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How Minimal Can Self-Consciousness Be?

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In many cases the ascription of self-consciousness is uncontroversial. For example, the ability to use the first person pronoun 'I' in the right way is obviously related to self-consciousness, although this is not true in all cases. The ascription of self-consciousness to infants, to persons with psychopathological syndromes or to animals is controversial. In this paper I will focus on the question of how ascribing self-consciousness to infants can be justified.

There are two main subjects relevant to this debate. Firstly, the conceptual question: What notion of self-consciousness should be under discussion regarding infants? In other words: how minimal can a feasible notion of self-consciousness be? Positions in this debate vary from presuming innate abilities such as the postulation of pre-reflexive self-consciousness (cp. Frank 1991) and the claim that language has to be developed and the right use of the personal pronoun 'I' has to be proven (cp. Castaneda 1966). Claiming that self-ascription abilities are an essential condition for all notions of self-consciousness, I begin by analyzing self-ascription abilities using the terminology of the sense of ownership, the sense of agency, and the sense of authorship. Equipped with this clarification, I suggest a minimal notion of self-consciousness that may serve as a foundation of a broader notion of self-consciousness. Secondly, the epistemological question: How can we know when ascribing self-consciousness is justified? This question is combined with an additional problem concerning the ascription of self-consciousness to infants. Infants show impressive behavior that seems to be tied to self-consciousness, but in some cases there are convincing alternative explanations for such behavior. Such alternatives do not refer to self-consciousness and still provide satisfying explanations.

Finally, I will discuss several paradigmatic cases regarding the question of whether the ascription of self-consciousness is justified in such cases.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: October 1, 2012


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