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Externalism in the philosophy of mind contends that the meaning or content of a thought [ 1 ] is partly determined by the environment. The view has garnered attention since it denies the traditional assumption, associated with Descartes, that thought content is fixed independently of the external world. Apparently under this assumption, Descartes also believed that he could know the content of his thoughts while suspending all judgment about his environs.
Indeed, such knowledge was thought indubitable. Yet if externalism is correct, this may well be a mistake. As we shall see, externalism can suggest that Descartes is unable to know that his own thought represents, say, elm trees vs. The question whether this conflict is real is what drives the contemporary debate on externalism and self-knowledge. The issue is that EXT seemingly implies that knowing about content requires knowing about the environment. And since the latter is empirical, so too would be the former, contra SK.
Regardless, the interest in the debate goes beyond EXT, for it pertains to many central concerns of philosophers, such as the nature of knowledge and the relation between mind and world.
The debate also touches on more specialized topics, including memory, concept acquisition, epistemic responsibility, and transcendental arguments. In the standard terminology, the dispute is between incompatibilists who affirm the conflict between EXT and SK, and compatibilists who deny it.
Incompatibilists have pressed the conflict mainly in two ways. The first way, discussed in section 2, is by a reductio ad absurdum: Incompatibilists argue that EXT plus SK entail the absurdity that one can know just from the armchair contingent facts about the external world. In section 4, we will end with some lesser-known issues for externalist self-knowledge. One reason is that EXT is more or less entailed by many contemporary theories of content.
For instance, several theories say in short that a concept [ 5 ] has its content in virtue of certain causal relations the concept bears to an environmental referent Dretske , Millikan ; , Fodor ; ; also, cf. Kripke and Evans , ch. Still others see content as determined by the inferences that feature the relevant concept.
Such an inference, moreover, is often defined partly by the environmental object which normally prompts the inference, or in which the inference normally terminates Sellars Predictably, such theories face various difficulties—so none provide a decisive case for EXT. Yet the foremost arguments for the view are not so parochial. These arguments instead rest on various thought experiments, purporting to show that internally identical subjects can host different thought contents, solely because of environmental differences Putnam ; , McGinn , Stich , Burge ; ; If the thought experiments are right about this, then internal states do not wholly determine thought content.
The environment would play a part as well. In its place is a different compound that looks, tastes, etc. Rather, the environment also figures into it. This claim about linguistic meaning is then extended to the content of mental representations for natural kinds like water, and for non-natural kinds like sofas where the latter are defined by social convention McGinn , Stich , Burge ; ; But again, if content determines reference, the difference in reference demonstrates a difference in intension or content, in spite of identical internal states.
Some might find these science fiction stories extravagant, and it may be unclear whether they teach us anything about the real world. Yet there are actual examples which also illustrate the point Ludlow b; see also Butler , Tye The two types of salad green also seem identical to the untrained eye or palate, as the case may be. What flows from taps contains different admixtures in different municipalities. Malt Nevertheless, some philosophers reject these considerations for a variety of reasons Zemach , Mellor , Searle , ch.
And putatively, the problem with armchair self-knowledge does not arise with narrow content. For more, see Fernandez as well as the entry on two-dimensional semantics. The debate on whether EXT is unrestrictedly true is important, but this is not the place to discuss it.
Yet see the entry on externalism about mental content. For our purposes, the main point is that EXT is not without support, and so there is some reason to hold onto the view despite the apparent tension with SK. But is the tension real? One pro argument is a reductio ad absurdum: The claim is that EXT and SK jointly entail an obvious falsehood, namely, that Oscar can know from the armchair contingent facts about the external world McKinsey ; ; ; , Brown , Boghossian ; For more on the present conception of the apriori, see Miller , Davies , Nuccetelli , and McLaughlin ; On the current line, 1 can be known apriori if EXT is true though as we shall see, there are different ways to spin this.
Whereas, 2 is apriori given SK. Yet if Oscar has apriori knowledge of both 1 and 2 , Oscar can then use modus ponens to know apriori that:. But E is an environmental condition that presumably can only be known empirically. For it may be unclear whether EXT entails 1 in the first place whether apriori or not. However, if EXT is derived from one of the causal theories of content from section 1 , then acquiring the water concept requires causally interacting with water if only via your linguistic community.
See McGinn , ch. Thus possessing the concept requires the existence of water, meaning that the view entails 1. Even so, if the incompatibilist wants to add that 1 is entailed apriori , she would need the contentious premise that some causal theory of content is entirely apriori. It is rather directed at a view based solely on the Twin Earth thought experiments, given that the experiments are more naturally seen as apriori.
But see Baker Yet it may remain unclear whether EXT is committed to 1. For the thought experiments alone do not assume that water is necessary for water thoughts Brueckner The thought experiments indeed assume that suitable interaction with water is sufficient for Oscar to have water thoughts.
But this does not yet imply that interacting with water is the only way that someone can arrive at water thoughts. However, this assumes that E is a condition where water exists or existed at one time. One can first see the incompatibilist as presenting a dilemma, corresponding to two ways that EXT might be interpreted.
On the first reading, EXT holds that a water thought logically or conceptually implies some environmental condition E. Yet for the incompatibilist, logical or conceptual implications are apriori. So if EXT on this first reading is true, 1 is apriori and nothing here prejudges what E is. Even so, the first reading is not the usual interpretation of EXT.
On a more standard construal, EXT holds that a water thought metaphysically implies some environmental condition E. Yet metaphysical implications, e. See Kripke and the entry on Rigid Designators. So the apriority of 1 is not guaranteed here, and the reductio seems in doubt. Yet incompatibilists reply that the second reading cannot be what is really intended. But EXT is supposed to be more substantive than that. Compatibilists reply, however, that the thought experiments suggest that a water thought metaphysically implies some content specific environmental condition, such as the existence of water Brueckner So the way seems clear for the compatibilist to reject the apriority of 1.
But as before, the incompatibilist may respond that we are illicitly assuming E to be the condition simply that water exists. Yet the strongest version of the reductio may not assume that. One might instead understand E as follows:. If E is identified as this disjunctive condition, it is more believable that 1 is apriori under EXT.
And if that is believed, the reductio then presses that EXT permits apriori knowledge that either water or a community exists. Yet that too should not be apriori. But assuming 4 , why would EXT render 1 apriori? Granted, many externalists find it apriori plausible that besides interacting with water, Oscar could acquire the water concept from other community members. That suggests that if Oscar has acquired the concept, 4 must be true. However, some externalists conjecture that there are other conditions under which the water concept can be acquired.
Even if Oscar is socially isolated and lives in a waterless environment, he can conceivably arrive at the concept by hypothesizing the H 2 O molecule Burge If this cannot be ruled out apriori, then EXT does not secure the apriority of 1 —even if 4 is assumed. Yet incompatibilists reply that ironically these very reflections reveal apriori something that should not be apriori Brown , Boghossian Namely: If Oscar is aware that he has no such hypotheses i.
In more detail, if Oscar is agnostic about chemistry and knows that apriori about himself, he can use the reflections above to know apriori that his water thoughts metaphysically require the existence of water or a community.
From there, apriori knowledge of E seems imminent. For all that has been shown, it remains possible that essence-agnostic Oscar is socially isolated and his water thoughts reference no natural kind.
But perhaps additional apriori considerations can rule this out Brown Suppose that Oscar has the concept of a sofa and knowledgeably applies the concept in a variety of cases. Yet assume he is agnostic on whether the concept applies to broad overstuffed armchairs. And that seems odd. Yet Brown , ch. Still, it may remain intuitively compelling that a Twin Earth thought experiment, if cogent, would show 1 apriori—even if E is just the condition where water exists.
However, a compatibilist can counter this by offering a semantics of empty concepts that is consonant with EXT Stoneham , Sawyer , Goldberg b, Haukioja , Parent , ch. Even so, there are two arguments in the literature suggesting that any externalist view of empty concepts must fail Boghossian ; , Segal , Besson On its face, empty-concept externalism can be supported by a Twin Earth thought experiment Boghossian And if Dry Oscar is not referring to water, then as before, the Frege-Carnap view implies that his concept has a different intension or content.
We'd like to understand how you use our websites in order to improve them. Register your interest. This article develops a constitutive account of self-knowledgethat is able to avoid certain shortcomings of the standard response to the perceived prima facie incompatibility between privileged self-knowledge and externalism. It argues that ifone conceives of linguistic action as voluntary behavior in a minimal sense, one cannot conceive ofbelief content to be externalistically constituted without simultaneously assuming that the agent hasknowledge of his beliefs. Rather, self-knowledgehas to be seen as only a general constraint or as the default assumption of interpreting somebodyas a rational and intentional agent.
The Problem Of Self-Knowledge
But there is little agreement about what precisely distinguishes self-knowledge from knowledge in other realms. Partially because of this disagreement, philosophers have endorsed competing accounts of how we acquire self-knowledge. These accounts have important consequences for a broad range of philosophical issues, especially issues in epistemology and the philosophy of mind. What is special about self-knowledge, compared to knowledge in other domains? Self-knowledge is thought to differ from other sorts of knowledge in one or more of the following ways.
Externalism and Self-Knowledge
Paul A. Boghossian New York University. Controversy continues to attach to the question whether an externalism about mental content is compatible with a traditional doctrine of privileged self-knowledge. By an externalism about mental content, I mean the view that what concepts our thoughts involve may depend not only on facts that are internal to us, but on facts about our environment. It is worth emphasizing, if only because it is still occasionally misperceived, that this thesis is supposed to apply at the level of sense and not merely at that of reference: what concepts we think in terms of -- and not just what they happen to pick out -- is said by the externalist to depend upon environmental facts. By a traditional doctrine of privileged self-knowledge, I mean the view that we are able to know, without the benefit of empirical investigation, what our thoughts are in our own case.