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Introspection VindicatedReview - Introspection Vindicated
An Essay In Defense Of The Perceptual Model Of Self Knowledge
by Gregg Ten Elshof
Ashgate, 2005
Review by Dimitris Platchias
Jul 25th 2005 (Volume 9, Issue 30)

In Introspection Vindicated, Gregg Ten Elshof attempts to defend the perceptual model of introspection (PMI), a view which has fallen on hard times in the philosophy of mind. The book is quite short but very clearly written and densely populated with argument. Elshof examines in detail some of the main contemporary arguments that he considers responsible for the PMI's demise. He argues that these arguments have not been decisive and therefore PMI should be considered as a viable competing model.

At the very beginning of his book, Elshof states that he is going to discuss introspection as an issue in its own right, that is, without addressing questions about whether PMI can be reconciled with any particular theory of the mind. In addressing however issues related to whether inner perception is necessary for phenomenality, Elshof is already engaged in the first/higher order representationalist debate. In addition, it's not very clear why our preferred model of introspection shouldn't have anything to do with issues such as an interest for example, in defending some or other version of a materialist understanding of the mind. As he himself observes, a project to establish some or other model of self-knowledge would require a systematic treatment of its implications for every field of inquiry for which there were such implications.

Another weakness of the book is that the author starts his discussion by rather presupposing that introspection designates a non-inferential epistemic activity thereby dismissing self-directed theoretical inference views (Rosenthal, 1990 or see Dretske, 1999 for the view that introspective knowledge is essentially inferential) without argument (he barely discusses any of the competing models). Moreover, Elshof spends almost no time to say anything positive about PMI (e.g. questions such as whether inner perception represents features the outer perception is of or features of the outer perception, remain unanswered) and he cites no experimental evidence that favors a version of a perceptual model of introspection. After all however, as the title indicates, Elshof's essay is a defense of PMI to the effect that the main arguments against that model are inconclusive.   

PMI theorists portray introspection as something like my looking inward and thereby finding out what's going on in my own mind. According to the Lockean classical view, the perception of the operations of our own minds within us is not a sense as having nothing to do with external objects; yet it is very like it, and might properly enough be called internal sense. What makes us aware of the experiences we are having is this sense, our introspective scanner. (There are contemporary 'inner sense' models of introspection -- or PMI -- such as those defended by David Armstrong 1981, and William Lycan 1996, 2003. What they mainly have against the rival first-order Representationalist view -- e.g. Dretske, 1999 -- is first that on this account to represent the content that P and introspectively to know that content appears to be one and the same state of affairs and introspection seems to be fallible; and second that the question of how introspection yields justified belief is left unanswered. On the other hand, one of the most prominent rivals of the inner sense view was Ludwig Wittgenstein. According to him, whereas there is such a thing as introspection there is no inner eye. There is nothing to perceive since there are no inner conditions of observation which might be poor or optimal. On Wittgenstein's view, there is no difference between having a pain and being aware or conscious of it).

According to Elshof (Ch. 2), the central theses that characterize an account of introspection that is a version of PMI are the following: By introspecting, human beings are engaging in some form of reflection or inner perception of their own occurent mental states; introspective access to these mental states is private; at least some first-level mental states exist independently of the subject's inner perception of them and lastly, human beings sometimes acquire knowledge concerning their own mental states by means of such inner perception (pp. 23-24). As we would hope, Elshof takes care to draw a few distinctions such as the one between 'inner' and 'outer' perception. He says that the objects of introspection are 'internal' in the sense that "there is a way of knowing about them which is available only to S" (p. 14, emphasis in the original). What primarily interests him in this book, as it were, is this way of knowing and whether or not this way is like sense perception.

Elshof's response to the early arguments against PMI is to the effect that they are inconclusive against the possibility of split consciousness (namely that the mind can simultaneously split between ordinary thinking and awareness of that thinking) and consists solely of a two-pages-long rejection of a couple of assumptions: Comte's assumption that 'it is an organ which does the observing when introspection occurs and ...that it is an organ which is observed' and Brentano's 'general assumption ... that the mind can only attend to one thing at a time' (p. 30). I guess this is far from being a detailed examination of the historical arguments against PMI.

Elshof's discussion of the contemporary arguments against PMI begins in the rather short Ch. 3 where he briefly discusses the positions of Lyons, Searle and Dennett on the matter. Their views are nevertheless clearly and fairly represented and Elshof argues quite convincingly that the arguments under discussion are inconclusive. In Ch. 4 & 5, he discusses Shoemaker's view. His objection that inner perception requires phenomenal 'sense-data' is rejected on familiar grounds: Inner sensings are directed at one's perceptions themselves and not at entities interposed between objects and one's perceptions of them. With respect to Shoemaker's critique against the broad perceptual model of introspection (in which the objects are states of affairs), I find Elshof's discussion to the effect that there is a need for an account that allows for experiential awareness of our beliefs, illuminating and convincing enough.  

In Ch. 5, Elshof makes the further claim (against Shoemaker's Humean denial of the introspectability of the self) that one can have introspective access not only to individual states of mind, but also to the self, itself. As he correctly observes, one of the conditions that should be met in order for PMI to accommodate this claim is that our epistemological access to the self parallels our epistemological access to the external world (since it appears that in introspection there is no possibility of misidentification of the object-self). Elshof says that the self stands to introspection as the external world stands to perception and whereas there are no natural conditions in which one might utter "someone is hungry all right but I'm not sure if it is I" there are conditions in which it would be perfectly natural for one to utter "I am experiencing some kind of state but I'm not sure if it is hunger" (p.84). Elshof concedes that the self does not present itself as an object in introspection as neither does external reality (doesn't present itself as an object in sense perception). So if one doubts that the self exists one should in the same sense doubt that external reality exists. 

The implicit analogy here is between objects of external reality and states of the self. But if external reality is the sum of all objects (or the states of affairs constituted by these objects) and internal reality (the self) the sum of mental states of the self I cannot see how can the self be something over and above the sum of its states. Why should one think that a self might exist after all? That is, why should one think that the analogy with external reality breaks here and whereas external reality is the sum of its objects the self (the internal reality) is something over and above the sum of its states? Nothing positive is said on this connection and as things stand it's difficult to see how Elshof's view can escape from succumbing to a Humean bundle theory of the self.

As previously mentioned, Elshof rejects the view that it is an organ that does the observing when introspection occurs. But what does it? What is the nature of the inner perception or observation as opposed to outer perception (this is crucial for the PMI theorist needs to explicate the four theses stated above)? In his very short concluding section, Elshof argues that looking at an object is not sufficient for attending. He claims that attention is a characteristic of inner perception (not only of outer) since one can attend for instance, to his memory of Neil Armstrong's first step on the moon or to his memory of his first day at school, which are not currently sense perceptible. According to Elshof, the commonality between inner and outer perception is selective attention, which is what grounds PMI. Initially, you will recall, we wanted to know the introspection's special way of knowing and what makes it particularly special in the case of PMI. What we come to know is that 'self-knowledge is no more mysterious for being of something which is not sense perceptible since knowledge of sense perceptible features of the world requires the exercise of this same capacity' (p.91, emphasis in the original). It's not the case that sense organs do the attending in outer perception either and therefore the same action of attending is required both for knowledge of empirical objects and for knowledge of our own cognitive operations.

 

© 2005 Dimitris Platchias

 

Dimitris Platchias is studying for a Ph.D. in philosophy in the University of Glasgow.  His main interests lie in the Philosophy of Mind and especially in the Philosophy of Perception and Consciousness.


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