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Penelope Orr

PhD thesis

Self-Awareness and Meta-Cognition of Emotion


Research interests

Philosophy of mind; philosophy of psychology; cognitive science. 

Current research

The aim of my doctoral project is to provide a detailed explanation of the cognitive capacities that ground self-conscious thought. The traditional approach to explaining self-consciousness gives central importance to the first-person concept and its canonical linguistic expression, the first-person pronoun “I”. However, this approach is burdened with serious problems of circularity. Concentrating on the link between perception, action, and self-reference, this thesis provides a new account of self-consciousness, which avoids these problems. I argue that first-person reference is grounded in multimodal perception. Importantly, however, there is no explicit self-representation in the content of perception. Hence, one of the key challenges of this thesis will be to account for the transition from perceptual experience to fully fledged self-conscious thought. That is, how does one get from the content of perceptual experience and bodily awareness to an awareness of oneself as oneself? In response to this challenge, I argue that the self is ultimately understood according to one’s capacity for action and potential action; only once we understand ourselves as agents can we apply the first-person concept. By addressing the representational structure of experience, I hope to develop and defend a new theory of self-consciousness. These issues have important ramifications for our understanding of the role of mental representations in our cognitive architecture. Additionally, my work will provide a new perspective on more traditional debates about the nature of self-consciousness.

Conference organization and funding

Co-convener of The University of Manchester conference series on ‘Personhood and Selfhood’ (lead organizer on the final workshop). Funded by The Royal Institute of Philosophy, with additional support from the AHRC North West Consortium Doctoral Training Partnership. Forthcoming, 2018 (January, April, and July).


2017: Philosophy of Mind (2nd Year Course).

Academic placement

2018: Visiting Student Researcher at UC, Berkeley (6 months). Generously funded by the AHRC North West Consortium Doctoral Training Partnership.


“Moore’s Paradox and the Argument from Self-Blindness”

  • Manchester Philosophy PhD Research Seminar. February (2017)

“Am I an Unarticulated Constituent of my Own Visual Experience?”

  • Manchester Philosophy PhD Research Seminar. December (2017)

Other information

My PhD has been funded through the Presidents Doctoral Scholarship and the AHRC. My MA (Distinction) is from The University of Sheffield, and my BA (First-Class) is from The University of Edinburgh.

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