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Naomi Eilan

Naomi Eilan

Naomi Eilan is Professor of Philosophy at Warwick University and Director of the Consciousness and Self Consciousness Research Centre. She currently co-directs a Leverhulme/British Academy project on The Second Person. She has a longstanding interest in issues that lie at the intersection of philosophy of mind, metaphysics and psychology and has published widely in this area.



Oneself and Others: the Dependence Thesis

In the introduction to the project on The Philosophy and Theology of Intellectual Humility, intellectual humility is characterised as an intellectual virtue plausibly related to open-mindedness, a sense of one’s own fallibility, and a healthy recognition of one’s intellectual debts to others. We are concerned with the role that should be accorded to this virtue, thus characterized, in accounts of thought and knowledge in one particular area, namely that of thinking, and acquiring knowledge, about ourselves. We will be articulating and arguing for a thesis we call the Dependence Thesis, which says that the capacity for self-awareness depends on the capacity for specific forms of social interaction with others interactions loosely labeled second-personal. To endorse the Dependence Thesis, as we will be developing it, is to give intellectual humility a critical role in an account of what is required for properly functioning self-awareness.

If our arguments for the Dependence Thesis are successful, they will indicate ways in which our indebtedness to other runs very deep. Furthermore, they will serve to undermine a last bastion of the so-called Cartesian picture of mind, according to which our minds are constituted independently of our natural and social environments. Although it is now commonly accepted that our minds are not, in that sense, fully autonomous, it has been widely assumed that we can nonetheless come by knowledge and awareness of our own minds without reliance on others. A convincing defense of the Dependence Thesis would show that that assumption must be dropped. We are dependent on others not only for our ways of thinking and knowing about our social and natural environments, but even for our ways of thinking and knowing about ourselves.

In developing and justifying this approach, we will be examining the bearings on philosophical problems of work in various branches of psychology, psychiatry and neuroscience, much of it currently conducted under the headings of the ‘intersubjectivity approach’ or the ‘second person approach’. This research is concerned with questions about how mechanisms underpinning reciprocal social interactions of various kinds serve to link what a subject experiences with what she takes others to be experiencing. It is generally considered as a contribution to explanations of knowledge of other minds. The claim we will be pursuing is that research on second person interactions also has a critical role to play in explaining the nature of our access to our own minds.

Specific questions to be addressed include the following: Does the sharing of affect in infant/caregiver interactions amount to a form of communication? Does empathy make it possible for minds to be mutually transparent? What is the relation between the capacity for first person access to ones attitudes and experiences and the capacity to share ones attitudes and experiences with others? Does thinking of someone else as you make it possible to think her in the same way she expresses by using I? Is the self a dialogic entity (V. Reddy)?