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Philosophy and Phenomenological Research

Volume 72, Issue 1, January 2006

Robert J.Howell
Pages 44-70

Self-Knowledge and Self-Reference

Self-Knowledge and Self-Reference is a defense and reconciliation of the two apparently conflicting theses that the self is peculiarly elusive and that our basic, cogito-judgments are certain. On the one hand, Descartes seems to be correct that nothing is more certain than basic statements of self-knowledge, such as "I am thinking." On the other hand, there is the compelling Humean observation that when we introspect, nothing is found except for various "impressions." The problem, then, is that the Humean and Cartesian insights are both initially appealing, yet they appear to be in tension with one another. In this paper I attempt to satisfy both intuitions by developing a roughly descriptivist account of self-reference according to which our certainty in basic beliefs stems precisely from our needing to know so little in order to have them.

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