Personal and Sub-Personal: A Defence of Dennett's Early Distinction
Hornsby (Jennifer)
Source: This is the original submitted text of a paper subsequently published in “Philosophical Explorations” (Special issue, 2000) pp. 6-24
Paper - Abstract

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Author's Abstract

    Daniel Dennett introduced the term ‘sub-personal’ into philosophers’ vocabulary thirty years ago. Dennett’s uses of ‘sub-personal’ are of interest in connection with the development both of his own views and of the subject of philosophy of mind in the recent past. I have a particular reason for focusing on Dennett: his original distinction between personal and sub-personal levels of explanation is lost sight of in much recent work, with the result that a position that I should want to defend is lost sight of too. I shall present an argument designed to show that a satisfactory philosophy of mind must respect the distinction Dennett first made, and that this distinction is widely ignored nowadays. Even Dennett has deserted it, so that the position I want to defend is kept invisible. 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.
    (PI): Since 1969, when Dennett introduced a distinction between personal and subpersonal levels of explanation, many philosophers have used 'subpersonal' 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 causation1 is on view only at the properly personal level. (edited)
    Sections:
    1: The Distinction in Dennett
    2: Human Action vs. the Sub-Personal
    3: The Distinction in Philosophy of Mind and Philosophy of Psychology
    4: Dennett post-1969
    5: Personal and Sub-personal Reinstated
    6: Conclusion

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