C-MLAG 2016 – Self-knowledge and the First Person

C-MLAG 2016

Organizing Committee

Sofia Miguens (Universidade do Porto – IF)
Bruno Ambroise (CNRS)
Eylem Özaltun (Koç University – Istanbul)
Pierre-Jean Renaudie (Universidade do Porto – IF)


Carlos João Correia
Charles Travis
Eylem Özaltun
Jean-Philippe Narboux
Layla Raïd
Naomi Eilan
Pierre-Jean Renaudie
Quassim Cassam
Richard Moran
Sofia Miguens
Vincent Descombes

Presentation and objectives

‘Self-knowledge’ is a standard rubric under which a variety of central and perennial problems in philosophy sort. These questions span (principally) the areas of philosophy of mind, philosophy of action, epistemology, and to some extent philosophy of language.

In (relatively) recent times, Wittgenstein and G. E. M. Anscombe have provided much impetus to work in this general area. In Wittgenstein, notably, two lines of thought have worked in tandem. One line stresses the importance of third-person perspective on aspects of mental life. Part of the point here is to resist introspectionism, and, with it, illusions of inscrutability of other minds.

A coordinate general line of thought affords first-person perspective a particular status, not by virtue of special access to some specific realm of facts over which one allegedly exercises expertise, but rather by virtue of the particular kind of authority and authorship one claims to enjoy with respect to their own mental life. This conception of the first-person perspective meets Frege’s idea according to which each of us is presented to himself as he is presented to no other. That idea at least encompasses some perfectly ordinary forms of self-awareness, whose objects are quite open to the awareness of others, but which come to each of us in a form available to ourselves alone—e.g., someone might feel the wind blowing his hair in a way in which no one else can feel it: others can feel the wind blowing one’s hair, but not in the same way.

The main issue is how we can incorporate the insights of these two main approaches to self-knowledge. While appreciating the importance of the first-person perspective for subjects who are to some extent creator’s of their own mental life, can we deny a special epistemic status to first-person perspective and preserve the objectivity of thought? Can we come to an understanding of one’s relation to oneself which will also make sense of the particular kind of ignorance we are warned against by the maxim “Know thyself !”? What is the nature of the risk supposedly attached to self-ignorance that this maxim is warning us against?

The C-MLAG conference planned for this June brings together a selection of leading scholars who are addressing these questions from different perspectives: some starting from problems in philosophy of psychology, some from problems in logic and language, some from concerns with the relation of philosophy to ordinary life. The conference aims to bring together major senior figures in this field, including Quassim Cassam, Naomi Eilan (both from Warwick), Charles Travis (KCL and Porto), Vincent Descombes (Paris) and Richard Moran (Harvard), with junior researchers. The conference will be an occasion for encounters by each participant with what may be stimulus to fresh approaches to their own particular concerns.

The first day of conference will be devoted to general issues related to self-knowledge. On the second day, the participants will discuss more specifically the theses defended by Vincent Descombes in his last book, Le parler de soi.

Some of the leading questions will be:

  • How does one deal with one’s own cognitive affairs? What are epistemic virtues and vices therein ? (Cassam)
  • What is the relation between first and second person? (Eilan)
  • How do authority and estrangement combine in one’s relation with oneself? (Moran)
  • How does a Fregean approach to thought and language apply to a view of the subjective? (Travis)

Financiamento: FCT

C-MLAG 2016 – Programme