Friday, September 14, 2007

Richard Sorabji's "Self"

from the chapter "The Self: is there such a thing?"

One reason why the notion of the self comes in is that humans and animals could not cope with the world at all unless they saw things in terms of I. The notion 'I' belongs to te same group of notions as 'now', 'here', 'yonder', 'this', 'that', 'today', 'past', 'present', 'future', 'ago', 'hence'....What I would emphasize is that these words and the corresponding ideas have an irreplaceable importance, because they have a unique ability to guide action and emotion. If Adam Smith knows, 'An arrow gets to be fired through the window of Adam Smith's study on May 1 2004', he will have no idea whether precautions are called for, except insofar as he can also judge, 'I am Adam Smith', and 'Today is May 1 2004'. Otherwise Adam Smith might be anybody, and 2004 thousands of years into the past or future. These words therefore have a special action- and emotion-guiding force...


By a 'person' I mean someone who has psychological states and does things, by a 'thinker' someone who has thoughts. This having and doing can be summed up by saying that a person owns psychological states and actions. He or she also owns a body and bodily characteristics. A person is not just a stream of experiences and actions, but the owner of experiences and actions...

The meaning that I have ascribed to the word 'I', though vital, is a thin meaning, paraphrasable, for example, as 'the subject of this awareness', or 'this person'. But since 'I' does not refer to an entity separate from the embodied being that is rapidly acquiring a unique history, the reference of 'I' is a thick one. Moreover, the speaker's meaning on any given occasion may be much thicker than the strict meaning of the word itself. He or she may intend to draw attention to more or less of his or her personal history and circumstances and of his or her character as an embodied human being. As we pass beyond infancy, we tend to develop an autobiographical picture or pictures of ourselves. A thicker picture is employed in making decisions and in reacting emotionally. For decisions and emotional reactions may depend on one's being aware of oneself as a person with a certain standing, past history, culture, and aspirations. We thus build up a particular persona or identity, and this identity is often considered part of the self.


...what I have been emphasizing in this chapter is two things, the individual embodied owner and the owner's need to see himself or herself as me and me again. Given the familiarity of the first and the need for the second, the onus (of disproof that there is such a thing as self) should be on the person who attempta to deny that they correspond to reality.

from the chapter "The varieties of self and philosophical development of the idea"

Seneca Letters 24, 19-21

I remember you once treated the commonplace that we do not run into death suddenly, but proceed by degrees: we die every day....Just as it is not the last little drop that drains the water-clock, but what has flowed out before, so that last hour at which we cease to be does not on its own produce death; on its own it completes death. That is when we come up against it, but we have come for a long time.


...Hierocles...imagines the mind (dianoia) as being the center point of a set of concentric circles. He thus equates the mind with the self (each of us, hekastos hêmôn), which is entirely surrounded by circles. What draws the circles, to express the degrees of attachment it feels, is also a self (a given self, autos tis) and this is described not so much as identical with the mind as possessing it (heautou). Perhaps it is the composite of mind and body. The first circle outside the mind includes one's body, to which a sense of attachment is directed, and circles further out represent other people....

...The circles further out represent one's family, friends, fellow citizens, and foreigners. The context is ethical: one should learn to pull the circles inwards, so that one feels as much attachment to family as to one's own body, as much to friends as to family, and so on.

JL: There is a link here to what Appiah in Cosmopolitanism says about our obligations to strangers: our moral intuition suggests that it is right to care more for family than for friends, more for friends than for strangers. This idea is represented here by Hierocles as concentric circles, with family in an inner circle, friends on an outer circle etc. While Appiah may agree with the ethical move of learning to pull the circles inwards, I don't think he will agree that the goal is to feel as much attachment to friends as to family, and so on.

Hierocles, Elements of Ethics in Stobaeus, ed. Wachsmuth/ Hense, vol. 4, Florilegium, ed. Hense p. 671, lines 7-16:

Each one of us (hekastos hêmôn) is, as it were, entirely surrounded by many circles, some smaller, others larger, the latter enclosing the former on the basis of their different and unqeual relations (skheseis) to each other. The first and closest circle is the one which a given self (auto tis) has drawn as though around a center, namely his own mind (dianoia). In this circle is included (periekhetai) the body and anything taken (perieilêmmena) for the sake of the body. For it is practically the smallest circle and almost touches the center itself.

JL: The metaphor gives rise to a fine insight, or is it the other way round? The body circle "almost touches the center itself."


Greg said...

Hi again Jee Leong. Reading the quotes that have drawn your attention lately, I’m reminded of a lot of some parts of my dissertation, “Human Rights Education and Kant’s Critical Humanism.” Considering the reading that has been interesting you, I hope you may also find interesting the following quotes from Kant, with a little bit of discussion by me:

On the word “I”:

“[I]n that which we call the soul, everything is in continual flux, and it has nothing abiding, except perhaps (if one insists) the I…[T]his I is no more an intuition than it is a concept of any object; rather, it is the mere form of consciousness, which accompanies both sorts of representations [i.e., both intuitions and concepts] and which can elevate them to cognitions only insofar as something else [i.e., something other than the “I”] is given in intuition, which provides the material for the representation of an object. Thus the whole of rational psychology, as a science transcending all the powers of human reason, collapses, and nothing is left except to study our soul following the guideline of experience, and to remain within the limit of those questions that do not go beyond that whose content can be provided by possible inner experience.”
(Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, trans. P. Guyer and A.W. Wood (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998) 432-3)

On the necessary interconnectedness of mental and physical experience in the making of meaning ("intuition" here means sense intuition, or that in experience which is received through the body rather than through the mind):

“It comes along with our nature that intuition can never be other than sensible, i.e., that it contains only the way in which we are affected by objects. The faculty for thinking of objects of sensible intuition, on the contrary, is the understanding. Neither of these properties is to be preferred to the other. Without sensibility no object would be given to us, and without understanding none would be thought. Thoughts without content are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind. It is thus just as necessary to make the mind’s concepts sensible (i.e., to add an object to them in intuition) as it is to make its intuitions understandable (i.e., to bring them under concepts).” (Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, trans. P. Guyer and A.W. Wood (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 193-4.)

On cosmopolitanism and the different kinds of connection that exist between oneself and others (family, friends, all people):

In his essay on education, Kant writes,

“[W]e must encourage the youth…[i]n love towards others, as well as to feelings of cosmopolitanism. There exists something in our minds which causes us to take an interest (a) in ourselves, (b) in those with whom we have been brought up, and (c) there should also be an interest in the progress of the world. Children should be made acquainted with this interest, so that it may give warmth to their hearts. They should learn to rejoice at the world’s progress, although it may not be to their own advantage or to that of their country. (Immanuel Kant, On Education, trans. Annette Churton (Boston: Heath, 1900), 120-121)

These three, integrated levels of educational concern—what I propose to call the individual level, the social-group level, and the global level—also appear in Kant’s philosophy of government. He writes that

“any rightful constitution is, with regard to the persons within it,
one in accord with the right of citizens of a state, of individuals within a people (ius civitatis) [this right operates at the personal level],
one in accord with the right of nations, of states in relation to one another (ius gentium) [this right operates at the social group level],
one in accord with the right of citizens of the world, insofar as individuals and states, standing in the relation of externally affecting one another, are to be regarded as citizens of a universal state of mankind (ius cosmopoliticum) [this right operates at the global level]. This division is not made at will but is necessary with reference to the idea of perpetual peace. For if only one of these were in a relation of physically affecting another and were yet in a state of nature, the condition of war would be bound up with this, and the aim here is just to be freed from it.” (Immanuel Kant, “Toward perpetual peace,” in Practical Philosophy, trans. Mary J. Gregor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 322)

For Kant, constitution-making in accord with what could be called the advancement of human rights lies at the heart of humanity’s purpose. He writes that

“The history of the human race as a whole can be regarded as the realization of a hidden plan of nature to bring about an internally—and for this purpose also externally—perfect political constitution as the only possible state within which all natural capacities of mankind can be developed completely” (Kant, “Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose,” in Kant: Political Writings, trans. H.B. Nisbet (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2003) 50).

In the language of today’s human rights discourse, the ending of this sentence could be paraphrased as: “within which the full development of the human personality can be achieved” (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 26).

I’m interested in Kant’s idea that human, associated living that is humane and peaceful requires that none of the three levels—individual, social, or global—be permitted permanently to overwhelm the other two, but rather, that the three must be considered in balanced interrelation. (This belies conceptions of Kant as being only concerned with the individual level (only concerned with individual autonomy) or only concerned with the universal level (only concerned with universal moral imperatives that are unrelated to people’s experiences at the individual and social levels).)

Jee Leong Koh said...

Dear Greg,
I am sorry to delete your second post which responds to an irrelevant post before it. I wish to delete that irrelevant post, and your second post would not have made sense without it.

Thanks very much for taking the time to give those extracts from Kant. They are very interesting and thought-provoking on all three topics: self, body-mind, and cosmopolitanism. A friend who read Appiah's book thought that Appiah's use of "cosmopolitanism" is idiosyncratic. Now I know Kant uses the word the same way.

In another comment, you asked for my own opinion on some of these matters. The best answer I can give now is that I am thinking these things over. These posts are a kind of note-taking for me, so that I can read them again, even without the books.