The Unreliability of Naive Introspection

Eric Schwitzgebel

Philosophical Review, 117 (2008), 245-273 

Abstract: We are prone to gross error, even in favorable circumstances of extended reflection, about our own ongoing conscious experience, our current phenomenology.  Even in this apparently privileged domain, our self-knowledge is faulty and untrustworthy.  We are not simply fallible at the margins but broadly inept.  Examples highlighted in this essay include: emotional experience (for example, is it entirely bodily; does joy have a common, distinctive phenomenological core?), peripheral vision (how broad and stable is the region of visual clarity?), and the phenomenology of thought (does it have a distinctive phenomenology, beyond just imagery and feelings?).  Cartesian skeptical scenarios undermine knowledge of ongoing conscious experience as well as knowledge of the outside world.  Infallible judgments about ongoing mental states are simply banal cases of self-fulfillment.  Philosophical foundationalism supposing that we infer an external world from secure knowledge of our own consciousness is almost exactly backward.

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