The uses and abuses of the personal/subpersonal distinction


Drayson Z (2012) The uses and abuses of the personal/subpersonal distinction. Philosophical Perspectives, 26 (1), pp. 1-18.

It is a commonplace assumption throughout contemporary philosophy of mind that there is a distinction to be made between personal and subpersonal. What it distinguishes, however, is a matter of confusion: one finds the terms 'personal' and 'subpersonal' predicated of states, facts, explanations, events, and levels, to name a few. Opinions on the grounds of the distinction are just as wide-ranging. As a result, the personal/subpersonal distinction has prompted confusion; philosophers confess to "not grasping exactly how this distinction is to be drawn" (Rey 2001, 105), describe it as a "somewhat obscure distinction" (Machery 2009, 25), or complain that it "isn't very often made clear" (Boghossian 2008, 133). This befuddlement has not prevented the personal/subpersonal distinction being adopted beyond contemporary philosophy of mind: one finds it in metaethics, legal theory, psychiatry, and economics, and being used to reinterpret the work of past thinkers including Descartes, Kant, and Nietzsche. The aim of this paper is to clarify what the personal/subpersonal distinction is and is not, and to caution against the common confusions that surround it.

Philosophical Perspectives: Volume 26, Issue 1

Publication date31/12/2012