Psychological unity of one form or another is often claimed to be essential to our ordinary self-understanding and to our relationships, social practices, political philosophies, legal institutions—to human life as we know it. At the same time, it is also often said that the sciences of the mind/brain undercut all our claims to being unified. One major strand of my work investigates claims of the former sort, that is, whether and in what sense we assume we are unified. A second strand investigates claims of the latter sort, that is, whether and in what sense science reveals us to be disunified.
Some current projects
The avowal account of self-deception
An adequate account of self-deception must accommodate both the psychic tension characterizing self-deception and the fact that this tension doesn’t manifest in the self-deceived agent’s avowals. This paper defends an avowal view of self-deception, according to which the agent who is self-deceived in believing that p has been led to believe ~p on the basis of the evidence but is nonetheless sincere in asserting that p, because this assertion is expressive of what she is committed to believing. Views that do not recognize the category of beliefs qua commitments cannot accommodate the characteristic features of self-deception mentioned above. They also require that self-deception come about through the biased examination of evidence, whereas in fact there seem to be core instances of self-deceived belief that do not come about in this way.
Plurals and plural personhood
The paper introduces a population of human beings whom I will call plurals. A plural has a plural identity, in some sense identifying himself as one of multiple persons sharing his body, or brain, or mind. Many plurals request some sort of respect for their plural identities and even recognition as plural persons, or plural recognition. Plurals raise a number of interesting philosophical questions about the nature of identities, the nature and basis of respect for unfamiliar identities, and the relationship between personhood and recognition.
A portion of this paper has been developed for publication in Aeon Magazine.
Consciousness after split-brain surgery: The recent challenge to the classical picture
[with Tim Bayne]
In a recent series of experiments, Pinto and colleagues found that two split-brain subjects were able to respond accurately to stimuli in either visual field, whether using their right hands, their left hands, or verbally. Pinto and colleagues argue that this demonstrates that split-brain subjects remain unitary agents and thus that a split-brain subject has a unified consciousness. This paper provides a critical evaluation of that claim. First, we argue that it is an open question whether the data presented by Pinto and colleagues is best understood in terms of the unity of agency. Whether that interpretation is correct depends not only on the mechanisms involved in producing split-brain behaviour, but also on what is involved in being a single agent. Second, we argue that two conceptions of the unity of consciousness need to be distinguished: an agency-based conception and an experience-based conception. We suggest that the experience-based conception is the more fundamental of the two conceptions, and that even if split-brain subjects have a unified consciousness in the agency-based sense of the term it is a further question whether their consciousness is unified in the experience-based sense.