Does Self-Awareness Provide Access to Our Own Metaphysical Nature?

Martine Nida-Rümelin, Department of Philosophy, University of Fribourg


Mature human experience involves pre-reflective self-awareness: an awareness we have of ourselves as the subject of the experience we presently undergo which does not require reflection or conceptualization and which does not present us to ourselves as an object among others. Although pre-reflective self-awareness is non-conceptual it is the origin of central concepts involved in our understanding of what each of us is as an experiencing subject. Crucially, it allows us to form an understanding of what it is for two experiences to belong to one single subject which is (in a sense to be explained) criterion-free. I shall claim that this criterion-free understanding is nature-revealing, in that it allows us to grasp what it takes for two experiences to belong to one single subject. 

Based on that result, I will develop an argument for the view that the identity of experiencing subjects across time and across possible worlds is ontologically simple. Experiencing subjects are, in that sense, ‘perfect individuals’. The argument requires, as a further assumption, that identity across time and across possible worlds, despite its ontological simplicity, must be understood in terms of belongingness of experiences to one single subject. The resulting understanding of identity across time and of identity across possible worlds is then nature-revealing as well. The crucial premise mentioned before – that pre-reflective self-awareness allows us to form a nature-revealing understanding of what it takes for experiences to belong to one single subject – will be defended pointing out that the specific criterion-free understanding at issue has its origin in the most direct access one can possibly have to oneself - in pre-reflective self-awareness.