Published on February 26, 2014
Professor: Jorge Martínez Lucena
Contemporary Crises of the Self 1.The self is not a (durable) thing ontologically speaking (Hume and naturalism). • “For my part, when I enter most intimately into what I call myself, I always stumble on some particular perception or other, of heat or cold, light or shade, love or hatred, pain or pleasure. I never can catch myself at any time without a perception, and never can observe any thing but the perception.” (Hume, 1888: 252) • “According to naturalism human beings are complex biological organisms and as such are part of the natural order, being subject to the same laws of nature as everything else in the world. If we are going to stick to a naturalistic approach, then we cannot allow that there is anything to the mind which needs to be accounted for by invoking vital spirits, incorporeal souls, astral planes, or anything else which cannot be integrated with natural science” (Botterill & Carruthers, The Philosophy of Psychology, 1999: 1)
Contemporary Crises of the Self 2.The self is a cultural artifact; something created by “myself” and/or others (Nietzsche, Foucault and some naturalists like Dennet). • “The “subject” is not something given, it is something added and invented and projected behind what there is.” (Nietzsche, The Will to Power, 1968: 267) • “One thing in any case is certain: man is neither the oldest nor the most constant problem that has been posed for human knowledge. Taking a relatively short chronological sample within a restricted geographical area – European culture since the sixteenth century – one can be certain that man is a recent invention within it (…) As the archaeology of our thought easily shows, man is an invention of recent date. And one perhaps nearing its end.” (Foucault, The Order of Things, 1970: 386) • “Our tales are spun, but for the most part we don’t spin them; they spin us. Our human consciousness, and our narrative selfhood, is their product, not their source.” (Dennet, The Reality of Selves, 1991: 418)
Challenging the Self Who are we? If we are not a thing, what are we? Who is talking when I say “I”. 1. Is there any present-day approach to the self which takes into account the naturalistic claim without losing the self, its existence and its durability? 2. Is there any contemporary account of the self which let us defend the narrative and cultural production of the self without converting the self into a fake, into something strictly decided by others either culturally or evolutionarily. A response to these challenges can be found by mixing a phenomenological and an hermeneutical approach.
A Phenomenological Approach Taking Hume into account: “from the fact that the self is not an object of experience it does not follow that it is non-experiential” (Evans, The Subject of Consciousness, 1970: 145). According to this approach, there is a minimal self which is not a thing but a pre reflective feature of every experience, a mineness, a self-giveness, the fact that any experience implies a perspective from where it is lived. The self is no longer “something that stands opposed to the stream of consciousness, but is, rather, immersed in conscious life; it is an integral part of its structure” (Zahavi, Subjectivity and Selfhood, 2005: 125).
A Phenomenological Approach The narrative self might be a cultural construction, but this does not make it unreal: “To declare everything peculiar to human life fictitious simply because it cannot be naturalized, because it cannot be grasped by a certain mode of scientific comprehension, merely reveals one’s prior commitment to a naïve scientism, according to which (natural) science is the sole arbiter of what there is” (Zahavi, 2005: 112)
A Phenomenological Approach Narrative self is based on minimal self and this relationship converges with neuro-scientific descriptions. Narrative or autobiographical self = Extended consciousness Minimal Self = Core Consciousness = Core Self
A Phenomenological Approach “Extended consciousness is not an independent variety of consciousness: on the contrary, it s built on the foundation of core consciousness. The fine scalpel of neurological disease reveals that impairments of extended consciousness allow core consciousness to remain unscathed. By contrast, impairments that begin at the level of core consciousness demolish the entire edifice of consciousness: extended consciousness collapses as well.” (Damasio, The Feeling of What Happens, 2000: 17) The core (minimal) self is “a transient entity, ceaselessly re-created for each and every object with wich the brain interacts” (Damasio, 2000: 17), and “must possess a remarkable degree of structural invariance so that it can dispense continuity of reference across long periods of time.” (Damasio, 2000: 135).
An Hermeneutical Approach Our Identity (narrative self) is not a regular object for our knowledge because of several reasons: 1. It cannot be known objectively; 2. It cannot avoid a subjective implication in its interpretation; 3. It cannot be captured in an explicit description; 4.It cannot be described without making reference to its surroundings. “We are not selves in the way that we are organisms, or we don’t have selves in the way we have hearts and livers. We are living beings with these organs quite independently of our selfunderstandings or –interpretations, or the meanings things have for us. But we are only selves insofar as we move in a certain space of questions, as we seek and find an orientation to the good.” (Taylor, Sources of the self, 2009: 34)
An Hermeneutical Approach “(…) we are never more (and sometimes less) than the co-authors of our own narratives. Only in fantasy do we live what story we please. In life, as both Aristotle and Engels noted, we are always under certain constraints. We enter upon a stage which we did not design and we find ourselves parts of an action that was not of our making.” (MacIntyre, After Virtue, 2007: 213) There are several additional agents co-authoring our narrative selves, giving us certain situations, frameworks of meaning and interacting with our choices. Some of them are: • Ourselves (our choices, our narratives) • Educational institutions • Media • Language • Defining Community (traditions) • Modern States
An Hermeneutical Approach We are all continuously evolving tales of ourselves and of others: “I have been arguing that in order to make minimal sense of our lives, in order to have an identity, we need an orientation to the good, which means some sense of qualitative discrimination, of the incomparable higher. Now we see that this sense of the good has to be woven into my understanding of my life as an unfolding story. But it is to state another basic condition of making sense of ourselves, that we grasp our lives in a narrative.” (Taylor, 2009: 47) (Alison Saar)
Conclusions There is a way to theoretically defend our experience of the self, which does not point us towards considering the self merely as a cultural device designed by others in order to marshal us to our established destiny. • Minimal self is a feature of every experience. • Narrative self is a cultural creation in which we participate only as coauthors.
Exercise Given this points, we are faced with certain questions: 1. How can we defend a border between humans and the rest of the animals if the base of our identity is the minimal self? 2. If w need to be capable of telling stories or of shaping our own narrative self in order acquire personhood, how can we defend human dignity in cases where these narrative skills have not been developed or have been lost or interrupted. Exercise: Try to elaborate your answer to these questions taking into account the material we have discussed today.
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