I argue that immunity to error through misidentification on its own cannot provide a complete understanding of first-person thoughts, nor can it be the essence of self-consciousness. We need also to understand a second immunity, which I call immunity to error through misascription. I show that, contrary to Ludwig Wittgenstein, Sydney Shoemaker, and Gareth Evans, and the generally accepted view, 'I' is immune to error through misidentification absolutely, and that there is no such thing as circumstantial (Shoemaker) or non-absolute (Evans) immunity to error through misidentification relative to 'I'. Hence, I argue that identification-failure in first-person statements is impossible whatever the self-ascriptive predicate or property might be, whether it be the self-ascription of inner experience or outer experience, of bodily experience or of bodily properties. If it turns out that I do not satisfy the predicate, or property self-ascribed, it would be a case of misascription (the second immunity) and not of misidentification (the first immunity).
The introduction of the second immunity raises a number of interrelated but distinct problems, such as first-person authority, epistemic asymmetry, and immediacy, all of which I argue are central to our understanding of the unity of self-consciousness whose essence is both self-ascription and self-identification. Consequently, there is nothing in the use of 'I' that forces upon us either Wittgenstein's two uses of 'I', or an actual disjunction of what we are: either a physicalist conception, or an idealist conception. Such conceptions fail to appreciate the intimate and substantial union between mind and body that constitutes, as Descartes rightly argued, a person.
I consider the standard claim that Descartes' argument in The Discourse (IV, AT VII 32) for dualism, notoriously known as the argument from doubt, is deeply flawed. I argue that (i) it is not an argument from doubt, and (ii) it is not an argument for dualism; Arnauld's version of it is inaccurate, and every one who has followed him through the centuries to the present day is mistaken. I argue that there is no argument in Descartes' work which is an argument from doubt, but only from clear and distinct ideas. I defend the thesis that the only argument for dualism is an argument from clear and distinct ideas, found in the Sixth Meditation. I discuss the argument in detail, and offer an explanation and a defence of each premise.
Inevitably, a number of issues concerning Descartes' metaphysics are also addressed. Furthermore, I discuss a number of possible objections to my defence and try to show that they are not cogent. I argue that Descartes' dualism, as he clearly presented it, is concerned with the real distinction between mind and body; that is, his argument for dualism demonstrates the metaphysically distinct natures of mind and body, and not, as it is often misconceived, with their actual separation.
The paper offers a general critique of physicalism and of one variety of nonphysicalism, arguing that such theses are untenable. By distinguishing between the absolute conception of reality and the causal completeness of physics it shows that the .explanatory gap. is not merely epistemic but metaphysical. It defends the essential subjectivity and unity of consciousness and its inseparability from a self-conscious autonomous rational and moral being. Casting a favourable light on dualism freed from misconceptions, it suggests that the only plausible way forward in the search for an understanding of both physical and mental reality is a recognition of the mind as a metaphysically distinct entity.