Consciousness and the Self

January 12, 2013
Institute of Philosophy of Mind and Cognition, National Yang Ming University



Albert Newen
Ruhr-Universität Bochum

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Keynote Speaker: Prof. Albert Newen (Institute of Philosophy II, Ruhr University Bochum, Germany)
Title: Self-Consciousness and Agency

Abstract: The structure of the acting self is still perplexing and remains an often confounded issue in the recent debates. This talk provides a new systematic theory of self-consciousness in general and of two of its main features, the sense of agency and the sense of ownership. Furthermore, the phenomenon of responsibility can be separated from both phenomena. The theoretical framework will be shown to be fruitful in the context of the recent experiments in neuroscience including own studies. An important background of the new approach is a theory of levels of mental representation. It will be argued that we have to distinguish at least nonconceptual representations, conceptual representations and meta-representations. On the basis of clearly defined levels of representation it will be argued that one has to differentiate (i) an individual-orientated cognitive dimension of agency and ownership from (ii) a socio-normative dimension of responsibility. Gallagher introduced the distinction between agency and ownership. We need this distinction to account for passive movement of my arm since I still have the feeling of ownership in such a case but no feeling of agency. Furthermore, it is shown that we have to distinguish the feeling of agency and the judgment of agency. I can develop a feeling of agency in everyday automatic doings without explicitly judging that I am the agent. The feeling of agency is realized by nonconceptual representations. I may also develop a judgment of agency without any feeling of agency: The judgment of agency is realized by conceptual representations. Furthermore, it is shown that responsibility is a separate dimension from both aspects. I can judge that I am the agent of an action but deny responsibility by arguing that I just followed a strict order. This indicates that the ascription of responsibility presupposes a theory of social interaction. Responsibility is relying on meta-representations which are typically involved in the so-called theory-of-mind ability. Analogous distinctions have to be made concerning the phenomenon of ownership. The proposed theory of  self-consciousness is shown to be very fruitful from the perspectives of psychology, psychiatry and neuroscience.

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January 12, 2013, 9:00am CST

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