A term that Daniel Dennett
uses in his book Consciousness Explained
to describe the manner of discussion and reasoning that most philisophical essays on consciousness
and the mind have taken. Typically when presenting an account of conscious experience, the author will usually describe his reasoning about the phenomenon in such a way that it is assumed it will be universal
for not only him but all of his readers.
As Dennett says, "When Descartes wrote his Meditations as a first-person-singular soliloquy, he clearly expected his reader to concur with each of his observations, by performing in their own minds the explorations he described, and getting the same results." (p.66) This approach typically grows from the fact that consciousness is a nearly ineffable phenomenon that we are all uniquely aquainted with but hard-pressed to describe. As David Chalmers says in the first chapter of his book The Conscious Mind, "Conscious experience is at once the most familiar thing in the world and the most mysterious... Consciousness can be startlingly intense. It is the most vivid of phenomena; nothing is more real to us. But it can be frustratingly diaphanous: in talking about conscious experience, it is notoriously difficult to pin down the subject matter." (p.3) It is much easier for me to, say, talk about the typical experience of intellectual discovery (the point where everything clicks, the Aha! moment) as something common to everyone and something that everyone all understands, than to describe it or deal with it in more objective, concrete terms.
The first person plural assumes that in a sense, we are all conscious in the same way, or in other words, everyone's consciousness is the same. By discussing matters in such a way, we are "pooling our shared observations" (Dennett, p.66) As Dennett says, we may be fooling ourselves into believing that our inner lives are more similar than they are. The main problem that Dennett finds with the first person plural approach is that while we seem to be privy to our inner lives, we aren't necessarily or automatically authorities on our own consciousness. For example, taste seems to originate in our mouth with our tongue but it really arises from our sense of smell. In the same way, we cannot help but perceive meaning when we read words in our native language; the meaning is just there on the page--it requires no translation from word to content. In fact the words are mere shapes, symbols upon a page, and it is an automatic process that gives them meaning. In both of these cases, we may be aware of the phenomenon intellectually or when we take time ponder it, but in normal everyday life, the effects are transparent to us. So the question comes, what else might we take for granted about our conscious experience that might not be under our control or complete comprehension? If we are to have a serious discussion about consciousness, we can't fall into the trap that takes things at face value, especially if we are trying to develop a metaphysics of mind. Of course this is not to say that we don't have some measure of direct access to our internal states (in fact we do), but we shouldn't assume that we are infallible or, at the very least, incorrigible on the matter.