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The Mirror of the World: Subjects,

Consciousness, and Self-Consciousness
Article in The Philosophical Quarterly September 2015
DOI: 10.1093/pq/pqv077



1 author:
Jose Luis Bermudez
Texas A&M University

Available from: Jose Luis Bermudez

Retrieved on: 21 June 2016

The Mirror of the World: Subjects, Consciousness, and Self-Consciousness. By CHRISTOPHER

PEACOCKE. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014. Pp. xii + 283.)

Jos Luis Bermdez
(Texas A&M University)

While issues of selfhood, self-representation, and first person thought have been a recurrent
theme in Christopher Peacockes writings throughout his career, The Mirror of the World
represents his first book-length treatment of the subject. It is a very welcome addition to the
literature, displaying Peacockes characteristic clarity and depth of thought and making a
number of important and innovative contributions.

The basic theoretical framework for the book remains that outlined in his 2008 Truly
Understood (Oxford University Press). The first person concept I, like every other concept , is
individuated by its fundamental reference rule, where a fundamental reference rule states
the condition that fixes an object as the concepts referent. Grasp of the first person concept
(again, like very other concept) is fixed by the subjects tacit knowledge of the fundamental
reference rule. There are two respects, however, in which the first person concept is
distinctive within this general framework. First, Peacocke emphasizes the explanatory
priority of the metaphysics of the self and the metaphysics of consciousness over the theory
of concepts in explicit opposition to the typical order of explanation in discussions of self-
consciousness. Second, he stresses that conceptual self-reference is grounded in more

primitive, nonconceptual forms of self-reference, and he gives an overarching account of the

first person that applies to both its conceptual and nonconceptual forms.

In this review I will focus primarily on the relation between the conceptual and
nonconceptual first person, but let me begin by noting some big picture aspects of
Peacockes overall view that will help orient prospective readers of this book. First, from a
metaphysical point of view Peacocke emphasizes that consciousness and conscious subjects
are coeval. For a state or event to be conscious is for there to be something it is like for the
subject of that state to be in it and, correlatively, what makes something a conscious
subject is that it is capable of being in conscious states. The metaphysical position enables
him to dispense with no ownership or reductionist views of the self. Second, there is
nothing in Peacockes account of selves or self-consciousness that he thinks requires
embodiment, and so he sets himself against theorists such as Evans who hold that self-
conscious subjects are essentially embodied. Third, and also a point of difference from
Evans, Peacocke favors a minimalist account of what it is to master the first person concept,
one that makes such mastery independent of any de se forms of acquaintance with the self.

The discussion of nonconceptual self-consciousness in The Mirror of the World represents a
significant extension of Peacockes longstanding interest in the notion of nonconceptual
content. He acknowledges that self-representation is widespread in perception, memories,
and action-awareness, both in sophisticated concept-using subjects and in non-human
animals and prelinguistic infants. All of these representations involve a nonconceptual
representation of the self that Peacocke baptizes i. So, when I see that I am approaching a

tree, for example, what I see is that i am approaching* a tree* (where the stars indicate
nonconceptual perceptual content constituents that would, in a normal concept-user,
rationalize applying the concepts approach and tree). As a concept-user I might, but need
not, form the corresponding judgment I am approaching a tree. Peacocke maintains, though,
that a non-human animal might have a perception with exactly the same nonconceptual
content, even in the complete absence of conceptual abilities. This would be what he terms
Degree-1 self-representation, as opposed to fully conceptual self-representation (Degree-2)
and the complete absence of self-representation (Degree-0).

Peacocke gives an account of how nonconceptual first person contents are integrated with
each other in terms of what he terms self-files, exploiting the concept of an object-file that
originated in the cognitive science of perception. An object-file is a postulated subpersonal
mechanism that stores and updates mental representations that apply to the same thing. A
self-file is the file that each subject has for subject-referring representations (or rather for
the subpersonal precursors of those representations). Unlike ordinary object files self-files
do not require any kind of indexing or tracking of an object over time, since none of the
representations in the self-file depend upon any process of identification (because they are
intrinsically subject-referring, as described earlier).

What makes I and i both first personal representations is that contents involving them are
intrinsically subject-referring, where a mental event is intrinsically self-referring just if its
content refers to its subject as a function of the type of content it involves. So, perceiving
myself in a mirror is not intrinsically subject-referring because perceptual states need not

be about me. In contrast, receiving visual proprioceptive feedback on my direction of

movement is intrinsically subject-referring because that feedback can only be about me.
Conceptual contents involving I are intrinsically subject-referring because the reference rule
governing I is simply that a token occurrence of I in an act of thinking refers to the agent of
that act.

The fundamental reference rule for the nonconceptual first person i is directly analogous to
the reference rule for the concept I viz. whenever i occurs in a mental event or state it
refers to the subject of that state or event. This parallelism at the level of reference explains
the rationality of certain types of (conceptual) first person judgments namely, those that
involve taking nonconceptual first person contents at face value. If I am in a nonconceptual
state with the content I am f, where f is the nonconceptual analog of the conceptual F, then it
is rational for me to judge I am F because the correctness of the conceptual judgment
follows from the references rules for i and I and the fact that the subject who represents
himself as f is also the subject who judges himself to be F. In other words, the transition
from nonconceptual content to conceptual content is truth-preserving as a function of the
type of contents involved and, for Peacocke, that provides a sufficient explanation of the
rationality of the transition.

While welcoming Peacockes commitment to the nonconceptual first person I do have
questions about the details of the account just sketched out in particular about the
putative reference rule for the nonconceptual first person i. As Peacocke emphasizes, the
paradigm examples of nonconceptual first person concepts are perceptual as when I see

myself approaching a tree or hear someone coming closer to my left. It is very unclear to me,
however, how perceptual content can have components that refer, in the way that linguistic
expressions or mental concepts do. When I see myself approaching a tree what I see is the
aiming point of the tree (of course), together with visual kinesthetic information about my
trajectory derived from optic flow and other sources. My body may feature in the
perception, or may not depending on lighting, perspective, and so forth. But my body is
certainly not a referring expression and nor is there anything else in the content of
perception that could be a candidate for having a reference rule.

Theorists who, like Peacocke, see the content of perception as nonconceptual typically think
of it as analog rather than digital. Certainly the machinery of scenario content that Peacocke
developed in A Study of Concepts (1992) fits that description. But surely a minimal
requirement for perceptual content to have a component that refers is that it be digital,
rather than analog. In A Study of Concepts Peacocke postulated a level of content that he
termed protopropositional, but without giving much elucidation. I would imagine that the
nonconceptual first person i is located at the protopropositional level. But an important
challenge in developing Peacockes position is to flesh this account out, so that we know
exactly how the self is represented and referred to in perception and other nonconceptual
first person states. Peacocke seems to assume that (in this area) representation involves
reference, but that assumption requires further defense and discussion.

The discussion up to now has focused on relatively simple instances of self-consciousness
associated with mental and physical self-ascriptions. One of the most interesting features of

the book is Peacockes discussion in Chapters VIII through X of the three richer forms of self-
consciousness that he terms perspectival self-consciousness, reflective self-consciousness,
and interpersonal self-consciousness. Perspectival self-consciousness is the ability to take a
third person perspective on oneself. Reflective self- consciousness is de se awareness of
being in a de se state (and hence allows subjects to state and assess their reasons for being
in particular states). Interpersonal self-consciousness is my de se awareness that another
person is representing me as a self-representing subject (a subject of de se states). Peacocke
has many interesting things to say about these types of self-consciousness and their
interrelations. Many theorists (myself included) have thought that self-consciousness and
other-consciousness are interdependent. Peacocke rejects this view. Perspectival self-
consciousness can be enjoyed without a conception of other minds (because third person
perspectives on oneself can be completely non-psychological). In fact, Peacocke also argues
that interpersonal self-consciousness need not require perspectival self-consciousness
because I can attribute psychological concepts to you without taking a third person
perspective on myself. Peacocke also suggests that reflective self-consciousness may also
independent of both perspectival and interpersonal self-consciousness, thus completing a
triple dissociation between higher-level forms of self-consciousness.

Sadl;y there is no room for further discussion, or for comments on Peacockes interesting
engagement with Descartes, Kant, and Sartre, among other figures. As should be clear, this is
a very rich and rewarding book required reading for anyone interested in the metaphysics
and epistemology of the self.