Self (philosophy)

Self (philosophy)

Self is broadly defined as the essential qualities that make a person distinct from all others. The task in philosophy is defining what these qualities are, and there have been a number of different approaches. The self is the idea of a unified being which is the source of an idiosyncratic consciousnessFact|date=March 2007. Moreover, this self is the agent responsible for the thoughts and actions of an individual to which they are ascribed. It is a substance, which therefore endures through time; thus, the thoughts and actions at different moments of time may pertain to the same self ("See John Locke's theory of consciousness as the basis of personal identity"). As the notion of subject, the "self" has been harshly criticized by Nietzsche at the end of the 19th century, on behalf of what Gilles Deleuze would call a "becoming-other".

Most philosophical definitions of self are expressed in the firstperson, as with Descartes, Locke, Hume, and William James. A third persondefinition with which we might all agree does not refer to specificmental qualia but instead strives for objectivity and
operationalism.

To another person, the self of one individual is exhibited in the conduct and discourse of that individual. Therefore, the intentions of another individual can only be inferred indirectly from something emanating from that individual.

The particular characteristics of the self determine its identity.

Ego: The self as an illusion

In spirituality, and especially nondual, mystical and eastern meditative traditions, the human being is often conceived as being in the illusion of individual existence, and separateness from other aspects of creation. This "sense of doership" or sense of individual existence is that part which believes it is the human being, and believes it must fight for itself in the world, is ultimately unaware and unconscious of its own true nature. The ego is often associated with mind and the sense of time, which compulsively thinks in order to be assured of its future existence, rather than simply knowing its own self and the present.

The spiritual goal of many traditions involves the dissolving of the ego, allowing self-knowledge of one's own true nature to become experienced and enacted in the world. This is variously known as Enlightenment, Nirvana, Presence, and the "Here and Now".

Lao Tzu: Self-knowledge

Lao Tzu in his "Tao Te Ching" says "Knowing others is wisdom. Knowing the self is enlightenment. Mastering others requires force. Mastering the self requires strength."

Socrates and Plato: Soul as the essence of self

Aristotle: The self as activity

Aristotle, following Plato, defined the soul as the core essence of a being, but argued against its having a separate existence. For instance, if a knife had a soul, the act of cutting would be that soul, because 'cutting' is the essence of what it is to be a knife. Unlike Plato and the religious traditions, Aristotle did not consider the soul as some kind of separate, ghostly occupant of the body (just as we cannot separate the activity of cutting from the knife). As the soul, in Aristotle's view, is an "activity" of the body, it cannot be immortal (when a knife is destroyed, the cutting stops). More precisely, the soul is the "first activity" of a living body. This is a state, or a potential for actual, or 'second', activity. "The axe has an edge for cutting" was, for Aristotle, analogous to "humans have bodies for rational activity," and the potential for rational activity thus constituted the essence of a human soul. Aristotle used his concept of the soul in many of his works; the "De Anima" ("On the Soul") provides a good place to start to gain more understanding of his views.

Aristotle's view appears to have some similarity to the Buddhist 'no soul' view (see Ego below). For both, there is certainly no 'separable immortal essence'.

Aristotle also believed that there were four sections of the soul. The four sections are calculative part, the scientific part on the rational side used for making decisions and the desiderative part and the vegetative part on the irrational side responsible for identifying our needs.

Avicenna and Descartes: The self as independent of the senses

While he was imprisoned in a castle, Avicenna wrote his famous "Floating Man" thought experiment to demonstrate human self-awareness and the substantiality of the soul. His "Floating Man" thought experiment tells its readers to imagine themselves suspended in the air, isolated from all sensations, which includes no sensory contact with even their own bodies. He argues that, in this scenario, one would still have self-consciousness. He thus concludes that the idea of the self is not logically dependent on any physical thing, and that the soul should not be seen in relative terms, but as a primary given, a substance. This argument was later refined and simplified by René Descartes in epistemic terms when he stated: "I can abstract from the supposition of all external things, but not from the supposition of my own consciousness." [Seyyed Hossein Nasr and Oliver Leaman (1996), "History of Islamic Philosophy", p. 315, Routledge, ISBN 0415131596.]

Hume: The bundle theory of self

Hume pointed out that we tend to think that we are the same person we were five years ago. Though we have changed in many respects, the same person appears present as was present then. We might start thinking about which features can be changed without changing the underlying self. Hume, however, denies that there is a distinction between the various features of a person and the mysterious self that supposedly bears those features. When we start introspecting, "we are never intimately conscious of anything but a particular perception; man is a bundle or collection of different perceptions which succeed one another with an inconceivable rapidity and are in perpetual flux and movement". [THN, I, IV, vi]

"It is plain, that in the course of our thinking, and in the constant revolution of our ideas, our imagination runs easily from one idea to any other that resembles it, and that this quality alone is to the fancy a sufficient bond and association. It is likewise evident that as the senses, in changing their objects, are necessitated to change them regularly, and take them as they lie contiguous to each other, the imagination must by long custom acquire the same method of thinking, and run along the parts of space and time in conceiving its objects.""A Treatise of Human Nature", 4.1, 2.]

On Hume's view, these perceptions do not "belong to" anything. Rather, Hume compares the soul to a commonwealth, which retains its identity not by virtue of some enduring core substance, but by being composed of many different, related, and yet constantly changing elements. The question of personal identity then becomes a matter of characterizing the loose cohesion of one's personal experience. (Note that in the Appendix to the "Treatise", Hume said mysteriously that he was dissatisfied with his account of the self, yet he never returned to the issue.) This view is very similar to that in Buddhism.

Maharshi: Self-enquiry and self-surrender

Ramana Maharshi's primary teachings are documented in the book Nan Yar (Who am I), originally written in Tamil (see note at the end of this section about Nan Yar). Given below are selections from the book:

* Since all trace of the 'I' does not exist, alone is Self.
* Self itself is the world; Self itself is 'I'; Self itself is God; all is the Supreme Self ("siva swarupam")

Although his primary teaching was Self-Enquiry, he was also known to have advised the use of Self Surrender (to one's Deity or Guru) as an alternative means, which would ultimately converge in to the path of Self-Enquiry.

Dennett: The self as a narrative center of gravity

Daniel Dennett has a deflationary theory of the self. Selves are not physically detectable. Instead, they are a kind of convenient fiction, like a center of gravity, which are convenient as a way of solving physics problems, although they need not correspond to anything tangible — the center of gravity of a hoop is a point in thin air. People constantly tell themselves stories to make sense of their world, and they feature in the stories as a character, and that convenient but fictional character is the self. [ [http://cogprints.org/266/00/selfctr.htm "The Self a a Centre of Narrative Gravity"] ] [ [http://www.gla.ac.uk/departments/philosophy/Personnel/susan/EmmaJoanna/danieldennett.htm "The Self a a Centre of Narrative Gravity" reviewed] ]

The Buddha

The concept of the self has been disputed by some prominent philosophers. The Buddha in particular attacked all attempts to conceive of a fixed self, while stating that holding the view "there is no self" is also mistaken. This is an example of the middle way charted by the Buddha.

Others

Other broader understandings of Self place it to mean the essence of any living being. With this understanding, Self is the hand of God or the expression of life that makes any living entity inherently unique.

ee also

* List of basic self topics
* Self (psychology) finding the self is like thinking a thought it happens and will need to continue happening for the self to be understood the self is merely a judgement made at one point or another in a long long series of changes

* Self (sociology)
* Self (spirituality)
** Atman (Buddhism) (literally means "self")
* Self-realization
* Being and Time
* Consciousness as the basis of personal identity (John Locke)
* Gnosis
* Other (as in "another person")
* Personal Identity
* Mirror stage
* Subject (philosophy)
* Thoughts Without a Thinker

References


*
* Carsten Korfmacher, [http://www.iep.utm.edu/p/person-i.htm 'Personal Identity'] , in "The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy"


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