Mind the body (5) A taxonomy of theories of ownership

In my previous posts, I described my view and replied to some objections one could make against it. Hopefully, readers will by now have a clearer idea of what conception of ownership I defend. Is it inflationary or deflationary? I am actually not sure since like many I have never been able to recognize myself in this dichotomy, which bypasses many of the complexities of the debate. In this last post, I propose some key questions to better organize future discussions and disagreements. I believe that one should start with the following question:

  1. Does it feel the same when one is aware that this body is one’s ownand when one is not?

According to an anti-realist conception, there is no phenomenological difference when one is aware of one’s body as one’s own and when one is not. Instead, complex subpersonal computations directly inform our cognitive attitude about ownership. By contrast, realists grant that there is a phenomenological difference. This, however, does not entail that there is a phenomenology of ownership, but simply that the sense of ownership is grounded in some phenomenal properties. The next step is to understand the nature of these phenomenal properties and ask the following question:

  2. Is there a distinctive feeling of ownership? 

Conservatives reply negatively: there is no sui generis phenomenology of bodily ownership. Only low-level properties are represented in conscious experiences. On this view, one judges that this is one’s own body thanks to the experience of other bodily features. Conservatives then need to reply to the following two questions:

a. What are the relevant bodily features? 

b. What is the nature of their relationship with the sense of ownership? Is it causal or constitutive? 

One can easily see how the conservative conception can include a variety of views, depending on the type of bodily property that is conceived as crucial and depending on the nature of its relation with the sense of ownership. According to the most deflationary version, there are multiple ways of gaining awareness that this is one’s own body but none of the bodily features is conceived of as being necessary. On this view, one can simply be aware that this is one’s own body on the basis of a range of causes and effects normally associated with ownership. By contrast, according to a less deflationary version, some bodily properties are constitutive of the sense of bodily ownership. One can then be aware that this is one’s own body on the basis of the experience of the bodily properties thatthe sense of ownershipconsists in. 

The liberals, on the other hand, grant that there is a sui generis feeling of ownership that goes beyond the awareness of low-level bodily features. They take the domain of phenomenology to extend beyond low-level properties. On this view, we have a primitive nonconceptual awareness of ownership, which is over and above the experience of pressure, temperature, position, balance, movement, and so forth. The question then becomes:

c. In which phenomenal property does the feeling of ownership consist in? 

It may be that the feeling of ownership is simply a primitive irreducible feeling of mineness. Then the questions stop there. But as argued in the last post, there are other alternatives. It is not because there is no feeling of mineness that there is no feeling of ownership at all. Instead, there can be a feeling of ownership that consists in another type of phenomenal property. In Mind the body, I propose that it consists in the affective feeling of the unique significance of the body from an evolutionary perspective. But one may want to consider other alternatives. In particular, there is also conceptual room for a cognitive (or even a metacognitive) account of the feeling of ownership. In Mind the body, I propose that it consists in the affective feeling of the unique significance of the body from an evolutionary perspective. But one may want to consider other alternatives. In particular, there is also conceptual room for a cognitive (or even a metacognitive) account of the feeling of ownership.

We can now summarize the various conceptions in the following ways, where O is the property of bodily ownership:

  • Anti-realist view: There is no phenomenological difference when one is aware that O and when one is not. The O judgment directly results fromsubpersonal computations.
  • Realist view: There is a phenomenological difference when one is aware that O and when one is not.
    • Conservative view: There are phenomenal properties of low-level bodily features, on the basis of which one can be aware that O.
      • Reductionist view: There are phenomenal properties on the basis of which one can be aware that O because of their constitutive relation to O.
      • Causal view: There are phenomenal properties on the basis of which one can be aware that O because of their causal connection to O.
    • Liberal view: There is a feeling of O, on the basis of which one can be aware that O.
      • Primitivist view: The feeling of O consists in a feeling of myness.
      • Non-primitivist view: The feeling of O can be reduced to other phenomenal properties.  

This taxonomy is still work in progress. For one thing, there may be other theoretical options. For instance, an agentive proposal is not fully conservative because it grants the existence of a phenomenology of agency (a high-level property) but it is not liberal because it denies a sui generis phenomenology of ownership. One may also question some of the distinctions. It may seem indeed that the boundary is thin between what I call the reductionist view and the non-primitivist view. Put it another way, is my conception so different from Martin’s? We emphasize different bodily dimensions, spatial versus affective, but that may be the only difference between us. Should one then call me a conservative or should one call Martin a non-primitivist? I am not sure. I guess I still have a fundamental disagreement with Martin (1992, 201–2), when he claims: “What marks out a felt limb as one’s own is not some special quality that it has.” I do believe that the sense of ownership has some special quality, an affective one. 

4 Comments

  1. This comment is based on your question c: In which phenomenal property does the feeling of ownership consist in? You respond to this question in the last chapter of Mind the Body. Your proposal is that the feeling of ownership is a narcissistic kind of bodily experience that is grounded in one’s protective body map. I have two questions concerning this proposal. First, is there any difference between the two following claims:
    1. A feeling of ownership is an affectively narcissistic bodily experience
    2. A feeling of ownership is an experience whose function is to nonconceptually monitor one’s bodily welfare and viability.
    One might say that 2 involves a monitoring issue that is absent from 1. The difficulty of 1, however, is that it leaves obscure the way in which the affective bodily experience is gained, and how it performs its guidance function. Do you accept 2 as a reformulation of 1?
    My second question stems from the first. If monitoring is involved, gradability automatically follows, because this is a precondition for comparing expected with observed affordances (whether structural or not). Granting that a feeling of ownership is categorized as a feeling, then, it has to vary in at least two phenomenological dimensions across contexts: in intensity, and in valence. A feeling of ownership is affectively (more or less) positive, and leads to integrated behaviour, while disownership is (more or less) negative, and leads to denying protection to the segment disowned. In section 10.1.3, you reason that ownership is an all or nothing matter. But this all or nothing character may either belong to the feeling itself, or to the decision that the feeling motivates. In normal cases, your decision for or against ownership is a “win all” decision. Compare with uncertainty: whatever its degree, you end up making a single decision when your choice is binary. But this final decision does not exhaust the information present in the feeling.
    Thank you very much, Frédérique, for your stimulating book, posts and responses!

  2. I confess I am very uncertain how the question you are posing here can be decided, and why it matters.

    As I understand it—please tell me what I am missing—your theory is that a certain “feeling”, contentiously characterized as that of ownership (or mineness)—call this the O-feeling—is phenomenal and affective. (This rules out the anti-realist view, and I am totally in agreement with this). As well, it has fairly clear truth-conditions: S’s O-feeling with regard to x is true if and only if x is a part of S’s body. And this seems to be the limit at which the question has an answer that turns on scientific findings.

    Now, you ask: Is the O-feeling really a feeling of ownership, or is it really some other feeling that’s necessarily, or normally, related to ownership?

    My problem is that I just can’t see what turns on this. On any account, the O-feeling relates to ownership: it’s feeling a body part as one’s own, or feeling it as something that is controllable in the way that one controls one’s own body, or feeling that one can monitor it in the way that one monitors one’s own body, or . . .

    My worry is that this is not a decidable question. The content of phenomenal states can be characterized by their truth conditions, but these characterizations seem to make no difference from this point of view. Can you enlighten me?

    And before I go: thanks for an amazingly interesting, illuminating, and productive series of posts.

    • Frederique de Vignemont

      I used to agree with you, Mohan, and believe that the debate was quite straightforward. But with time I’ve found out the many layers of disagreements there could be with my peers on bodily ownership. This taxonomy is an attempt to make sense of them. Just to give an example. I guess Alexandre Billon would say that the content of the feeling of bodily ownership is . On my side, I say that it is . The truth conditions of the two contents coincide (at least given the evolutionary interpretation I give of this relation of mattering). But I think that we can make different predictions about the feeling of ownership depending on the characterization we give of its content. And hopefully these predictions are empirically testable.

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