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Volume 36, 2019

Senses of Self: Approaches to Pre-Reflective Consciousness

Robert J. Howell
Pages 157-185

Reflecting on Pre-Reflective Self-Consciousness

Most philosophers in the phenomenological tradition hold that in addition to the explicit self-consciousness we might get in reflection, there is also a pre-reflective self-consciousness. Despite its popularity, it can be a little difficult to get a grasp on this notion. It can seem impossibly thin—such that it really amounts to little more than a restatement of the notion of consciousness—or problematically robust—such that it seems to conflict with the apparent transparency of consciousness. This paper argues for a notion of pre-reflective self consciousness that avoids these extremes. It is argued that though pre-reflective self-consciousness exists and is an important part of conscious ex­perience, it is not an intrinsic feature of first-order consciousness. Instead, it is constituted by an agent’s background awareness of her ability to reflect and thereby self-ascribe her experiences.