What is it like to think about oneself? De Se thought and phenomenal intentionality

  • Kyle BanickEmail author


The topic of the paper is at the intersection of recent debates on de se thought and phenomenal intentionality. An interesting problem for phenomenal intentionality is the question of how to account for the intentional properties of de se thought-contents---i.e., thoughts about oneself as oneself. Here, I aim to describe and consider the significance of a phenomenological perspective on self-consciousness in its application to de se thought. I argue that having de se thoughts can be explained in terms of the ways that subjects consciously attend to themselves in experiences of thinking. Therefore, a strong form of first-person persectivalness, in which the subject is capable of self-directed control of the focus of conscious attention, is required for de se thought. But no constraints on the semantic content of such thoughts are required. The outcome of the question therefore bears importantly on both on the problem of self-reflexive self-reference and the wider problem of self-consciousness. My model suggests phenomenologically-derived conceptual constraints for the extension of minimal, background forms of self-awareness to robust, cognitive forms of self-awareness that have been of interest in recent empirical studies on self-consciousness. The framework therefore provides a way of operationalizing the concept of self-reflexive consciousness by deploying widely deployed notions from the empirical literature such as attention and minimal phenomenal selfhood, enabling a framework for empirically falsifiable hypotheses about the neural mechanisms underlying the structure of self-consciousness. What Is it Like to Think about Oneself? De Se Thought and Phenomenal Intentionality.


Phenomenal intentionality Self-consciousness De se semantics Cognitive phenomenology Pre-reflective self-consciousness 



I would like to thank David Woodruff Smith and Sean Walsh for tireless discussions of cognitive phenomenology and de se semantics.An early version of this work was presented at the Rudolf-Carnap-Lectures at Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Germany in 2018. I am gratefulto the audience, and in particular to Thomas Metzinger, for their responses that shaped the final version. Finally, I would like to thank the anonymous referees for their insightful comments.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of CaliforniaIrvineUSA

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