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  • REASON’S SELF-ACTUALIZATION: AN ESSAY ON SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS AND RATIONAL AGENCY

    by

    Joshua Stuchlik

    B.A., Philosophy, University of Notre Dame, 2004

    M.A., University of Pittsburgh, 2006

    Submitted to the Graduate Faculty of

    The School of Arts and Sciences in partial fulfillment

    of the requirements for the degree of

    Doctor of Philosophy

    University of Pittsburgh

    2011

  • ii

    UNIVERSITY OF PITTSBURGH

    SCHOOL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES

    This dissertation was presented

    by

    Joshua Stuchlik

    It was defended on

    September 9, 2010

    and approved by

    Robert Brandom, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy

    Kieran Setiya, Associate Professor of Philosophy

    Peter Machamer, Professor of the History and Philosophy of Science

    Dissertation Advisor: John McDowell, Distinguished University Professor of Philosophy

  • iii

    Copyright © by Joshua Stuchlik

    2011

  • iv

    In my dissertation I show that we cannot conceive of ourselves as embodied beings unless we know

    some of our physical features without observation or inference. I also argue that we have the

    requisite sort of self-knowledge, and that it consists in our knowledge of ourselves as intentional

    agents.

    Descartes claimed that when one is self-consciously aware of oneself, one is aware of oneself

    as a purely psychological being. In chapter two I argue that if his claim were correct, it would be

    unclear what it could mean for one to identify oneself with a human being. I then argue that self-

    conscious beliefs about oneself are beliefs about oneself that are not grounded on observation or

    inference.

    In chapter three I take up the task of making it plausible that we do possess the required sort

    of self-knowledge. I offer a novel interpretation of Anscombe’s thesis that we know what we are

    doing intentionally without observation or inference. The key lies in the Aristotelian doctrine that

    action itself can be the conclusion of practical reasoning.

    In chapter four I reply to two objections to my account. The first is an argument for

    volitionalism, or the thesis that events that are describable as an agent’s moving her body are acts of

    trying that occur prior to her bodily movements. In response, I argue for an alternative, according to

    which bodily action is a temporally extended process that is complete only when one’s body has

    moved. The second argument begins from the premise that we can act intentionally without knowing

    REASON’S SELF-ACTUALIZATION: AN ESSAY ON SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS AND RATIONAL AGENCY

    Joshua Stuchlik, PhD

    University of Pittsburgh, 2011

  • v

    that we are succeeding. I argue that this shows only that our self-conscious capacity to act

    intentionally is fallible in a certain respect. Conditions which potentially inhibit the success of one’s

    doing such-and-such intentionally also inhibit one’s capacity to know that one is doing so when the

    action is successful.

    Finally, in chapter five I defend a non-reductionistic account of intentional action in contrast

    to dominant reductionistic models. I conclude that an intentional action is simply an exercise of a

    rational agent’s will, described as such.

  • vi

    TABLE OF CONTENTS

    PREFACE ................................................................................................................................. VIII

    1.0 INTRODUCTION ........................................................................................................ 1

    2.0 THE PROBLEM OF BODILY SELF-KNOWLEDGE ......................................... 20

    2.1 TWO RIVAL WAYS OF CONCEIVING OF ONESELF ............................ 22

    2.2 DESCARTES ON SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS ................................................ 25

    2.3 THE PROBLEM OF BODILY SELF-KNOWLEDGE ................................. 30

    2.4 ANSCOMBE ON KNOWLEDGE IN INTENTION AND SELF-

    REFERENCE ..................................................................................................................... 36

    3.0 PRACTICAL KNOWLEDGE AND PRACTICAL REASONING ...................... 43

    3.1 GRICE’S OBJECTION, AND THE OUTLINE OF A REPLY ................... 45

    3.2 DAVIDSON ON PRACTICAL REASONING ............................................... 56

    3.3 ANSCOMBE AND THE FORM OF PRACTICAL REASONING ............. 62

    3.4 DE-MOTIVATING THE INFERENTIAL THEORY ................................... 71

    3.5 COMPARISON WITH COGNITIVISM ........................................................ 75

    4.0 TRYING, BODILY AGENCY, AND THE LIMITS OF PRACTICAL

    KNOWLEDGE ........................................................................................................................... 81

    4.1 THE ARGUMENT FOR VOLITIONALISM ................................................ 83

    4.2 FAILURE AND FALLIBILITY ...................................................................... 92

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    4.3 A DUAL ASPECT THEORY ........................................................................... 98

    4.4 FAILURE TO KNOW WHAT ONE IS DOING .......................................... 101

    4.5 THE WILL AS A FALLIBLE EPISTEMIC POWER ................................ 106

    5.0 REDUCTIONISM AND THE METAPHYSICS OF AGENCY ......................... 112

    5.1 WHERE’S THE AGENT? .............................................................................. 114

    5.2 VELLEMAN AND FRANKFURT ................................................................ 120

    5.3 REDUCTIONISM AND NATURALISM ..................................................... 128

    5.4 A NON-REDUCTIONISTIC ACCOUNT OF INTENTIONAL ACTION 135

    APPENDIX A ............................................................................................................................ 140

    A.1 SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS, PERCEPTION, AND RECEPTIVITY ................... 142

    A.2 IS BODILY AWARENESS RECEPTIVE KNOWLEDGE? ............................... 145

    A.3 A FAMILY OF NON-RECEPTIVE EPISTEMIC POWERS ............................. 149

    BIBLIOGRAPHY ..................................................................................................................... 152

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    PREFACE

    I arrived in Pittsburgh in the belief I would be writing a dissertation on ethics. I quickly realized,

    though, that many of the great moral philosophers of the past either prefaced their ethical

    theories with an account of the will or else implicitly presupposed one. So Aquinas begins his

    ethical theory in the Summa theologiae with treatises on happiness, the object of the will, and on

    action; Hume only turns to moral philosophy in Book III of the Treatise after providing an

    account of the passions in Book II, under which heading he includes the will; and Kant derives

    the categorical imperative in Groundwork II from an understanding of rational agents as beings

    who act in accordance with their conception of a law. The very different shapes of these

    philosophers’ moral theories can be traced back in large part to their varying accounts of the

    nature and function of the will. On reflection this is not so extraordinary, for if ethics seeks to

    guide us in deliberating about how to act, it must do so within constraints set by assumptions

    about what deliberate action is. Once I became interested in intentional action as a topic,

    however, I discovered that it comes with a host of metaphysical and epistemological questions of

    its own. At the same time, I came to believe that a satisfactory account of rational agency goes

    hand in hand with a certain conception of our embodied nature, which can function as an

    important corrective to distortions of it that are sometimes found in contemporary moral

    philosophy. This dissertation is the result of my work on this cluster of issues.

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    Along the way I have incurred debts to many people. In the first place I would like to

    express my sincere gratitude to my director, John McDowell. It was reading his work that

    motivated me to pursue my graduate studies at the University of Pittsburgh. Mind and World

    changed my conception of what philosophy can be. This dissertation would not have been

    possible without his guidance and kindness during seminars, directed studies, and countless

    conversations. His influence is no doubt discernable on every page. I cannot imagine having a

    more careful or generous advisor.

    I am also grateful to the other members of my dissertation committee. All of them have

    read portions of drafts and provided helpful feedback. I give special thanks to Kieran Setiya,

    who read through earlier versions of every chapter, sometimes multiple times, and whose critical

    remarks pushed me to further think through and clarify my thoughts on many of their central

    arguments.

    Beyond my committee I have benefited from discussions and debates with friends and

    colleagues