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.


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262024419 356 pp. | 6 in x 9 in


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262522779 356 pp. | 6 in x 9 in


  • 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