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Volume 48 • Number 2

April 2011



Wittgenstein and the Neuroscience of the Self

by Jesse Prinz

There has been a recent fashion of selfseeking in cognitive neuroscience. Researchers have been trying to identify the neurophysiological processes that underlie our experiences of a self. This endeavor presupposes that such experiences exist—that there is something it feels like to be the subject of our thoughts, actions, and perceptions. That presupposition would not have sat well with Wittgenstein. Skepticism about such a self is expressed throughout Wittgenstein’s writings, from the early stages of his career on. One’s identity as a subject is not given as an item in experience, but as a limit. In this discussion, I will critically review recent scientific approaches to the self with Wittgenstein’s skepticism in mind. My goal is not to criticize the methodology of cognitive neuroscience or expose foundational confusions; I am an unreconstructed naturalist. I do, however, think that Wittgenstein has much to teach the neuroscientist. His insights pertaining to the self can help us see where some current empirical efforts go wrong. In fact, some of those efforts repeat mistakes of the philosophical theories that Wittgenstein was intent to criticize. What I offer here is a naturalistic Wittgensteinian inquiry into the emerging neuroscience of the self.

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American Philosophical Quarterly is published by the University of Illinois Press on behalf of North American Philosophical Publications.

ISSN: 2152-1123