Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Self-Experience and the Unconscious

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posted on 2022-07-01, 05:54 authored by Mathieson, Darryl

In contemporary philosophy of mind and psychiatry, a phenomenon that attracts a lot of attention is a symptom of schizophrenia called thought insertion. People living with thought insertion claim that some of the thoughts they experience are not produced by them and are authored by someone else. To explain this phenomenon, philosophers and psychologists commonly distinguish between the sense of being the subject of one’s mental activity and the agent of that activity, arguing that thought insertion involves a breakdown in the sense of agency for some thoughts. Given this explanation, recent work has concluded that we normally have a substantial experience of ourselves as the thinker of our thoughts. In this thesis, I argue against this conclusion and the explanation of thought insertion underlying it. In the first chapter, I argue that cases of thought insertion do not entail self-experience. In the second chapter I raise two problems for the assumption that there is a sense of agency in thought in the first place. First, I argue that the phenomenology of thinking is passive, not active. Second, by appealing to some recent psychological research claiming that unconscious processes do the real work even in some paradigmatic examples of mental action, I argue this gives us further reasons to doubt that we normally have a sense of agency in thinking. Following this, in the third chapter I show that we can make better sense of thought insertion without appealing to a missing sense of agency in thinking, freeing us from having to assume its ordinary presence in normal subjects to explain thought insertion. I conclude in chapter four by discussing the implications of my arguments along with some directions for further research.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License


Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Arts

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

1 Pure basic research

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of History, Philosophy, Political Science and International Relations


Sytsma, Justin; Keller, Simon