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Philosophical Topics

Volume 44, Issue 1, Spring 2016

Essays on the Philosophy of Frederick Stoutland

Stina Bäckström
Pages 163-182

Expression and Self-Consciousness

This article argues that nonverbal spontaneous expressions of mental states in human beings involve self-consciousness. We—language-using rational creatures—are capable of knowing our smiles, winces, and frustrated frowns in a self-conscious way. This distinguishes expressions from mere reflexes and mere physiological responses. Such a capacity is, further, essential to such forms of behavior. This is shown by the difficulty of constructing a coherent scenario where we—keeping our rational and conceptual capacities otherwise intact—can nonverbally express our mental states but where we lack a capacity to self-consciously self-ascribe them. Moreover, the article argues that we should not take the connection between nonverbal spontaneous expression and self-consciousness to imply that expressions are intentional actions. Such an implication is due to a commonly accepted but false dichotomy of intentional action and mere behavior.

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