Can there be experience without self-consciousness? – In analytic philosophy of mind, this question is usually affirmed. It is argued that experience is the so-called “hard problem” of consciousness, the problem that deserves the most attention, while self-consciousness is thought to be a comparably easy problem to solve. In my recent book “The Pre-Reflective Self. Subjectivity as Minimal Self-Consciousness” [“Das präreflexive Selbst. Subjektivität als minimales Selbstbewusstsein”, Mentis 2016] I question this claim and the separation of mind that it brings with it. Following Zahavi, Kriegel and others, I argue that every phenomenally conscious state involves a minimal consciousness of myself, since every phenomenally conscious state is such that there is something it is like for me to have it. Thus, experience and self-consciousness cannot be separated. They go hand in hand.
I then go on to show that self-consciousness poses a fundamental obstacle for reductive accounts of the mind. It is not an easy problem. Neither the classic higher-order theories put forward by Armstrong and Rosenthal nor the more recent same-order accounts developed by Kriegel and Williford can explain self-consciousness. In particular, self-consciousness cannot be reduced to the relation of self-representation, since I can represent myself without being aware that it is me I am representing. Thus, self-representation is insufficient for self-consciousness.
This critique is identical in structure to the critique of the so-called reflection model of self-consciousness in the phenomenological tradition. In my book, I point out that this critique, as well as the idea of a pre-reflective self-consciousness, with which it is connected, is highly relevant for contemporary analytic philosophy of mind.
Copenhagen’s Center for Subjectivity Research is an ideal surrounding for conducting research on issues such as these. With its deep roots in the phenomenological tradition and its expertise in contemporary analytic philosophy, it offers a lively and stimulating environment for discussing consciousness and the self. And the friendly atmosphere at the Center makes the research fun.
Postdoc in the Research Project “Agency and (Quantum) Physics” funded by the Templeton World Charity Foundation
Department of Philosophy, Theological Faculty
University of Innsbruck