First Person Knowledge and Authority


Kirk Ludwig




In this paper, my primary aim is to examine an important and strikingly original explanation by Donald Davidson for the special warrant of reflexive ascriptions of mental states.  I begin with an account of the phenomenon to be explained, and then lay out constraints on a successful explanation of the asymmetry of warrant between first person and other person ascriptions.  I then identify a number of restrictions that Davidson places on the scope of his initial explanandum.  Next, I lay out what I call Davidson's `master argument' for first person authority, providing provide an explication of two lines of argument for a crucial premise in the master argument which are suggested in Davidson's compressed discussion, and then explain the importance of Davidson's argument in the context of his larger philosophical position.  Next, I criticize the argument, arguing that Davidson's master argument, even if sound, is unsuccessful in explaining our primary explanandum, and then criticizing each of the two lines of argument for the crucial premise in the master argument.  Finally, I argue that no argument of the form that Davidson presents can provide an understanding of the special role that consciousness must play in any explanation of the asymmetry in warrant between first and other ascriptions of mental states.  I conclude with a brief argument to show that no explanation of this asymmetry of the sort Davidson seeks is likely to be found.