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  • Mirror Synesthesia and the Limits of Misidentification
  • Michael Young (bio)

In Possibilities of Misidentification, Ashwell (2018) contends that the immunity principle (IP) developed and defended in my Pathologies of Thought and First Person Authority "doesn't show us anything about introspection or the first person—which should make us wonder whether it really captures that's at stake in discussions of IEM" (p. 162). Ashwell's argument hinges on two claims: (1) IP turns on features that are not unique to introspection, to the first person, or to "subject matter that is thought to have IEM" (p. 162), and(2) IP does not yet capture "the standard claim of IEM for introspective self-attribution" (p. 162). Ashwell thereupon contends that the immunity furnished by IP "might be merely contingent" (p. 162).

Although the structure of the argument in Pathologies may be used to defend other versions of IEM principles (and whether it does is not obviously consequential for the positions advanced on its basis), Ashwell's example of BIP as a version of an IEM principle that does not involve first-personal introspective judgments is plainly defeasible in a way that IP is not. To illustrate the shortcomings of BIP, suppose a first-time visitor is traveling through Lewiston (Maine) and hears loud music and a cacophony of voices cheering and shouting. These sounds seem to the agent to be emanating from a Bates College building, and so the agent thinks that, 'Bates College is a place where people are rowdy right now.' Unbeknownst to this agent, the perceived hubbub is originating from a football field behind Bates College belonging to a local high school hosting a sporting competition. The agent is correct that there is some place where people are rowdy right now, but the agent is wrong about whether Bates College is the place where people are rowdy right now. In this case, the information making it sensible for the agent to think that the property of rowdiness is instantiated does not concomitantly individuate the entity instantiating that property. This point is highlighted if one considers that the agent was blindfolded during this first-time stroll through Lewiston; the information rendering it sensible to think that rowdiness is instantiated somewhere would not concomitantly individuate what in particular instantiates this property. This case and others like it are thus unlike thoughts* arrived at through the first-person perspective that take as their subject the essential indexical 'I'—those characterized by IP.

Ashwell might counter that in the foregoing cases the evidence is not evidence about Bates College; however, Ashwell does not advance a plausible account of evidence that could support this contention. Evidence in this context, as it seems to operate in many contexts, suggests but does not indefeasibly demonstrate a state of affairs that was previously ambiguous or unknown. The [End Page 169] epistemic gap between suggestion and indefeasible demonstration with respect to evidence opens up the possibility for an agent to justifiably take as x as evidence for p situation z, even if it is the case that ~p in z.

Regardless of the approach one takes to evidence, IP, unlike BIP, hinges on grounding perspectives that may function through mental activity that is not evidence-like in nature in the first place. In first-personal cases, the information making it sensible for one to think that there is some property being instantiated concomitantly individuates the thing that instantiates the property. Arriving at thoughts about oneself is in this way unlike thoughts typically arrived at about other people or other things.

Ashwell curiously asserts that "it is only contingent that other subject matters lack such an exclusive 'way' to obtain grounds for judgments about them; we can surely imagine having a faculty whose exclusive use is for coming to judgments about Bates College" (p. 162), yet concedes that "such a possibility is definitely a strange one" (p. 162). Even if robustly conceivable, it would not follow from such possibilities that IP is not grounded in something peculiar to privileged access or the first-personal. Indeed, such possibilities might hinge on aberrant amplifications of typical introspective capacities, expansions of the perceived boundaries of selfhood, or...


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pp. 169-172
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