Article Title

The unbearable lightness of the personal, explanatory level


I begin this paper by demonstrating that there is a perceived overlap between phenomenology and the personal level. This perception has recently played a decisive role in evaluating phenomenological contributions to discussions within cognitive science, for example, on topics of social cognition. In this paper, I aim not only to understand what might be meant by associating phenomenology with the personal level, but to cast this association in a critical light. I show that the personal level is essentially an explanatory level, whereby perceptions and mental state terms (paradigmatically, belief and desire) explain purposive action. I then separate the notion of consciousness from the notion of the personal level. To do so, I advance Wittgenstein’s private language argument in conjunction with Sellars’ account of how the meaning of mental state terms derives from their explanatory function. Using the Wittgenstinian/Sellarsian picture as guide, I show that characterising personal level explanations by reference to conscious experiences imputes excess baggage over and above the commitment to a unique explanatory level. Yet, for many, ‘phenomenology’ is the level of conscious experience. I argue that it is when the extra baggage of assuming that we are aware of our explanatory, personal level mental states is coupled with the controversial claim that phenomenology is tantamount to the verbalisation of conscious states that the ill begotten association between them is arises.


personal level explanation, personal/subpersonal distinction, phenomenology, social cognition, consciousness, Sellars.

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