In philosophy, the “self” is used to refer to the ultimate locus of personal identity, the agent and the knower involved in each person’s actions and cognitions. The notion of the self has traditionally raised several philosophical questions. First, there are questions about the nature and very existence of the self. Is the self a material or immaterial thing? Is the self even a real thing or rather a merely nominal object? Second, is the self the object of a peculiar form of introspective knowledge, and if so, what does this tell about its ultimate nature?
Third, what is the relation between the nature of the self and the linguistic phenomena of self-reference, such as the use of the first-person pronoun ‘I’? In this course, we will investigate these and related questions with a special focus on the issue of the unity of the self. In the first half of the course, particular attention will be devoted to recent works on the relation between the nature of the self, the unity of agency and the process of self-constitution by authors such as Korsgaard, Velleman, Dennett… In the second half of the course, we will discuss some of the peculiar features of self-knowledge and consider whether the idea of self-constitution can shed light on them.
The self does not really exist as something truly real because: it is not available to introspection (Hume); it is not a thing (Existentialists); it is a soluble fish in a sea of general meanings or representations (postmodernists); and/or it cannot be found in the brain or its activity (neurophilosophers). There are many other lines of attack but these examples are sufficient to illustrate what is wrong with these autocides: they are looking for the wrong kind of entity or in the wrong place or both.