Robert Alan and Kathryn Dunlevie Hayes Professor of Humanities and Professor of Philosophy at Rice University

First-Person (“introspective”) reflection and its warrant

[Numbers in brackets are linked to entries in "Publications."]

To complete my case for a critical, underived use first-person warrant in philosophical thought, I need to argue for a positive statement of the conditions in which we enjoy this sort of warrant, and link this to my practice of phenomenology.

My first efforts in this direction are found in [24], [25], and [26]. (A revised version of the ideas in [26] on the “transparency” of experience are to be found in [27].) In [28], I offer an account that draws on a critique of inner sense theories of consciousness and self-knowledge, based on my phenomenology of “objectual” experience.

Though I reject the notion of inner sense, I want to preserve what I think makes it appealing—the insight that we can attend to our own phenomenally conscious experience as to no one else’s, and that this first-person form of attention enables us to recognize the correctness (or incorrectness) of candidate descriptions of it. But this needs no “inner” iteration of the sensing/thinking distinction to be found at the mind’s ground floor, nor some sort of mental “turn inward” away from things in one’s environment (which is partly why the term “intro-spection” is so misleading). Understanding the epistemic significance of this sort of attention demands we give an important role to the (defeasible) presumption (required for rational thought) that we know what we mean by what we say. What emerges as crucial is recognition of a form of first-person thought that can occur only in one's having the very phenomenal features it is about.

My account explains the warrant we have for first-person judgment without deriving it from the third-person point of view, while showing how such judgment is open to challenge and correction—partly from its own resources. This merges attention to one’s own experience with the practice of self-examination central to philosophy since Socrates, so as to yield the phenomenology I advocate. “Socratic introspection”—critical first-person reflection—is fallible, open-ended, and liable to leave some disagreements unresolved. But it is also corrigible “from within,” and even where it does not secure consensus, it may afford self-discovery.

The rewards and frustrations of such first-person reflection are those of philosophy. If we can live with stubbornly disputacious dialectic, we can live with discordant “introspections.” The two are of a piece, and express a contentiousness unlikely to be calmed, as long as we want to keep thinking for ourselves.

© 2020 Charles Siewert. All Rights Reserved.