Monday March 26 , 2012
I have your tests to return before break which will be a little earlier this time
Rough class average: 15.5/25
Some Issues about the Self:
The “self” has a metaphysical dimension, but also, as we’ll see, a political one:
- It is easy to speak and think of one’s “self” but many philosophers have raised
puzzles about this:
Hume’s idea “we are nothing but a bundle of perceptions” there is no stable “self”
that we can recognize over and above that.
- Sometimes called “bundle theory”
"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".
On Hume's view, these perceptions do not belong to anything. They don’t have a
fixed “self” as their subject.
Hume’s position is very similar to Indian Buddhists’ conception of the self.
1 Derek Parfit:
At time 1, there is a person. At a later time 2, there is a person. These people seem to
be the same person. Indeed, these people share memories and personality traits. But
there are no further facts in the world that make them the same person.
It’s a good question to ask?
Are you (here today) “the same person” as you were (say, 6 years and 100 days
What’s the basis for saying that you are?
John Locke had a thought experiment about a prince and a cobbler:
“For should the soul of a prince, carrying with it the consciousness of the prince's
past life, enter and inform the body of a cobbler…every one sees he would be the
same person with the prince, accountable only for the prince's actions: but who
would say it was the same man?” (Locke)
With this thought experiment, Locke is suggesting that "persons" are independent of
"bodies" and what makes a person a person and the same person is
Awareness of one's thoughts and actions: "Nothing but consciousness can unite
remote existences into the same person".
2 Charles Taylor and the “Politics of Recognition”
How to answer the question of “self”, “identity” Who are you?
Taylor argues that this question is unintelligible without “horizons of meaning” and
-What’s significant, worthwhile?
- Where do you stand?
- What do you believe in?
- What are you willing to fight (or die) for?
Who are the “we-groups” with which you are in solidarity?
There will be great diversity among individual selves; there is no “one-size-fits-all”
conception of selfhood because each of us will imbue certain kinds of things with
value that others will not.
“Your individuality makes certain things a significant part of the measure of
your life’s success and failure, even though they would not be elements of the
measure of success in every life.” (Appiah)
But “having a self” at all requires access to a buffet of goods, a range of possibilities,
a set of options out of which a “self” can be fashioned.
-We don’t just magically appear in the world with a pre-social self already in
To form a “self” for ourselves, we need access to the appropriate materials for
selfhood. These materials commitments, beliefs, stances, passions, etc…
are necessarily social/cultural.
3 No one can become a “self” all by themselves!
Taylor’s example, from The Malaise of Modernity
I couldn’t just decide that wiggling my toes in warm mud was the most significant
action for me. What would someone mean who claimed this? And how could it be
Similarly, you couldn’t just decide that the number of hairs on your head was the
most important fact about you! Without some kind of qualifying explanation, Taylor
thinks, this claim is unintelligible; something we can’t make sense of.
If we are authors of ourselves, it is state and society that provide us with the
tools and the contexts of our authorship; we may shape our selves, but others
shape our shaping.
The basic complaint:
[O]ur identity is partly shaped by recognition or its absence, often by
the misrecognition of others, and so a person or group of people can
suffer real damage, real distortion, if the people or society around
them mirror back to them a confining or demeaning or contemptible
picture of themselves. Nonrecognition or misrecognition can inflict
harm, can be a form of oppression, imprisoning someone in a false,
distorted, and reduced mode of being…Due recognition is not just a
courtesy we owe people. It is a vital human need. (Taylor)
4 The vital human need to which Taylor refers gets its purchase from the Romantic
ideal of self-realization (or “authenticity” in Taylor’s terminology). The argument
seems to run as follows:
(1) Each of us has a life to make, and our success in its making is ineluctably
interwoven with how we see ourselves.
(2) How we see ourselves cannot but depend on the ways that others see us.
Our ability to see ourselves in certain ways is only made intelligible by
others’ recognition of those ways.
(e.g) It is unintelligible for me to think of myself as a noteworthy scholar
or to have the ambition to be one without a whole network of
universities, scholarly journals, academic conferences, publishing houses,
colleagues, peers, other scholars, and the recognition (tacitly) by the
public at large that there are various kinds of expertise, areas of
Failure to grasp this point can lead to delusion! Think of the artist,
say, who thinks his work genuinely excellent art, despite no one else
(3) Due recognition, therefore, is integral to a person’s ability to achieve self-
realization — to “become the author of one’s life”. If we are serious about
ensuring that people have the requisite capacities for self-realization,
then we have a corresponding moral duty to ensure that they are
5 Is it true that nonrecognition or misrecognition can inflict acute harm upon
Some of Taylor’s examples:
When a patriarchal society induces women to “adopt a depreciatory image of
themselves,” giving them an “internalized picture of their own inferiority” (Taylor
When black males of any age are addressed as “boy”, thus mirroring back to them a
contemptible picture of themselves according to which they are misrecognized as
Note: Words and names matter a lot here for theorists of recognition; that sort of
thing is not “mere political correctness”
How does this translate into politics?
Whereas standard liberalism insists on “one law for all” impartiality, “blindness
to difference” etc… Theorists of recognition or “multiculturalists” believe we need to
6 be sensitive to difference, and allow for what is sometimes called “reasonable
“With the politics of liberalism what is established is meant to be universally the
same, an identical basket of rights and immunities; with the politics of difference,
what we are asked to recognize is the unique identity of this individual or group,
their distinctiveness from everyone else. The idea is that it is precisely this
distinctness that has been ignored, glossed over, assimilated to a dominant or
majority identity. And this assimilation is the cardinal sin against the ideal of
Remember: “the ideal of authenticity” for Taylor refers to the idea that each person
has their own distinct way of being human their own incommensurable mode of
self-realization. It is the ideal of “being true to oneself and one’s own particular way
Some “hot-button” issues in a Canadian context:
- Should Sikh police officers have to take off their turbans so as to wear the
standard police-issue motorcycle helmets?
7 - Should Sikhs be permitted to carry a Kirpan, a small dagger the carrying of
which is required of followers of Khalsa Sikhism?
- Should we permit (or tolerate) polygamy?
- The case of orthodox Judaism and the gym in “Outrement” Montreal…
- Should we permit Sharia law to have limited jurisdiction within Muslim
communities (where it is desired)? This was a big issue in Ontario a few years
- Should there be a publicly funded school for African Canadian students that
emphasizes different (“afro-centric”) curricula?