PHIL Seminar: “Belief about Myself”, Stephen Voss, 3:30PM April 7 (EN)

Title: Belief about Myself

By Stephen Voss (Bogaziçi, Philosophy)

Date: Thursday, April 7
Time: 15.30-17.00

This is an online event. All are welcome. If you would like to listen to the talk please click on the following link when the event is due to begin.

Zoom: go to

Abstract: My question is this. What is it to have a belief about oneself, as oneself – for short, an “I belief”? For that matter, what is it for me to conceive a certain individual as me? John Perry once had a supermarket adventure, when he believed a certain individual was making a mess, but even though that individual was him, his belief didn’t motivate him to stop. It was only his belief “l am making a mess” that did the trick. He concluded that he was believing the same thing he believed before but in a different way, that somehow moved him to take action and stop making a mess.

I’ll suggest that it’s this link with an I believer’s action that is the key to understanding the way he believes, so I’ll embed my answer in Aristotle’s theory of practical reason in On the Movement of Animals, chapter 7. Aristotle says that a reason to act is constituted by a desire-belief pair. John Perry had a non-I desire, “The person making a mess should straighten the sack of sugar in the shopping cart,” and an I belief, “I am that person,” which together gave him a reason to act. My suggestion will be that an I belief is a belief such that for some non-I desire, if the person were to have that desire the two would give that person a reason to act. This thesis provides the key to understanding what it is to conceive one individual, out of all the 8 billion possibilities, as oneself. We’ll try to clarify and to evaluate the resulting theory.

About the speaker: First I was excited about mathematics at Wheaton College, then about philosophy at Berkeley and Stanford. In order to make a living I agreed to teach, first at Nebraska, then at San Jose and Boğazıcı, where I’ve been for 29 years now. I did some research at Australian National University, Notre Dame, and the French countryside, where I learned about, respectively, Descartes, consciousness, and Leibniz. Now I’m interested in mind and self, both in theoretical terms and as part of philosophy as a way of life. I share Socrates’s conviction that one great way to gain understanding is dialogue with others who also wish to understand.