Artem Bourov

Artem Bourov (MA in Philosophy, 2024), Be a Body: From Experiential Self-Awareness to a Truly Bodily Self

Dan Zahavi has defended a systematic and influential account of our most basic form of experiential self-consciousness, pre-reflective self-awareness (PRSA). For Zahavi, PRSA explicates the subtle way in which we are always immediately aware of the experiences we are having, are aware of them as being our experiences, and, in being so aware, are minimally self-aware. Zahavi’s model of PRSA (hereafter Z-PRSA) has proven influential in contemporary debates on the nature of self-consciousness and selfhood across analytic, Buddhist and continental philosophical traditions.

However, one aspect of Zahavi’s model that is underdeveloped is its relation to the body. In his first major work, Self-Awareness and Alterity ([1999] 2020), Zahavi argued that Z-PRSA is intrinsically bodily by drawing on the analyses of bodily self-experience developed by Husserl and Merleau-Ponty. Yet, in more recent works, Zahavi has either remained silent on the topic of the body or indicated newfound neutrality on the question of embodiment, without adequately accounting for this change.

By contrast, over this period, body awareness has become the focal point of philosophical and empirical investigations into self-consciousness and minimal phenomenal selfhood. Various forms of body awareness have been proposed to play a foundational role in grounding self-consciousness: the sense of body ownership, proprioceptive self-awareness, interoceptive self-awareness, spatial self-awareness, and the implicit self-awareness we have in perceiving the world as ripe for bodily action.

An important question arises of how these modalities of bodily self-consciousness relate to Z-PRSA. Should we identify Z-PRSA with one of these forms of bodily self-consciousness, in a deflationary move? Alternatively, does bodily self-consciousness constitute a phenomenological condition of possibility for Z-PRSA? To find an answer, in this thesis I examine a series of descriptive and transcendental phenomenological arguments to determine whether, as Zahavi originally claimed, Z-PRSA is intrinsically bodily.

I show first that Z-PRSA should not be identified with any of the above forms of bodily self-consciousness. Except for spatial self-awareness, they do not share with Z-PRSA its key phenomenological characteristics as a mode of awareness. While spatial self-awareness does, Zahavi’s strident opposition to any identity between it and Z-PRSA motivates me to consider an alternative connection between them: transcendental dependence.

In evaluating Zahavi’s Husserlian enactivist argument from Self-Awareness and Alterity, I consider objections to its claim that object perception depends on spatial self-awareness, bodily movement, and kinaesthetic self-awareness. I show that Zahavi’s original argument for embodying Z-PRSA must be adapted to overcome an empirical challenge from cases of locked-in syndrome.

While identifying a path for future research to more definitively determine the character of bodily experience in long-term locked-in syndrome, I provisionally conclude that the adapted argument succeeds in proving that Z-PRSA is only possible for a bodily subject of experience. Through my investigations, I aim to bring together a diversity of philosophical and empirical perspectives towards a perspicuous understanding of pre-reflective self-awareness and bodily self-experience.

Supervisors: Dr Andrew Inkpin, Associate Professor François Schroeter