We are all familiar with the distinctions between knowledge de dicto and knowledge de se and de re. Recent work in ethics by Darwall and some of the recent work by Stump claims that there is a distinctive kind of second-person perspective, leading to the idea that in addition to the above kinds of knowledge, there should be knowledge de te.
But what could that be? I just heard a talk by Eleonore in which she gave 3 necessary conditions for second-person experience: the thing experience must be a person, and be conscious, and the experience must be direct and immediate. None of these seem quite right to me, however. I can have a second-person experience of you through a TV monitor, I can have a second-person experience with my dog, and perhaps animists can have second-person experiences with trees. I’m least confident of the last point, but the first two seem unassailable. And then, as with de re awareness, the illusions: brief encounters with mannequins-taken-to-be-persons, just as there is experience of things that go bump in the night. On the illusion score, it isn’t clear whether the de re and de te categories should track the phenomenology or the external reality; I’m inclined to think that a good account in other respects gets to say whatever it wants here.
To get in the mood to address the issue, recall the nature of autism in children. They avoid eye-to-eye contact, don’t read emotional states in others except in a quite indirect way (they don’t see sadness in others, but they can be taught to characterize people who look that way as sad), and the mirror neurons in the head don’t fire at all as they do in ordinary people when they have this purportedly distinctive second-person experience of another person. (The neurons are called “mirror neurons” because they fire when you are sad and also when you see sadness in another, when you are surprised and when you experience another as surprised, etc.).
So, what can we make of de te awareness, knowledge, experience, etc.? If Darwall and Stump are onto something here, and they seem to be, I’d like a theory…