Our knowledge about our own mental states: An externalist account

Date of Completion

January 2000






The “incompatibility charge” argues that externalism fails to explain “self-knowledge” or the privileged knowledge that we ordinarily take ourselves to enjoy in relation to at least some of our own mental states. This dissertation attempts to provide an externalist reply to this charge. First, I suggest that the “compatibility debate” needs to be reoriented. This is because the mere internality or externality of determining factors cannot by itself explain how one can know the content determined by those factors. Thus the task of explaining self-knowledge is one of explaining how we come to make these claims and where do they derive their privileged status from. Further, a story about the underlying epistemology of these claims has to be told not only by the externalists but also by the internalists. ^ Chapter One introduces a distinction between two ways of understanding the epistemic privilege, namely, between “privilege in access”, that consists of the way in which these claims are made and validated, and “privilege in authority”, that consists of their infallibility. I argue that the epistemology underlying the phenomenon of self-knowledge can be best understood in terms of the privilege in access. ^ Chapter Two turns to the incompatibility charge. I argue that the exchanges of arguments that have been taken place between the incompatibilists and the compatibilists in the literature rely on the implicit presupposition that a concept must always have an univocal and unambiguous referent and this fact should be discoverable a priori. I argue that a thorough going externalist should reject this questionable presupposition. ^ Chapter Three criticizes the internalist argument that the internalists' job in accounting for self-knowledge is different from the externlaists' job. I conclude by noting that the internalist accounts have as much, if not more, difficulty in accounting for self-knowledge. ^ Chapter Four suggests an externalist account of self-knowledge from the perspective of Sellars. The uniqueness of the Sellarsian account lies in the fact that it offers an interesting way of understanding the privilege of self-knowledge claims according to which though these claims enjoy non-inferential privilege, they are nonetheless defeasible and also justifiable from an independent source. ^