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Agency and First-Person Authority

  • Author(s): Parrott, Matthew Thomas
  • Advisor(s): Stroud, Barry
  • et al.
Abstract

Ordinarily when someone tells us about her psychological states, we presume that she is right. By deferring to her in this way, we treat her as a kind of authority on her own psychological life. Although a person usually has this authority, she lacks it whenever she takes a more detached, indirect, or third-personal point of view toward her psychological states. We see this, for example, when she learns about a belief or desire from a friend or therapist. For this reason an adequate account of the phenomenon of "first-person authority" must explain why we have it only for some but not all of our psychological states. Most philosophers believe first-person authority is an epistemic phenomenon, consisting in each of us being better situated to know about our own psychological states than anyone else. Against all such epistemic views, I argue that, because they base their accounts on epistemic privileges that are in principle available to anyone, they cannot capture the exclusively first-personal character of our authority.

As an alternative to the traditional approach, I argue that first-person authority is derived from a person's agency with respect to her own psychological states. By relating to her psychological states in a first-personal way, a person is able to change or maintain them directly on the basis of what she takes to be good reasons for them. Since no other person can affect her psychological states in this way, her capacities as an agent guarantee her a unique kind of authority for them. A person ordinarily expresses this kind of agential authority over her psychological states in what she says about them. This is what justifies our deferring to her psychological self-ascriptions. On the view I develop in this dissertation, first-person authority is not primarily a matter of special epistemic access to psychological facts and deference is not a response to the epistemic status of what someone says. It is an acknowledgment of the special role that a person's agency plays in determining her psychological life.

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