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Personal and sub-personal: a defence of Dennett's early distinction

Hornsby, Jennifer (2000) Personal and sub-personal: a defence of Dennett's early distinction. Philosophical Explorations: An International Journal for the Philosophy of Mind and Action 3 (1), pp. 6-24. ISSN 1386-9795.


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Since 1969, when Dennett introduced a distinction between personal and sub‐personal levels of explanation, many philosophers have used ‘sub‐personal’ very loosely, and Dennett himself has abandoned a view of the personal level as genuinely autonomous. I recommend a position in which Dennett's original distinction is crucial, by arguing that the phenomenon called mental causation is on view only at the properly personal level. If one retains the commit‐’ ments incurred by Dennett's early distinction, then one has a satisfactory anti‐physicalistic, anti‐dualist philosophy of mind. It neither interferes with the projects of sub‐personal psychology, nor encourages ; instrumentalism at the personal level. People lose sight of Dennett’s personal/sub-personal distinction because they free it from its philosophical moorings. A distinction that serves a philosophical purpose is typically rooted in doctrine; it cannot be lifted out of context and continue to do its work. So I shall start from Dennett’s distinction as I read it in its original context. And when I speak of ‘the distinction’, I mean to point not only towards the terms that Dennett first used to define it but also towards the philosophical setting within which its work was cut out.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: The special issue of Philosophical Explorations in which this article was published is entitled "New essays on psychological explanation", edited by M. Elton and J. Bermudez
School or Research Centre: Birkbeck Schools and Research Centres > School of Social Sciences, History and Philosophy > Philosophy
Depositing User: Administrator
Date Deposited: 11 May 2005
Last Modified: 17 Apr 2013 12:32

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