No Unchallengeable Epistemic Authority, of Any Sort, Regarding Our Own Conscious Experience – Contra Dennett?

Eric Schwitzgebel

Phenomenology & the Cognitive Sciences, 6 (2007), 107-112.

Abstract: Dennett argues that we can be mistaken about our own conscious experience.  Despite this, he repeatedly asserts that we can or do have unchallengeable authority of some sort in our reports about that experience.  This assertion takes three forms.  First, Dennett compares our authority to the authority of an author over his fictional world.  Unfortunately, that appears to involve denying that there are actual facts about experience that subjects may be truly or falsely reporting.  Second, Dennett sometimes seems to say that even though we may be mistaken about what our conscious experience is, our reports about “what it’s like to be us” must be correct.  That view unfortunately requires a nonstandard and (by Dennett) unremarked distinction between facts about consciousness and facts about “what it’s like”.  Third, Dennett says that reports about experience may be “incorrigible”.  However, that claim stands in tension with evidence, highlighted by Dennett himself, that seems to suggest that people can be demonstrably mistaken about their own experience.  Dennett needlessly muddies his case against infallibilism with these unsatisfactory compromises.

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