Following the discussion of these various issues about the epistemology and nature of introspection, the third section of this essay addresses an important use to which introspection has been put in philosophical discussions, namely, to draw metaphysical conclusions about the nature of mind. We form beliefs about our own mental states by introspection.
How exactly introspection works will be discussed in the next section. Correspondingly, her introspective beliefs about her own mental states seem more secure than the beliefs that anyone else could form about her mental states. In these ways, there seems to be something epistemically special about the beliefs that we form on the basis of introspection.
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Typically, this specialness has been referred to as the privileged access that we have to our own mental states. To say that an individual has privileged access to her own mental states is to say that she is in a better position than anyone else to acquire knowledge or perhaps, justified beliefs about them. But what exactly does privileged access amount to? In this section, of the numerous different claims that philosophers have made in this regard are discussed. See Alston for a particularly comprehensive discussion of these and similar claims.
In the Meditations on First Philosophy , Descartes worries that he may be deceived by an evil demon. As a result, all of his beliefs about the external world may well be false. But however powerful the demon may be, Descartes claims that it cannot deceive him about the contents of his own mind. This cannot be false. This passage has been commonly interpreted in terms of infallibility. In this way, I am in a privileged position to make judgments about my mental states, since other people can have false beliefs about my mental states.
But, necessarily, if I believe that I am in a particular mental state, then I am in that mental state. Before discussing this thesis, it is worth noting that there has been some unfortunate terminological messiness in this area. See Alston and Gallois Note that these three kinds of epistemic specialness can clearly come apart. One further qualification is also needed.
As stated above, the infallibility thesis concerns our self-knowledge generally, rather than just our introspective knowledge, and is thus overly broad. Suppose that in the course of a polite disagreement, a friend accuses me of being angry at her. In fact, she is lying to cover her own anger at me. But, because she is normally reliable, I might take her accusation at face value and become convinced that I am angry at her.
This case, in which I have the belief that I am angry even though I am not, shows that we can have fallible self-knowledge. See Gertler b for some similar examples. The case does not show, however, that we can have fallible introspective knowledge. Proponents of infallibility undoubtedly intend the infallibility thesis to apply only to introspective knowledge and not to self-knowledge more generally.
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To make this clear, we can insert the following qualification in the statement of the infallibility claim: Necessarily, if I believe on the basis of introspection that I am in a particular mental state, then I am in that mental state. Thus understood, the infallibility thesis enjoys some intuitive support, particularly when it comes to certain types of mental states like sensations. How can I be wrong that I am in pain right now? See Shoemaker for an attempt to flesh out the inherent plausibility of the infallibility thesis. Nonetheless, it is now almost uniformly rejected by both philosophers and psychologists alike.
Some obvious counterexamples come from our assessments of our emotional states and character traits. Individuals are notoriously poor judges of whether they are feeling jealous, for example. And of course there are widespread examples from literature and cinema where it is plain to everyone but the bickering hero and heroine themselves that, despite their protestations to the contrary, they are really in love.
Arguing against the infallibility thesis, Churchland suggests that we make mistakes in our introspective judgments because of expectation, presentation, and memory effects, — three phenomena that are familiar from the case of perception.
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As an example where expectations come into play, he offers the case of a captured spy whose interrogators have repeatedly tortured him by briefly pressing a hot iron against his back. What would happen if, after 19 times with the hot iron, the torturers surreptitiously use an ice cube instead?
See also Warner Likewise, Churchland argues that when a sensation is presented to us for a very short duration of time, mistakes are not just likely but inevitable. Finally, he asks us to consider someone who suffered neural damage at a young age and has subsequently not felt pain or any other tactile sensation for 50 years. Then suppose that her neural deficits were somehow overcome. In such a situation, Churchland argues that it would be quite implausible to suppose that she would be able instantly and infallibly to discriminate and identify all of her newly regained sensations.
Another line of objection to the claim of infallibility derives from some remarks of Wittgenstein In the course of offering his private language argument, he worries about how an individual in isolation would be able to develop a language to refer to her own sensations. One would like to say: whatever is going to seem right to me is right. If introspective mistake is ruled out by logical necessity, then what sense can we attach to the notion of gaining knowledge by introspection?
We can speak of gaining knowledge only in cases where it makes sense to speak of thinking wrongly that we have gained knowledge. In the empirical domain, work in a variety of areas provides important evidence for the fallibility of introspection. Influential studies by Nisbett and Wilson suggest that we often misdescribe our own reasoning processes.
In one study, subjects were presented with four pairs of stockings and asked to indicate which pair had the highest quality. The leftmost pair was preferred by a factor of almost four to one. However, unbeknownst to the subjects, all four pairs of stockings were identical. But who would have ever thought that we were infallible with respect to that?
See, e. One might try to qualify the infallibility thesis to address some of the above objections. For example, one might restrict the infallibility thesis only to those judgments that are made after careful reflection. Alternatively, one might restrict the infallibility thesis to a subclass of mental states. For example, Jackson defends a limited infallibility thesis, claiming that we are infallible only about our current phenomenal states.
However, Schwitzgebel adduces numerous considerations to suggest that we should reject even these attenuated infallibility theses. According to Schwitzgebel, we are prone to gross error even in introspective judgments that are often taken to be epistemically the most secure, namely, those about currently ongoing visual experience. See also Dennett Another account of our privileged access stems from the doctrine of self-intimation. A mental state is self-intimating if it is impossible for a person to be in that mental state and not know that she is that mental state.
This doctrine is sometimes referred to as omniscience see Alston ; if whenever an individual is in a mental state she has knowledge of that mental state, then that individual is omniscient with respect to her own mental life. This doctrine is also sometimes referred to as the transparency thesis — the claim that whatever happens within a mind is completely transparent to it. See Shoemaker As such, the doctrine is closely associated with the Cartesian conception of the mind. But though Descartes himself seemed to endorse both infallibility and self-intimation, it is useful to note that they can come apart.
An individual might be infallible about her mental states without the mental states being self-intimating; in such a case, whatever beliefs she has about her mental states will be true, but there may nonetheless be some mental states about which she has no beliefs. Likewise, even if mental states are self-intimating, we might still have false introspective beliefs. Self-intimation requires that whenever an individual is in a mental state she will form the belief that she is in that mental state, but it does not rule out her falsely forming the very same belief when she is not in that mental state.
Like the infallibility thesis, the self-intimation thesis enjoys some inherent plausibility.
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In fact, self-intimation may even seem to follow from the very notion of a mental state. If what it is for an individual to have a mental state is for her to be conscious of it, how could self-intimation be denied? Insofar as we think of the mental in terms of the conscious, and insofar as we think of being conscious of a mental state as being aware of it, the self-intimation thesis seems like a truism.
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Unfortunately for the proponent of self-intimation, however, there are two obvious problems with this line of reasoning. First, as the work of Freud has suggested, we should not limit the mental to the conscious. Second, the claim that consciousness should be analyzed in terms of awareness is itself highly controversial. See e. Though the truck driver was clearly in a conscious state while he was driving after all, he was engaging in a fairly sophisticated activity , he had no introspective awareness of that state.
The self-intimation thesis also falls victim to many of the same objections that plague the infallibility thesis.
Just as we can have false beliefs about many of our mental states, we may also fail to form beliefs about many of our mental states. Even if the jealous lover does not falsely believe that she is not jealous, she might nonetheless fail to recognize her feelings of jealousy.