Acquaintance and Self-Knowledge

  • Bethany Ansell

Student thesis: Phd


Self-knowledge is the knowledge we have of our inner lives. In this thesis I develop and defend an account of a particular kind of self-knowledge: our first-person knowledge of our current conscious mental states. Such states include (but are not limited to) our own current perceptual experiences, pains, sensations, and imagery. I argue that self-knowledge of these states is possible because we have a special kind of access to them. This access takes the form of a relation of awareness, between a subject and the phenomenal properties of their current conscious states, which has certain epistemic and metaphysical features. This relation of awareness I call 'acquaintance'. It is because we are aware of our current conscious states in this way that we are able to form judgements about them. These judgements, when properly justified, amount to self-knowledge. My account is made in three stages. Firstly, I give an argument for the features of the acquaintance relation. I argue that these features constitute an awareness of the phenomenal properties of our conscious states which is epistemically secure enough to form the basis of self-knowledge. Secondly, I argue that our current conscious mental states are individuated by their phenomenal properties. Hence, by being acquainted with a state's phenomenal properties, we can be aware of both what kind of mental state it is (its state type), and what the state represents (its content). This gives us all the information we need to be able to form judgements in which we accurately self-ascribe these states. Finally, I explain how it is that these self-ascriptions are justified. I argue that the resulting account - the Acquaintance Account - explains our first-person knowledge of current conscious states.
Date of Award1 Aug 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorFrederique Janssen-Lauret (Supervisor) & Joel Smith (Supervisor)


  • Self-knowledge
  • Acquaintance
  • Epistemology
  • Philosophy of Mind

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