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Hardcover | Out of Print | 356 pp. | 6 x 9 in | June 1998 | ISBN: 9780262024419
Paperback | Out of Print | 356 pp. | 6 x 9 in | January 2000 | ISBN: 9780262522779
eBook | $18.00 Short | January 2000 | ISBN: 9780262325103
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The Paradox of Self-Consciousness


In this book, José Luis Bermúdez addresses two fundamental problems in the philosophy and psychology of self-consciousness: (1) Can we provide a noncircular account of fully fledged self-conscious thought and language in terms of more fundamental capacities? (2) Can we explain how fully fledged self-conscious thought and language can arise in the normal course of human development? Bermúdez argues that a paradox (the paradox of self-consciousness) arises from the apparent strict interdependence between self-conscious thought and linguistic self-reference. The paradox renders circular all theories that define self-consciousness in terms of linguistic mastery of the first-person pronoun. It seems to follow from the paradox of self-consciousness that no such account or explanation can be given.

Drawing on recent work in empirical psychology and philosophy, the author argues that any explanation of fully fledged self-consciousness that answers these two questions requires attention to primitive forms of self-consciousness that are prelinguistic and preconceptual. Such primitive forms of self-consciousness are to be found in somatic proprioception, the structure of exteroceptive perception, and prelinguistic forms of social interaction. The author uses these primitive forms of self-consciousness to dissolve the paradox of self-consciousness and to show how the two questions can be given an affirmative answer.

About the Author

José Luis Bermúdez is Professor of Philosophy at Texas A&M University. He is the coeditor of The Body and the Self (MIT Press) and the author of The Paradox of Self-Consciousness (MIT Press) and several other books, including most recently Understanding “I”: Language and Thought.


“Interdisciplinary yet philosophically rigorous.... mark[s] the beginning of a new era in the study of human consciousness.”
“... a rich and rewarding book on one of the most difficult topics in philosophy. No philosopher heretofore has come close to bringing such a wide range of scientific findings to bear on self-consciousness in its many stages and aspects. The reader can safely venture into the Bermúdez triangle. An edifying experience awaits.”
Kent Bach, Philosophical Psychology
“The book presents in accessible fashion recent important work on the self and self-consciousness and also moves the issues forward with interesting new ideas. It provides a notably crisp and clear treatment of some extremely intriguing topics.”
Jane Heal , Department of Philosophy, University of Cambridge