Simon Browne and the Paradox of Being in Denial
Author: Garvey B.
Source: Inquiry, Volume 44, Number 1, 1 March 2001 , pp. 3-19(17)
Abstract:It is often taken to be intuitively obvious that if one is in a given conscious state, then one knows that one is in that state. This alleged obvious truth lies at the heart of two very different philosophical doctrines the Cartesian doctrine that one has incorrigible knowledge about ones own conscious states (which still has its defenders today), and the view that one can explain all conscious states in terms of higher-order awareness of mental states. The present paper begins with a description of the real-life case of Simon Browne, a man who believed he had no conscious states whatsoever, although all external evidence overwhelmingly suggests that he had. This case as well as other cases of what can be called being in denial gives reason to reject both the alleged intuitively obvious truth and the two philosophical doctrines which attempt to exploit it. Having abandoned these doctrines, it remains to give an account of Brownes condition, which picks out both why it is possible and why it is so unusual. This is done by arguing that Brownes belief is contrary to evidence which he absolutely ought to accept, and that this is necessarily, not just contingently, unusual. In addition, it is shown how Brownes philosophical beliefs about the mindbody relation contributed to his odd belief.
Document Type: Research article
Publication date: 2001-03-01