Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in Philosophy (MA)

Degree Level





Edward H. Minar

Committee Member

Eric M. Funkhouser

Second Committee Member

Thomas D. Senor


First-person reference, Longuenesse, Philosophy of mind, Rödl, Self-consciousness, Self-knowledge


There has been a great deal of disagreement over what exactly it is that is being referenced by the first-person pronoun, ‘I.’ Immanuel Kant believed the ‘I’ associated with a thinking subject is just a formal representation of the substantially existing subject. This raises the question about whether or not ‘I’ is actually a referring expression? In this paper I explore two accounts from both sides of the debate which opens up a dialectical space for determining a positive answer for this question. On the one hand, ‘I’ is said to be a referring term for the speaker or utterer of a given thought or expression. In every instance, ‘I’ uniquely picks out its object. On the other hand, this account of ‘I’ as a referring term merely tells us the way that it refers to the person associated with it, but it fails to tell us how the reference takes place. What drives this second account, which ultimately says it is not a referring expression, is that when we consider how we are able to refer to an object is determined by the perspective we have on the object. When we refer to our coffee mug or to the cat on the windowsill, the reference is made possible by perception. Moreover, this kind of relationship to the object being referred is one that involves a criterion for getting it right about the object. When it comes to self-reference, the perspective I have of ‘I’ is in virtue of my being identical with it, not by perception. This means that there is no need for a criterion of identity since getting it right is already achieved though my unmediated first-person knowledge of myself.

The last part of this paper will consider what has been said about self-consciousness here, as well as in other views, and show that no account of self-knowledge is made possible through them. There has been a widely held misconception of self-knowledge which amounts to a conflation between this and self-consciousness. This is a problem because it obscures what is meant by the “self” and how we have knowledge of it.