Lucy O’Brien: Pervious to Others: Self-Consciousness and Intersubjectivity

During the first two weeks of September, a workshop on “Pervious to Others: Self-Consciousness and Intersubjectivity,” led by Humboldt Award winner and visiting professor Prof. Dr. Lucy O’Brien, will take place. Lucy O’Brien is Richard Wollheim Chair of Philosophy at University College London, President of the Royal Institute of Philosophy, and Editor of the journal Mind. The workshop is primarily based on Prof. O’Brien’s new book manuscript. A brief summary of the topic is below.

Friday 09/02 (14-18:00)
Monday 09/05 (14.18:00)
Tuesday 09/06 (10-12:00)
Friday 09/09 (14-18:00)
Monday 09/12 (14-18:00)
Tuesday 09/06 (10-12:00)
My concern in this work is to examine the nature of social self-consciousness, and the roles it plays in our relations to ourselves and each other. I start my investigation by looking at what it is like to fall under the gaze of another. We say that we ‘feel self-conscious’ in ‘under the eyes of another’. But, what is it to feel that? It is a peculiar doubling phenomenon that is not easy to understand: it seems both to involve us being reflexively conscious of ourselves as ourselves – it is a form of self-consciousness – and at the same time being so through the idea, or awareness, of the other and their perspective on us: it is also other-consciousness of us. A satisfactory account of such social self-consciousness seems to demand both a doubling of standpoints – me and my observer – and an integrated single intersubjective, but reflexive, structure. I expend some effort setting out the difficulty of this explanatory task. I argue that what makes it possible to meet the explanatory task is that in coming to be self-conscious before another a subject comes to be in an affective condition that has the function of incorporating the other’s evaluation of the subject, while presenting the subject to herself. What an affective condition, with that function, makes possible is the other, as a distinct subject, becomes a condition of myself as a subject. I offer a sketch of a theory of emotion that can – I suggest – make sense of the structure inherent to ordinary self-consciousness. It offers a suggestion as to the function such a duplex emotional state might play in the social life of a human animal, and how having such a function allows us to encounter the other in our relations to ourselves. To be, and to feel, self-conscious is a way to be and feel in real time – it is an occurrent, evolving, feature of our mental lives. In a single day our capacities for self-consciousness can be uninterrupted, but our exercise, and control, of them can come and go; I go on to look at the distinct ways in which social self-consciousness, in its various forms, is occasioned. We can feel self-conscious as a result of seeing others see me, but also in self-seeing: through mirroring devices – mirrors, photographs, selfies.
With this much in place I broaden the focus in two ways. First, I consider what relation this material might have for the traditional philosophical problem of other minds, and try to offer an new form of introspective argument for other minds. Second, I consider what consequences our liabilities to social self-consciousness have for our practical relations with ourselves and each other. Episodes of social self-consciousness and indeed our capacity for feeling self-conscious – and its attendant pains and pleasures – is not always something that merely comes upon us accidently. They are things we can induce, manipulate and manage – both in ourselves and others. I argue in this work that we aim to make others feel self-conscious in its various forms. We can induce a neutral form social self-consciousness just by looking at someone, but we also shame, humiliate, sneer, mock, insult, demean. We aim at inducing painful forms of social self-consciousness. We also praise, flatter, arouse, reassure: we aim at pleasurable forms of social self-consciousness. I explore this important class of social act types aimed at affective change, and at self-conscious affective change in particular, and unpack how they work. I consider what autonomy or control we have over our own social self-consciousness.

Date: 09/02/2022 – 09/06/2022


Conference Room of the International Center for Philosophy NRW (IZPH)
Poppelsdorfer Allee 28
53115 Bonn
3rd floor (elevator available)
Entrance area not barrier-free