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«Philosophy and Phenomenological Research Philosophy and Phenomenological Research Vol. LXXX No. 1, January 2010 Ó 2010 Philosophy and ...»

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Philosophy and

Phenomenological Research

Philosophy and Phenomenological Research

Vol. LXXX No. 1, January 2010

Ó 2010 Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, LLC

Introspection: Divided and Partly


peter carruthers

University of Maryland

This paper will argue that there is no such thing as introspective access to judgments and decisions. It won’t challenge the existence of introspective access to perceptual and imagistic states, nor to emotional feelings and bodily sensations. On the contrary, the model presented in Section 2 presumes such access. Hence introspection is here divided into two categories: introspection of propositional attitude events, on the one hand, and introspection of broadly perceptual events, on the other. I shall assume that the latter exists while arguing that the former doesn’t (or not in the case of judgments and decisions, at least). Section 1 makes some preliminary points and distinctions, and outlines the scope of the argument. Section 2 presents and motivates the general model of introspection that predicts a divided result. Section 3 provides independent evidence for the conclusion that judgments and decisions aren’t introspectable. Section 4 then replies to a number of objections to the argument, the most important of which is made from the perspective of so-called ‘‘dual systems theories’’ of belief formation and decision making. The upshot is a limited form of eliminativism about introspection, in respect of at least two core categories of propositional attitude.

1. Preliminaries Before embarking on substantive discussion, some terminological and other elucidatory remarks are in order. I shall understand ‘‘introspection’’ quite broadly, to encompass a variety of potential processes postulated by different types of account. There are just two key ideas. One is that introspection is a higher-order process, issuing in awareness or knowledge of (or at least beliefs about) the occurrence of token mental states. (On some accounts introspection needn’t always be reliable, any more than external perception is.) When I introspect a feeling of anger, for example, I become aware of that feeling, and come to know (or at least believe) that I am angry. The other key idea is that introspection is not an interpretative process. We think that introspective access to our own mental states is epistemically quite different—in kind, and not 76 PETER CARRUTHERS just in degree—from the access that we have to the thoughts and perceptions of other people (Wright et al., 2000; Gertler, 2003). The latter occurs via interpretation of people’s behavior and circumstances, whether through deployment of theoretical knowledge, or via simulation, or (more plausibly) both (Nichols and Stich, 2003; Goldman, 2006). In contrast, we think that we don’t need to notice and interpret our own behavior and circumstances in order to know of our own mental states when we introspect them.

To say that introspection isn’t an interpretative process doesn’t necessarily mean that it isn’t inferential, however. Some accounts of introspection maintain that it happens via the operations of inner sense, where the latter is modeled on the various outer senses like vision and hearing (Lycan, 1987, 1996). And just as the processes that give rise to a percept of a horse or a tree are partly computational and inferential in character, then so, too, might be the processes that issue in introspection of a percept of a horse, or in introspection of the judgment that trees absorb carbon. What is crucial is just that these inferences should not be ones that appeal to facts about the subject’s own behavior and circumstances as premises. For if they did, then there would no longer be any significant, principled, contrast between self-knowledge and other-knowledge.

Notice that the term ‘‘introspection’’ is here deployed quite broadly, to encompass views that are often contrasted by their proponents with introspectionist accounts of self-knowledge (where the latter are understood narrowly, in terms of some or other variety of inner sense). Since the key idea for our purposes is just that introspection issues in higherorder beliefs in ways that don’t depend upon self-interpretation, then even neo-Wittgensteinian accounts of self-knowledge that claim a constitutive relationship between verbal expressions of propositional attitudes (so-called ‘‘avowals’’) and the attitudes thereby expressed (e.g.

Wright, 2000) will count as introspectionist. A broad swathe of different views will therefore have been ruled out, if it can be shown that our access to our own judgments and decisions is always interpretative.

The correlate of introspection, of course, is consciousness. Everyone will allow that if a mental state is introspected, then it is conscious. But not everyone agrees that introspection is also a necessary condition of conscious status. First-order theorists of consciousness like Tye (1995, 2000), for example, while allowing that humans are capable of introspecting their conscious states, and hence of achieving higher-order awareness of them, will insist that creatures can be subject to conscious states without being capable of introspection. These issues are orthogonal to those that are addressed in the present paper, however. Our focus is on introspection, not consciousness, even if some higher-order


accounts of the latter will maintain that the absence of introspection must entail a corresponding absence of consciousness (Lycan, 1996;

Carruthers, 2000; Rosenthal, 2005).1,2 My goal in this paper is to argue that neither judgments nor decisions are introspectable, but are known only via a process of self-interpretation. I take judgments to be events of belief-formation, and I take decisions to be acts of willing, or the events that create novel activated intentions. Judgments are a kind of active, occurrent, mental event, which when stored give rise to dormant, standing-state, beliefs; and likewise decisions are the mental events that give rise to both standingstate intentions and actions. I have argued elsewhere that standing-state attitudes are only introspectable derivatively (if at all) via introspection of their activated counterparts (Carruthers, 2005). In which case, if activated attitudes aren’t introspectable, then neither are beliefs and intentions tout court. But I shan’t rely on this here. If someone wants to claim that standing-state beliefs and intentions can be introspected even if judgments and decisions can’t be, then I shan’t gainsay them.

Judgments and decisions aren’t the only forms of active, occurrent, propositional attitude, of course. This paper won’t say anything about the introspectability of active desires, for example, although I am actually inclined to think that a similar sort of negative case can be built.3 Indeed, judgments and decisions aren’t even the only forms of activated belief and intention respectively. They are the events through which beliefs and intentions are first formed. But of course long-standing beliefs and intentions can become active thereafter. If someone asks me what I believe to be the date of the battle of Hastings I shall reply, ‘‘Ten sixtysix’’, thereby activating, and expressing or reporting, a belief that I first formed as a teenager. And then the question arises whether activated beliefs of this sort are introspectable.

The arguments presented in Section 3 pertain only to judgments and decisions, and don’t directly address the introspectability of activated long-standing beliefs and intentions. (The model put forward in Section 2, and partially confirmed in Section 3, predicts that such states shouldn’t be introspectable, however.) And it might seem that an Notice that it follows from these higher-order accounts of consciousness that if we can’t introspect our own judgments and decisions (as shall I argue herein that we can’t), then there can be no such thing as conscious judging, or conscious deciding, either. The result would be a limited form of propositional-attitude eliminativism.

Rosenthal himself uses the term ‘‘introspection’’ in a much more restricted way than I do here, limited to cases where one has conscious thoughts about one of one’s own mental states.

See Damasio (1994), for example, who argues that what we are aware of in introspection are the somatic effects of activated desires and emotions, not those states themselves.

78 PETER CARRUTHERS interpretational account of self-knowledge of such states would be singularly implausible. For when I reply when asked what I believe about the date of the battle of Hastings, or about my mother’s maiden name, what could possibly be the inputs to the self-interpretation process?

I am nevertheless able to answer such questions smoothly and unhesitatingly. This point is by no means decisive, however. For there isn’t any reason to think that the verbal expression of a standing-state belief requires that I should first form the higher-order belief that I have that belief. Rather, the search process that activates the standing-state belief in question can make the result available for formulation into speech directly. So answering unhesitatingly when asked what I believe needn’t mean that I am capable of introspecting an activated version of that belief. Rather, I might only learn of that occurrent belief by interpreting the utterance (or its counterpart in inner speech) through which I express it. I shall not, however, attempt to defend this here. Our present focus is more narrowly on the introspectability of judgments and decisions.

2. A model of Introspection The theory of introspection that I propose to defend, together with the manner in which introspection fits into the overall architecture of the human mind, is depicted in Figure 1. On this account, there are a range of perceptual systems (visual, auditory, somatosensory, etc.) which broadcast their outputs to a set of conceptual systems. Some of these generate judgments, some create new goals, and some generate decisions and intentions for action. Each of these conceptual systems can Figure 1: The place of mindreading in the mind.


store its outputs in memory, and can access and activate those stored representations when reasoning. Included among the systems for generating judgments and beliefs is a mindreading faculty, which produces higher-order judgments about the mental states of others and of oneself.

There is now extensive evidence from a variety of sources that the human mind exemplifies a perception ⁄ belief ⁄ desire ⁄ decision-making architecture (Carruthers, 2006).4 And there is robust evidence of the ‘‘global broadcasting’’ of (conscious) perceptual outputs to a wide range of concept-using consumer systems (Baars, 1988, 1997, 2002, 2003; Dehaene and Naccache, 2001; Dehaene et al., 2001, 2003; Baars et al., 2003; Kreiman et al., 2003). There is also good evidence that imagery (including the auditory imagery that gets deployed in so-called ‘‘inner speech’’) re-uses the resources of the perceptual systems, utilizing back-projecting neural pathways to generate patterns of stimulation similar to those that would occur when undergoing a perception of the appropriate sort. These are then processed by the perceptual system in question and globally broadcast in the usual way (Paulescu et al., 1993;

Kosslyn, 1994; Shergill et al., 2002; Kosslyn et al., 2006).

There is also robust evidence of a distinct, or partially distinct, mindreading system (Frith and Frith, 2003). This accesses the outputs of perceptual systems and attributes mental states in the light of that information. On some accounts the mindreading system is a module or set of modules, and is to a significant degree innate (Baron-Cohen, 1995; Scholl and Leslie, 1999). On other accounts it is an organized body of knowledge, built up during infancy by processes of learning and theorizing (Wellman, 1990; Gopnik and Melzoff, 1997). For present purposes we don’t need to take a stand on these issues. Most theorists are now agreed, however, that the mindreading faculty needs to operate in close conjunction with other systems, and that the attribution of mental-states to other people also involves processes of simulation of various sorts (Nichols and Stich, 2003; Goldman, 2006).

Notice that by virtue of receiving globally broadcast perceptual states as input, the mindreading system will find it trivially easy to selfattribute those percepts. Receiving as input a visual representation of a Admittedly, this sort of model is rejected by philosophers who endorse ‘‘enactive’’ accounts of the architecture of mind, such as Hurley (1998) and Noe (2004). These ¨ authors assume without real argument, however, that action is constitutive of perception and cognition, rather than merely contributing causally to it. See Block (2005) for an extended critique of Noe along these lines. And see Carruthers (2006) ¨ for an account that sees action as making important contributions to human cognition—indeed, as being fully determinative of certain forms of cognitive process—while preserving the main elements of the perception ⁄ cognition ⁄ decision ⁄ behavior model assumed in the present article.

80 PETER CARRUTHERS dog chasing a ball, for example, it will be trivial for it to form the judgment, ‘‘I am seeing a dog chasing a ball’’. (At least, this will be easy provided that the visual state in question has been partially conceptualized by other mental faculties, coming to the mindreading system with the concepts dog, chasing, and ball already attached. I shall return to discuss the significance of this point in a moment.) This is the way in which introspection of perceptual, somatosensory, and imagistic mental events is achieved, I suggest. Given that the mindreading faculty possesses the concepts sight, hearing, and so forth (together with a concept of self), it should be able to activate and deploy those concepts in the presence of the appropriate sort of perceptual input on a recognitional or quasi-recognitional basis (Carruthers, 2000). Since no appeals to the subject’s own behavior or circumstances need to be made in the course of making these judgments, the upshot will qualify as a form of introspection.

As the example of seeing a dog chasing a ball makes clear, the thesis that judgments aren’t introspectable requires important qualification.

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