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One View on Selfhood: Experiential Minimalism

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Dan Zahavi resumes an old debate about whether the human self discloses itself in thought -- whether I know myself (and so can be sure of my own existence) because of cogito.

In its origin, this argument is Descartes vs Hume.

In more recent decades, Jesse Prinz (portrayed above) has argued that there is no "experiential quality" that discloses self to self, BUT that consciousness is thoroughly permeated by selfhood. If I understand Prinz, he means that we know our self by a sort of inference, not as directly as Descartes'  concise language suggests but more genuinely that Hume's bundle theory can accommodate.

Zahavi says that Prinz has rediscovered an element in Kantianism. As Kant put it, "I cannot cognize as an object itself that which I must presuppose in order to cognize an object at all."

Zahavi's own view is that self-consciousness, the sort of conscious event that reveals a self, is a particular sort of event, not any-old event and not the presuppositions of consciousness, but certain particular eddies within the stream.

Like Sartre, Zahavi ends up focusing on nausea: he asks, "Is it not rather odd to insist that the difference between my own feeling of nausea (as it is subjectively lived through) and the access I have to your feeling of nausea (as it is displayed in your contorted facial expressions and verbal reports) is a difference with no phenomenal impact?"

Such experiences may not disclose everything we want to know about the self, but they do indicate that the self is at least in some minimal sense and for lack of a better term self-disclosing.

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