[Report] The 54th meeting of Tokyo Colloquium of Cognitive Philosophy

12 May, 2015 NOBUHARA Yukihiro

The speaker of the 54th TCCP was Rasmus Thybo Jensen. This is a summary of his presentation, which was titled “The Lived Body and Immunity to Error through Misidentification.”


The contemporary phenomenologists Dan Zahavi and Shaun Gallagher have argued that we should regard consciousness as constituted by an intrinsic pre-reflective self-awareness, what they sometimes refer to as the minimal self. They also argue that any minimal self, at least in its human form, is realized via a pre-reflective bodily self-awareness, also referred to as the lived body. The general question addressed here is to what extent the embodied minimal self must to be realized in a physical body. Even Descartes could, via a notion of a merely phenomenal body, allow for a notion of embodiment available even under the assumption that the evil demon hypothesis is true and all our experiences, including our pre-reflective proprioceptive experiences, are misleading. In order to avoid the epistemological and ontological problems of Cartesianism the phenomenological notion of the lived body must be distinguished from such a notion merely phenomenal body. The paper addresses the question of how such a distinction could be made via a detailed discussion of a recent paper by Gallagher (2012, “First-Person Perspective and Immunity to Error Through Misidentification”., in Miguens & Preyer (eds.) Consciouness and Subjectivity, Ontos).

Gallagher discusses a certain thought experiment that presents a putative counterexample to the idea that proprioceptively based judgements about the position of one’s own limbs display immunity to error relative to the first person pronoun (IEM). Gallagher takes the thought experiment to demonstrate that such proprioceptively based judgements merely display what he calls de facto IEM. He accepts that under certain extraordinary circumstances proprioceptive judgements such as “My legs are crossed” are subject to error through misidentification relative to “my”. The paper argues that with this acceptance it becomes next to impossible to avoid that Gallagher’s local conclusion generalizes with the effect that the IEM isn’t even de facto present in ordinary cases.

In his Varieties of Reference (1982) Evans argued recognition of the fact that there are ways of knowing about our own physical body that gives rise to such immunity to error provides, according to Evans, “the most powerful antidote to a Cartesian conception of the self” (Evans 1982, p. 222). Gallagher might avoid the basic problem that Evans’s points to by insisting that lived body is, under normal circumstances, simply identical to one’s physical body. However, his position will inherit the epistemological predicament of the Cartesian position. Gallagher will be forced to deny that a proprioceptive experience can, simply by virtue of its intrinsic features, non-inferentially entitle a subject to make judgements about the position of her limbs. Either such knowledge will be inferential or we will need to adopt some version of an externalist conception of justification.

The paper ends by introducing an alternative disjunctive response to the thought experiment. On the disjunctive account all such thought experiments can show is that it is possible to be under the illusion that one is proprioceptively experiencing one’s legs. The disjunctive account has the advantage that it allows us hold on to the idea that our proprioceptive judgements are, without exceptions, judgements that display IEM. Furthermore the account allows us to say that when we are undergoing a proprioceptive experience this experience can put us in a position to non-inferentially know the position of our limbs. Finally, the proposal has the advantage of providing a thoroughly anti-Cartesian conception of bodily self-awareness.

(Rasmus Thybo Jensen)

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