The Self


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The great illusion of the self

The concept of the self, in their telling , is invented by cultural, social and linguistic conventions. It is nothing but a useful conceptual tool for organising human experience.


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David Hume, the 18th-century Scottish philosopher and economist, remains the preeminent antirealist. Today, Daniel Dennett, a philosopher of mind and cognitive scientist at Tufts University in Massachusetts, also defends the antirealist view. The tendency to create selves by way of creating stories, for humans, is akin to how spiders weave webs to protect themselves: it is both intrinsic and unconscious, argued Dennett in Consciousness Explained Because the self is constructed and abstracted out of narratives, it is permeable and flexible, and because of its permeability and flexibility, the self eludes scientific scrutiny.

For instance, how a teenager conceives of her body say, as overweight is given directly only to her, not to others. Perhaps she falsely represents herself to herself as overweight, due to cultural influences on her conception of what the ideal weight is. The self, then, according to the philosopher David Jopling at York University in Ontario, is experienced in ways that are intimately interlaced into the fabric of culture and language, so variations in culture and language will lead to different experiences of the self, making the self a non-stable, moving target, escaping scientific enquiry.

Or take individuals with schizophrenia, some of whom report a deep sense of disintegration between themselves and their actions.

The Commodification of Real Selves

They feel that they are automatons, not agents who see, feel, eat, suffer — their bodies can feel to them like alien objects. Meanwhile, phenomenologically typical individuals are immediately aware that they are the subject of their feelings or actions, as they are simultaneously aware of said feelings. If science aims to come up with generalisable explanations and predictions of human behaviour, how can it empirically track a self that appears to be intrinsically flexible, private, subjective and accessible only to the subject whose self is in question?

T he answer is that science does all this by rejecting antirealism.

What Is a 'Self'? Here Are All the Possibilities

In fact, the self does exist. Furthermore, empirical research in the mind sciences provides robust reasons to deny antirealism.

According to this model, the self is a dynamic, complex, relational and multi-aspectual mechanism of capacities, processes, states and traits that support a degree of agency. The multitudinous self has five distinct but functionally complementary dimensions: ecological, intersubjective, conceptual, private, and temporally extended.

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These dimensions work together to connect the individual to her body, her social world, her psychological world, and her environment. Neisser encourages us to reevaluate the sources of information that help us to identify the self. First there is the ecological self , or the embodied self in the physical world, which perceives and interacts with the physical environment; the interpersonal self , or the self embedded in the social world, which constitutes and is constituted by intersubjective relationships with others; the temporally extended self , or the self in time, which is grounded in memories of the past and anticipation of the future; the private self which is exposed to experiences available only to the first person and not to others; and finally the conceptual self , which accurately or falsely represents the self to the self by drawing on the properties or characteristics of not only the person but also the social and cultural context to which she belongs.

The multitudinous self is a variation of the Neisserian self in that it individuates the self as a complex mechanism with many dimensions that interact and work together to maintain a more or less stable agency over time. At times these different dimensions of the self contradict each other very well then. Interpersonally, I might come across as gregarious, and present an image of a someone who enjoys companionship, yet my private sense of self might be that I am shy and introverted. Because these five dimensions are all more or less integrated, however, they help with self-regulation, and function as a locus of experience and agency.

The multitudinous self gives a partial but helpful representation of the selves we encounter in our daily lives. It is also scientifically scrutable. To see how this is so, take the following example. We can acquire information about the selfhood of year-olds, tracking information about them in all five dimensions by relying on both first-person and third-person perspectives. First, we could interview them on how the physical changes in their bodies are manifested in their ecological dimension: how the changes in their height or weight affect their physical activity, or how such physical changes affect their interpersonal dimension through their effects on the nature and quality of their interpersonal relationships.

Similarly, we can acquire information on how the physiological changes are manifested in the temporal, private and conceptual aspects of themselves. For instance, through first-person reports, we can evaluate whether and what kind of short-term memory loss the preteen might be experiencing, and whether it affects his sense of the future. This would yield information about the temporal dimension of the preteen self. Finally, to develop a robust understanding of how their self-concepts are evolving in response to the changes they are undergoing, we might ask them how they represent themselves to themselves.

Some might be changing their physical self-concepts — they might consider themselves tall after a radical growth spurt, or might think of themselves as overweight. The self of the preteen is also empirically tractable from a third-person perspective through sciences of the mind, including cognitive psychology, social psychology, clinical psychology, psychiatry, neuroscience and genetics.

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We can evaluate the changes in their interpersonal dimensions, such as increased conflict with parents, by referring to research in developmental psychology, neuropsychology and social psychology. Similarly, we can acquire information about short-term memory loss and how it shapes temporality. Changes in the private dimension of the self can be at least partially tracked by analysing how behaviour changes.

For example , children in the United States tend to experience a decline in their positive self-concepts during their adolescent years; this decline often begins around age 12 for girls. Based on these first- and third-person perspectives, then, we can indeed draw reliable inferences about preteen selves. Recall that the antirealists argue that the self is flexible, private, subjective and accessible only to the subject, which precludes the self from being the subject of sciences.

The multitudinous-self model is responsive to this challenge as well. The flexibility, subjectivity and transiency of the self that antirealists have in mind are the features of the private and conceptual dimensions of the self — but this is not the whole complex mechanism of the self; there are other dimensions. The ecological dimension of the self the body is more or less stable and intersubjectively certifiable, readily lending itself to scientific scrutiny. So the temporal dimension of the self is also amenable to scientific investigation; whether a person has experienced a significant loss during childhood or whether his experience of trauma has affected his actions and self-related feelings can both be studied.

The subjective and transient aspects of the self that antirealists delineate are actually the private and conceptual dimensions of the self. Recall the above example of people with schizophrenia: their private experiences of themselves reveal a disintegration of the sense of self; they feel as though they are the objects, not the subjects of their actions. In contrast, a person with a standard phenomenology might have a more robust and integrated sense of agency.

Frontiers | “I” and “Me”: The Self in the Context of Consciousness | Psychology

We might, for instance, be able to find similarities in the private aspect of the self among those with schizophrenia, and use them to further our understanding of the illness, with the goal of helping those suffering from this condition. Similarly, the variability in self-concepts eg, preteens and body-image issues is an indication that self-concepts emerge from the interaction between the different dimensions of the self and the social and cultural world within which the person is situated. Scientists might find that those with supportive and positive interpersonal relationships, say, are less likely to develop negative self-concepts about their bodies.

A further hypothesis, which is of special interest in the context of the study of affective phenomena, is that certain experiences of mental or social resistance could give us access to the objectivity of the axiological world Scheler Such an axiological resistance can take various forms. In the case of social norms, blame and punishment may constitute a social form of resistance Durkheim Concerning moral values, cases of imaginative resistance may constitute a mental and affective experience of their objectivity Weatherson The study of the feeling of resistance as an epistemic access to mind-independence has important repercussions.

Firstly, intentionality is often considered, from the first person perspective, as an irreducible and primitive feature of intrinsically intentional mental states. The fact that the tree I see is presented to me as existentially independent of my perception tends to be considered as a basic phenomenological fact, standing in no need of explanation. But if the experience of resistance is indeed a necessary condition for intentionality, then intentionality is no longer a primitive phenomenological notion Scheler Secondly, the view that the mind-independence of intentional objects can be experienced will be of some importance for the realism-antirealism debate in metaphysics.

Quietists claim that the concept of reality is not meaningful, or that even if it were, there would be no way of distinguishing what is real from what is not. The existence of a sui generis feeling of mind-independence may help to answer those challenges. Finally, the experience of mind-independence may generate a reductio ad absurdum of any theory of sense-data.

Such theories assume that experiences of sense-data cannot be mistaken, and that sense-data are mind-dependent intentional objects. Now, if sense-data are presented as mind-independent through the feeling of resistance, then it seems that one of the two essential theses of the sense-data theory must be given up. With respect to the body, the aim is to understand how the body is presented to the self as its own, that is, as distinct from any part of the external world, even familiar ones.

Intuitively, we neither want the body to be equated to the world, nor to the self. State of the Debate.

What Is Self-Concept?

There are three standard approaches to this question. One common hypothesis accounting for the distinctive way we regard our own bodies appeals to the notion of agency. A third hypothesis appeals to affective phenomena.

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It emphasises the role of bodily feelings, such as pains, tickles, shivers Dokic The parts of the world in which those feelings are experienced signal to the self the extent of its own body. Research Plan. This subproject will develop and assess the third of these hypotheses in conjunction with a comparative evaluation of its plausibility in relation to the other two hypotheses. How is it to explain the distinction between seeing a tree and feeling a pain? Is it committed to the view that there is only one encompassing extended self? If that is so, how are we to account for the relation between bodily feelings and other properties of the body presented in experiences, such as its colours or odours?

Does, for instance, the inclination to believe that we visually perceive a part of our own bodies as such depend on our having bodily sensations in that part? For instance, is it the case that pain depends on our experience of it? Philosophers holding this typically also want to claim that emotions represent objects independent of us.

If that is so, then how should we tell apart bodily feelings that present our own bodies from those that present objects distinct from us? The study of bodily feelings has some important consequences for the whole field of the study of the mind. One of the most important hypotheses, shared by a vast majority of contemporary philosophers and psychologist is that intentionality is the mark of the mental.

Bodily feelings constitute an important challenge to this view: at first sight, they seem to be both mental and non-intentional episodes. Moreover, even if it can be shown that every bodily feeling is intentional points to something different from itself , bodily feelings still represent a potential objection to the general program of naturalism.

Indeed, the standard materialist strategy is to identify the subjective aspect of our phenomenal experience to physical properties presented in the content of these experiences. But such a strategy is not easily applied to bodily feelings. As a result, bodily feelings constitute a potential difficulty for two quasi-standard hypotheses in the study of the mind: intentionalism and naturalism.

There are some things we do and feel that we do not identify with. Here again, we find a boundary between the self and things we regard as alien to the self, but in this case the boundary is traced between objects within the psychological realm. However there are many conflicting ways to unpack these notions. This is due to the disparity in the underlying theoretical tendencies which conceive of our relation to ourselves in incompatible ways.

A first tendency conceives of our core selves as something which we access cognitively, through belief. A second tendency regards it as a function of our desires. A third holds it to be a function of our affective dispositions in general. It is thus important to assess the prospects of these theoretical underpinnings.

The first account appeals to different types of beliefs: beliefs regarding who we really are, beliefs regarding who we aspire to be, beliefs regarding what we ought to be. Wholeheartedness, integrity and authenticity would arise when our behaviour and feelings agree with all these types of beliefs. According to conative accounts, clarification should proceed in terms of desires Frankfurt , Blackburn The account of the relevant notions of authenticity, wholeheartedness, and so on, thus proceeds in terms of the coherence between first- and second-order desires.

For instance, I may desire to smoke, but I desire not to want to smoke.

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