“Consciousness of Thoughts: Understanding Self-Attributions of Mental Agency”

Humans not only have the ability to consciously experience their own thoughts, but, in doing so, can also attribute agency to them. I shall call this act attribution of mental agency. The analysis of this issue in philosophy is replete with disagreement. In the phenomenological domain, while some people refer to their own thoughts as something they actively do, others refer to them as something that merely happens in their mind. In the conceptual domain, the aforementioned disagreement makes it very difficult to offer a characterization of the way in which humans end up attributing thoughts agentially to themselves. In this paper, I argue that the phenomenology of thoughts should be characterized as not involving any type of first-order feeling of mental agency, but, at the same time, as being phenomenologically characterized by a ubiquitous affordance of agentive attributability, i.e. the possibility of a thought to be internally or externally attributed in terms of agency. In contrast with current available views, the affordance model defended here takes attributions of mental agency to be neither the mere product of the endorsement of a full experience of self-agency accompanying thoughts (bottom-up view), nor the product of mere retrospective judgements without any type of experiential basis (top-down view). Rather, attributions of mental agency are the result of the integrative interaction between second-order explanations and the endorsement of a first-order affordance of attributability contained in the basic phenomenology of thoughts. Thus, by adopting an integrative posture, the affordance model of agentive mental attributions should be able to gain better dialectal traction than either of the bottom-up or the top-down views in current literature.