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LEGRAND - Pre Reflective Self-As-subject From Experiential and Empirical Perspectives

LEGRAND - Pre Reflective Self-As-subject From Experiential and Empirical Perspectives

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Published by: Philip Reynor Jr. on Aug 31, 2011
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Pre-reflective self-as-subject from experientialand empirical perspectives
Dorothe´e Legrand
CREA – CNRS, 1 rue Descartes, 75005 Paris, France
Received 8 January 2007Available online 29 May 2007
In the first part of this paper I characterize a minimal form of self-consciousness, namely pre-reflective self-conscious-ness. It is a constant structural feature of conscious experience, and corresponds to the consciousness of the self-as-subjectthat is not taken as an intentional object. In the second part, I argue that contemporary cognitive neuroscience has by andlarge missed this fundamental form of self-consciousness in its investigation of various forms of self-experience. In the thirdpart, I exemplify how the notion of pre-reflective self-awareness can be of relevance for empirical research. In particular,I propose to interpret processes of sensorimotor integration in light of the phenomenological approach that allows thedefinition of pre-reflective self-consciousness.
2007 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Subjectivity; Pre-reflectivity; Consciousness; Self-recognition; Neural correlates; Sensori-motor integration; Self-relatedprocesses; Phenomenology; Cognitive neurosciences
1. Pre-reflective consciousness of the self-as-subject
1.1. Self-consciousnesses
Self-recognition is by and large considered as an important criterion for self-consciousness. In developmen-tal and comparative psychology, the so-called mirror-recognition task has occasionally been heralded as thedecisive test for self-consciousness (TaylorParker, Mitchell, & Boccia, 2006). Children would be self-consciousonly when capable of recognizing themselves in the mirror (cf.Lewis, 2003, pp. 281–282). The questionwhether chimpanzees (Gallup & Povinelli, 1998; Gallup, 1970; Povinelli et al., 1997), non human primates(Itakura, 2001), birds (Epstein, Lanza, & Skinner, 1981), dolphins (Reiss & Marino, 2001) or elephants (Plot- nik, de Waal, & Reiss, 2006) are self-conscious is considered according to their ability or inability to behave infront of a mirror as if in front of themselves vs. in front of a conspecific.
1053-8100/$ - see front matter
2007 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.doi:10.1016/j.concog.2007.04.002
Fax: +33 1 55 55 90 40.
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A good deal of the content and structure of this first part is indebted to published as well as still unpublished writings of Dan Zahavi.Consciousness and Cognition 16 (2007) 583–599
However, self-consciousness comes in many forms and degrees and does not only emerge the moment onerecognizes one’s own mirror image or scrutinizes one’s experiences attentively. Rather, a more minimalistaccount defends the view that the most primitive form of self-consciousness simply corresponds to the subjec-tive dimension of experience (cf.Zahavi, 1999, 2005). In what follows, I designate this primary form of self-consciousness as a
pre-reflective consciousness of the self-as-subject
. The first section intends to clarify thisnotion, by comparing it with other conceptions of self-consciousness.
1.2. Primary self-consciousness
Pre-reflective self-consciousness specifically corresponds to consciousness of the self as it is the
of any given experience. Compare two different experiences: the smelling of fresh coffee and the seeing of mid-night sun. These experiences differ in their phenomenality, i.e. in ‘‘what it feels like’’ to undergo them. Moreprecisely, the experiences differ from each other both in terms of content (coffee vs. sun) and mode of presen-tation of these contents (smelling vs. seeing). However, these experiences do not differ in every aspect. Theyshare a specific dimension in the fact that they are all given from the first-person perspective, they are given(at least tacitly) as
experiences, as experiences
am undergoing: they feel like something
for me
. This qual-ity of 
is what the notion of pre-reflective consciousness of the self-as-subjectdesignates.It is important to note that the specificity of pre-reflective consciousness of the self-as-subject is not fullycaptured by the notion of phenomenal consciousness (Block, 1997; Zahavi, 2005, p. 224). Indeed, as the pre-vious examples illustrate, pre-reflective self-consciousness remains constantly present even when other aspectsof phenomenal consciousness vary, implying that these dimensions of experience cannot be reduced to eachother. The ‘‘mineness’’ or subjectivity in question is not a quality as bitter or bright, black or orange that var-ies with the intentional object experienced. Rather, it refers to the fact that every experience is characterized bya subjective mode of givenness in the sense that it feels like something
for the experiencing subject.
For thisreason, pre-reflective self-consciousness does not vary either with the modulation of phenomenal experienceof the self taken as an intentional object (just like it does not vary with the modulation of phenomenal expe-rience of any other intentional object). For example, when I experience myself as being hungry, I experiencemyself in a double manner: I experience an intentional aspect (‘‘hunger’’), but the latter does not suffice tocapture the subjective aspect at stake here: pre-reflective consciousness of the self-as-subject (‘‘I’’). The pointhere is that pre-reflective self-consciousness is not reducible to phenomenal consciousness, as evidenced by thefact that the latter can change without involving any modulation of the former. Note that this does not implythat pre-reflective self-consciousness always remains constant (it can be more or less recessive). It only impliesthat its potential modulations are not directly and systematically due to changes of the intentional aspects of experience.
1.3. Pre-reflective self-consciousness versus anonymity
One reason why this dimension of experience can be adequately described as a primary form of 
-con-sciousness is because it corresponds to a quality or dimension of mineness. However, according to what mightbe termed the
anonymity objection
, there would be no experience of self at the pre-reflective level. Rather, expe-riences would be characterized by a certain anonymity or neutrality. To claim that every experience has a qual-ity or dimension of mineness would consequently be a post-hoc fabrication.In reply, it is crucial to understand that the notion of pre-reflective self-consciousness does not suppose thatthe self would be experienced as standing opposed to the stream of consciousness. Rather, at the pre-reflectivelevel, it is an integral part of conscious experience. I do not first experience a neutral or anonymous toothacheor intention to act, then ask the question ‘‘Whose experience is this actually?’’ to finally find myself as theowner of these experiences (Legrand, in press; Shoemaker, 1968). Rather, any experience is pre-reflectivelyexperienced as intrinsically subjective in the sense that it is experienced from the perspective of the experienc-ing subject (Zahavi, 2005). The latter is a first-person perspective; it is tied to a self in the sense of being tied tothe point of view of the experiencing, perceiving, acting subject. It could consequently be claimed that
D. Legrand / Consciousness and Cognition 16 (2007) 583–599
anybody who denies the subjectivity of experiences and considers that experiences can be given in a neutralway simply fails to recognize an essential aspect of what it feels like to undergo an experience.
1.4. Pre-reflective self-consciousness versus transparency
As just proposed, one way to cash out the notion of pre-reflective consciousness of the self-as-subject is bydefending that phenomenal experiences are intrinsically subjective: pre-reflective self-consciousness is anintrinsic aspect of phenomenal experience. Insofar as conscious experiences are characterized by a subjective‘feel’, i.e., a certain ‘what it is like’ or what it ‘feels like’ to have them, they also come together with a minimalform of self-consciousness.This description of pre-reflective self-consciousness can appear inconsistent with descriptions of experienceas
defended by both externalists and representationalists: ‘‘When we try to introspect the sensationof blue, all we can see is the blue: the other element is as if it were diaphanous’’ (Moore, 1903, p. 25). Thedarkness of a coffee and the brightness of the midnight sun are not qualities of experiences, they are qualitiesof the things represented, the coffee and the sun. In this view, what it is like to have a certain experience is
to the quality of 
is being intentionally represented. The latter is not an intrinsic and non-inten-tional quality of experiences themselves but consists entirely in the qualitative properties of the experiencedobjects (Dretske, 1995, p. 1).These views
intentional experiences to world-presenting components. Therefore, they give no placeto the primary form of self-consciousness that has been described above as being
to intentional expe-riences: ‘‘introspection of your perceptual experiences seems to reveal only aspects of 
you experience, fur-ther aspects of the scenes, as represented. Why? The answer, I suggest, is that your perceptual experiences haveno
features over and above those implicated in their intentional contents. So the phenomenalcharacter of such experiences
. . .
is identical with, or contained within, their intentional contents’’ (Tye,1995, p. 136).The externalist attempt to locate the
dimension of experience ‘‘outside’’ is in fact not incompat-ible with the notion of pre-reflective self-consciousness. However, considering pre-reflective self-consciousnessin its specificity implies to refute the
of phenomenal experience to its
dimension (Legrand,2005). In other terms, what might be called the ‘‘transparency objection’’ operates with a conception of phe-nomenality that is too impoverished to address specifically the subjective dimension of experience that thenotion of pre-reflective consciousness of the self-as-subject intends to capture.What it is like to be dazzled by the sun differs from what it is like to smell fresh coffee, and what it is like to
differs from what it is like to
But what is crucial to account for pre-reflectiveself-consciousness is to underline that all these different phenomenal experiences are necessarily experiencedby a given subject. These distinct experiences bring
into the presence of different intentional objects.Not only am I phenomenally acquainted with various properties of these objects, but also these objects arethere
for me
. Given that this ‘‘for me’’ quality remains constant whatever the intentional object, it makes littlesense to suggest that this ‘‘mineness’’ can be reduced to a qualitative feature of the object experienced. Phe-nomenality is world-presenting but it is also self-involving. To put it differently, it has an intentional and asubjective component, both being irreducible to each other. The notion of transparency of experience as usedby externalist conceptions of consciousness only concerns the former aspect and does not consider specifically(nor threaten) the notion of pre-reflective self-consciousness.
1.5. Pre-reflective self-consciousness versus objectifying consciousness
Considering pre-reflective self-consciousness in its specificity implies to refute the equation of consciousnesswith object-consciousness. For example,Searle (2005)proposed that the conscious field should not be con-ceived of as a field constituted only by its contents and their arrangements. The contents require a principleof unity, a self that is not a separate entity distinct from the field. So far, this claim coheres with the presentaccount of pre-reflective self-consciousness. However, Searle further argues that the postulation of a self is likethe postulation of a point of view in visual perception. Just like we cannot make sense of our perceptionsunless we suppose that they occur from a point of view, even though the point of view is not itself perceived,
D. Legrand / Consciousness and Cognition 16 (2007) 583–599

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