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Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology 9.1 (2002) 41-46

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On What There Really Is to Our Notion of Ownership of a Thought

Annalisa Coliva

JOHN CAMPBELL'S REPLY to my paper aims at reestablishing the point that there are two strands to our notion of ownership of a thought. There are two ways of cashing out this idea. 1 First, one could say that A is the owner of a thought if and only if both the following two independent conditions apply 2 : (1) X is introspectively aware of a token thought and (2) X is the person who formed that token thought. Second, one may hold that there are twodifferent and independent notions of ownership of a thought, call it O1 and O2, corresponding to (1) and (2), respectively. For brevity, I will refer only to the first interpretation. But what I will be saying will apply, mutatis mutandis, to both.

On this view, thought insertion would be a case in which someone thinks that (1) is satisfied, while (2) is not and, therefore, denies that the thought she is introspectively aware of is her own. 3 Campbell's explanation of thought insertion is quite clear: the subject has prima facie reasons to think that she is not the person who formed that token thought—maybe because she does not experience that thought as formed by herself—and, therefore, has prima facie reasons to deny that she is its owner, but she is mistaken in identifying the producer of the thought and what she says is false, yet reasonable. 4 Notice, however, an important consequence of Campbell's model. If (1) and (2) are independent conditions, then one could obtain without the other. Hence, it must be conceivable that one is introspectively aware of a thought that one has not produced. Indeed, cases of multiple personality, if taken literally, might be taken as examples of this kind of situation: person A and person B inhabit the same body, A can have access to B's thoughts, yet B remains their producer. So A could actually say something like "I'm thinking (i.e. I am immediately aware) that p, but this is not my thought (it is not the thought I produced), it's B's (the thought that B produced)" and what she would be saying would in fact be true.

Yet, a simple-minded reaction one may have toward this line of explanation is this: If the subject is either saying something false, but reasonable, or, indeed, something altogether true, when she says "I'm thinking 'Kill God,' but this isn't my thought, it's Chris'," why should we consider her report as an expression of some kind of cognitive illusion, 5 which we take as a symptom of mental illness, as opposed to, at most, a possible mistake in identifying the producer of the thought? And, connectedly, why should we try to cure her, rather than just, at most, correct her? [End Page 41]

Hence, the whole dispute between Campbell and me hinges on whether it is logically possible for one to be introspectively aware of a thought and yet not be its producer. Campbell claims that it is, whereas I deny that this is a genuine possibility. He holds that these are two independent conditions and that the one can obtain without the other, whereas I hold that they are not independent and that they stand or fall together. Campbell is fully aware of being making a surprising claim because, as he points out, "[The two strands in the ordinary notion of ownership of a thought] do not ordinarily even seem to come apart" (Campbell 2002, italics mine). Yet he offers in its support no more than an analogy between being the person who produced a certain signature and being the person who produced a given token thought. Let us look at it closer.

Consider the following situation: a person NN looks at a piece of paper with NN written on it and wonders whether she is the...


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