of just exactly the same data without feeling self-conscious. (For example, God might be aware of all of that, or a properly enlightened Zen Buddhist might be, without having the further experience or awareness that makes me feel uncomfortable in some way that has to do with me.) So isn't the description inadequate?

Also I wonder about your claim that this is not about 'the empirical psyche'. Are we meant to assume from the start that the self, if there is one, cannot be identified with any of the personality traits or memories or beliefs or desires or relationships that people normally take to define themselves--or, at least, take to be very important to their identities? I don't know why we should assume that.

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