Skip to main content

One View on Selfhood: Experiential Minimalism

Image result for jesse prinz cuny

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.


Popular posts from this blog

A Story About Coleridge

This is a quote from a memoir by Dorothy Wordsworth, reflecting on a trip she took with two famous poets, her brother, William Wordsworth, and their similarly gifted companion, Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

We sat upon a bench, placed for the sake of one of these views, whence we looked down upon the waterfall, and over the open country ... A lady and gentleman, more expeditious tourists than ourselves, came to the spot; they left us at the seat, and we found them again at another station above the Falls. Coleridge, who is always good-natured enough to enter into conversation with anybody whom he meets in his way, began to talk with the gentleman, who observed that it was a majestic waterfall. Coleridge was delighted with the accuracy of the epithet, particularly as he had been settling in his own mind the precise meaning of the words grand, majestic, sublime, etc., and had discussed the subject with William at some length the day before. “Yes, sir,” says Coleridge, “it is a majestic wate…

England as a Raft?

In a lecture delivered in 1880, William James asked rhetorically, "Would England ... be the drifting raft she is now in European affairs if a Frederic the Great had inherited her throne instead of a Victoria, and if Messrs Bentham, Mill, Cobden, and Bright had all been born in Prussia?"

Beneath that, in a collection of such lectures later published under James' direction, was placed the footnote, "The reader will remember when this was written."

The suggestion of the bit about Bentham, Mill, etc. is that the utilitarians as a school helped render England ineffective as a European power, a drifting raft.

The footnote was added in 1897. So either James is suggesting that the baleful influence of Bentham, Mill etc wore off in the meantime or that he had over-estimated it.

Let's unpack this a bit.  What was happening in the period before 1880 that made England seem a drifting raft in European affairs, to a friendly though foreign observer (to the older brother…

Cancer Breakthrough

Hopeful news in recent days about an old and dear desideratum: a cure for cancer. Or at least for a cancer, and a nasty one at that.

The news comes about because investors in GlaxoSmithKline are greedy for profits, and has already inspired a bit of deregulation to boot. 

The FDA has paved the road for a speedy review of a new BCMA drug for multiple myeloma, essentially cancer of the bone marrow. This means that the US govt has removed some of the hurdles that would otherwise (by decision of the same govt) face a company trying to proceed with these trials expeditiously. 

This has been done because the Phase I clinical trial results have been very promising. The report I've seen indicates that details of these results will be shared with the world on Dec. 11 at the annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology. 

The European Medicines Agency has also given priority treatment to the drug in question. 

GSK's website identifies the drug at issue as "GSK2857916," althou…