Knowledge de te?

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…


Knowledge de te? — 6 Comments

  1. Could the idea be something like being aware of another as an automonous source of reasons? Arguably, there’s a difference in one’s kind of awareness between interacting with a person as a mere means and interacting with a person as an end.

  2. I’d recommend Richard Moran’s “Getting Told and Being Believed” as an interesting take on testimonial knowledge that focuses on the normative relationship constituted between speaker and audience. It might provide a foothold for starting to think more seriously about de te awareness.

  3. Jon,

    First, I take it that the question of whether “there is a distinctive kind of second-person perspective” is distinct from the question of whether there should be knowledge de te “in addition” to de dicto, de re, and de se. The perspective might be distinct while the knowledge that it yields and that is prima facie de te reduces to some combination of the other kinds. Your suggestion that the positive answer to the former “suggests” the positive answer to the latter is itself in need of an argument. I am not saying that I have an argument to the contrary, but it is not at all obvious to me that what your language suggests is the case.

    Second, Stump’s criteria are relatively easy to modify. Here is one prospective set of modifications. (I am going to count the criteria in a way that is different from that in which you represent Stump as counting them):
    S1: The thing experienced must be a person.
    S1*: The thing experienced must be personified (where the personification must be appropriate if one is to have second-personal knowledge on its basis).
    For instance, if I personify a rock (in the manner suggested in Strawson’s ‘Freedom and Resentment’, for instance), then I can have de te beliefs about it, but not de te knowledge. (I can have other kinds of knowledge, as, presumably, people with animistic beliefs do at least sometimes.) On the other hand, I can fail to personify a real person, thereby precluding myself from having knowledge de te about them, even when I am in position to acquire it immediately upon becoming aware of the personhood of the entity in question. In addition, one may or may not wish to endorse a further personification-related condition:
    S1+: The thing’s personification (as opposed to just its impersonal qualities) must individuate it.
    (One’s decision on this point affects whether one ends up treating as genuinely second-personal relations where one or both parties is treated as “just a number”).
    S2: The thing experienced must be conscious.
    S2*: The thing experienced must be treated as reason-responsive (where such treatment is appropriate for the thing in question).
    This might be just a terminological issue, but I take it that certain entities, such as sleepwalkers, can respond to reasons without being conscious and can also be the sorts of entities to which we can relate from the second-person perspective. This might be further complicated by the fact that there might not be a sharp cutoff point between things to which second-personal standing is appropriate.
    S3: The experience of the thing must be direct.
    S3*: The experience of the thing’s intersubjective reach must be direct.
    This modification is meant to accommodate the cases of correspondence and remote communication. When a king invites heroes to slay a dragon, the invitation’s reach is defined by those who come to be aware of the invitation. This reach is a part of the king’s total intersubjective reach, which we may think of as a complex abstract particular (particularized by its content), of which it is possible to have direct experience. There is, in any case, a sense in which my presence in a friend’s room when we are talking on the phone is direct enough.
    S4: The experience of the thing must be immediate.
    S4*: The experience of the thing must not be mediated in any epistemically problematic way.
    This point is trivial, if only because it applies in equal measure to other kinds of knowledge as well.
    I take it that an experience can be immediate without being direct, and vice versa. I take directness to be the measure of epistemic processes appropriate to one’s thought about the object of experience (roughly, the more direct the experience, the more direct the epistemically appropriate thinking about the object – my perception of the book in front of me is direct to the extent to which I do not have to reason about it). Immediacy, on the other hand, is a matter of transmission. If I wear glasses, my experience of my friends is no less direct, but still mediated by the glasses in an epistemically significant way; similarly if I am told something about them by a policeman. Meanwhile, my experience of camouflaged mantis is immediate without necessarily being direct (at least at first). If one does not accept this distinction, the spirit of S3* and S4* can presumably still be captured, since intersubejctive reach is defined in partially epistemic terms.

    This topic gives rise to a great deal of other difficult and interesting questions. For instance, what are we to say about second-personal PLURAL experience? (Can we have knowledge de te of groups of persons?) What role does perceived capacity to reciprocate play in this kind of experience? (Is it captured by something like my S1+ and S2*?) How does spatio-temporal distance and disconnection affect one’s second-personal epistemic standing? And so on…

  4. I take it the TV example is supposed to be a counterexample to Stump’s claim that “the experience must be direct and immediate” for it to be a 2nd person experience. You’re assuming that my experience of you through a TV isn’t direct and immediate. That’s not obvious to me. I’m inclined to think of the image on the TV screen as just a perceptual vehicle. The fact that you have to perceive a perceptual vehicle to perceive X doesn’t mean you’re not perceiving X immediately (as indirect realists and sense data theorists failed to realize).

  5. Following on Tom’s comment above, there is a small but growing number of people working on testimony who are arguing for essentially interpersonal accounts of the epistemology of testimony. (Such accounts haven’t generally been well-received in the epistemology literature, but I think this is because they have been largely misunderstood.) On these accounts, testimony basically amounts to what Darwall calls a second-personal reason.

    People working along these lines, in addition to Moran, include Edward Hinchman, Paul Faulkner, and myself. Most of this work was developed prior to some of the recent work on the second person in ethics, but there are clear parallels. I know Moran is now working on testimony and the second person explicitly, and at the risk of self-promotion, I have a book under contract with Harvard in which I try to make a detailed case that testimony amounts to a second-personal reason for belief.

    In his book, Darwall explicitly denies that there are any second-personal reasons for belief. He claims that the phenomenon of the second person marks a strict distinction between practical and theoretical rationality, though in conversation he seems to be more open to the possibility of genuinely second-personal reasons for belief.

    I’m not sure how all of this relates to the issue of knowledge de te or of second-personal experience or awareness, however. The interpersonal testimony theorists simply think that testimony amounts to a distinctive kind of reason for believing a proposition, a reason the justificatory force of which derives from the addressive relations present between speaker and audience. It’s not clear to me from what’s been said so far how any of the apparatus of Darwall’s distinction between second and third-personal reasons is at work in the notion of knowledge de te. What is an example of a possible case of knowledge de te and what exactly makes it de te?

  6. Helpful comments, all. I’ll respond to things in reverse order.

    Ben, there aren’t any easily expressible examples to give. In fact, Eleonore thinks de te experience can’t be put in propositional form of any sort. So pointing is about all that can be done, and what autistic children tend to be devoid of is the thing pointed at.

    Dylan, on immediacy and directness: I was echoing what Eleonore says about it. I have no idea what directness and immediacy amount to.

    On your emendations of Stump’s conditions. I know what the word ‘personify’ means, but I don’t know what it is to personify a rock. Looks like a misuse of the term. If it means “see the rock as a person,” I think I understand that, but such personification doesn’t happen when I have a de te experience with my dog or horse. Further, I can’t tell what it means to say the personification in question “individuates it”, but maybe you can say more about that. Next, does the thing have to be conscious? I doubt it. Think of the animist example or the mannequin example. In addition, I don’t think I typically treat anything as “reason-responsive”. I do in atypical situations, when I’m trying to convince someone of something. But I don’t think I do that when I’m just having an ordinary conversation about the weather or the lousy season the Cowboys are having. Yet I’m having de te experiences throughout, as far as I understand the idea. Finally, I don’t find the accounts of immediacy and directness helpful, but that probably isn’t surprising. Lots of spilled ink in the theory of perception about these, so one wouldn’t expect some off-the-cuff characterization to solve all the problems.

    Ted, I understand what seeing-as involves, but I don’t think I’ve ever been aware of another as an autonomous source of reasons. I believe that this characterizes some entities I’ve encountered, though. And I think I’ve had about as much de te experience as the next guy…

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