Who am I Study Sections

    I am directly to me the given integrity of my individual life. I perceive myself as the center of my consciousness, as someone who owns my thoughts, desires, experiences. At the same time, I am the unity of my biography; this is what guarantees my self-identity. Finally, I am what controls my body; it is the instance that ensures the free adoption of my decisions and is responsible for their implementation and consequences.

    Historically, different ways of formulating and solving the problem of self are associated with various stages of cultural development and at the same time express a different understanding of man, the possibilities of cognition and self-knowledge and the interpretation of philosophy itself.

    I as a problem of perception by the individual of myself, as a problem of “internal” access to myself, turned out to be at the center of philosophy in the New Time. In this period, the understanding of philosophy as a method of self-determination of a free person that relies only on itself, on its own powers of feeling and reason in finding the ultimate foundations of life, is becoming acuter. As such a limiting reason, I was found. Descartes most clearly formulated this understanding, and it largely set the problems of Western philosophy in the future. The understanding of Descartes, expressed in the well-known position “Cogito ergo sum”, can be considered classical.

    Within its framework, the following solutions were proposed. According to Descartes, one can doubt the testimony of the sense organs regarding the existence of external objects. One can also doubt that I correctly perceive my own body, and even that it exists (this can only be my dream). You can even doubt the positions of mathematics. However, there can be no doubt about the existence of my consciousness and my self as its center, as the one who owns my consciousness. Descartes emphasizes that the subject’s knowledge of his own consciousness and his relation to the ego is something different from the knowledge of external objects. From his point of view, this means that I have immediate access to my subjective sphere, while my knowledge of the external to the consciousness of bodies is only something mediated.

    Therefore, although in my ordinary experience my activity is primarily directed at external objects, although the role of the subjective world and its characteristics usually remain in the shadows, Descartes argues logically, it is the knowledge of subjective states that I most simply and obviously. Descartes emphasizes that the position “I am, I exist” is true whenever it is pronounced or comprehended by the mind. The main characteristics of the I, according to Descartes, are expressed as follows:

    1. I am the center of my consciousness, considered irrespective of external objects and even to my own body;
    2. I am absolutely self-confident and transparent to myself;
    3. My self-exists irrespective of the existence of other I.

    At the same time, the Cartesian understanding of subjective experience as absolutely unquestionable and self-reliant, accepted with various modifications by representatives of different directions of Western philosophy and human sciences (in particular psychology), has given rise to some difficult problems.

    1. If only I truly exist, how can I know something about the external world and even that it exists? How can I know something about the other I and that they exist?
    2. Where is the border between the I and the non-I? In the ordinary experience, we refer to the Ego everything that is related to my body, what is “inside” it. But we can also say that I control my body, “own” it. Hence, I am not my body, but the consciousness that controls it (as Descartes believed). But after all, I can get into an external relationship and to the states of my own consciousness: to observe them (self-observation, introspection is the main method of work of empirical psychology of the 19th – early 20th century). In this case directly authentic states of consciousness are transformed into non-I.
    3. How can I observe the states of my own consciousness? If ordinary observation presupposes the existence of sense organs and can somehow be explained with the help of psychophysiology, self-observation seems completely inexplicable. And who am I that perceives the states of one’s own consciousness, how can it be identified?

    In the history of Western philosophy, some solutions to these problems were proposed. Representatives of philosophical empiricism gave the most radical and in some respects paradoxical. Empiricists share the position of Descartes about the immediate self-evidence of subjective experience and the non-obviousness of everything that goes beyond it. At the same time, according to their point of view, there is no one to whom this subjective experience belongs. I, according to D. Yumu, – this is not an object, especially not a substance, but simply a bundle of perceptions connected with each other by associative connections.

    According to E. Mah, the separation of the ego from the stream of experience is conditional, it is explained by the needs of ordinary life and can not be justified theoretically. I usually refer to our “inner experience”: our thoughts, experiences, memories, etc. But after all, we can include our body and even objects that are especially valuable to us (costume, cane, manuscripts, etc.). I can include all objects of the external world in general, for their perception depends on the state of our body and on our “inner experience”. At the same time, Mach believes, our body can be viewed as part of the external world. In some circumstances, as part of the outside world, we could consider what we consider our “inner experience” (in particular, our dreams). The very division of the world into external and internal conditional. Also conditional is the opinion on the continuity in a time of what we consider our “inner experience” and the experience that relates to our body. In fact, my present perception of myself has nothing to do with my I in adolescence. Therefore, according to Mach, I do not have any philosophical problem. A similar position was expressed by the early L. Wittgenstein when he asserted that, on the one hand, I express the boundary of the world (and in this sense defines the world), but on the other hand, I as a subject in the world does not exist.

    The philosophical transcendentalists gave their solution to the problem. From their point of view, the experience can’t be understood as the totality of associations of elementary sensory units – sensations (as the empiricists believed), but includes the necessary dependencies that are a priori in nature. The presence of the latter presupposes the existence of a self-providing them. At the same time, the self is divided into the empirical self (underlying the individual empirical consciousness) and the transcendental self (which is in the depth of the empirical self and makes the latter possible).

    According to Kant, the inner experience of individual empirical consciousness is by no means more direct and self-evident than the experience external, relating to the world of objects external to this consciousness (Kant criticizes in this connection the idea of Descartes about the immediate evidence of only a given consciousness). The fact is that internal experience is not only devoid of certain essential features of the external, allowing the latter to be the basis of theoretical science, but it is impossible without external contemplation. The temporal definition, which is a form of ordering the inner experience, exists only through the embodiment of the course of time in certain spatial processes, i.e. processes that occur with certain objects of external experience. Therefore, the existence of the empirical self as the center of an individual empirical consciousness presupposes the existence of external phenomena that do not depend on this I.

    At the same time, the empirical self is also impossible without the existence of the transcendental self: the first is nothing but a phenomenon to the empirical subject of the transcendental self. It is the latter that is interpreted by Kant as a condition for the objectivity of experience. After all, every experience is my experience, Kant argues. No one’s experience. The objectivity of the experiment is possible only if it is continuous. And this means that the one who has experience must also be continuous. I. The transcendental unity of apperception, the statement “I think,” potentially accompanying the course of experience, is the guarantor of the objectivity of the latter and at the same time its basis. Experience, independent of the empirical self, turns out to be dependent on the transcendental self. At the same time, the position “I think”, which, according to Kant, is the supreme foundation of all knowledge, is not knowledge. It expresses the act of consciousness, but not knowledge, for the corresponding object-the thinking I-is not given in any experience. The transcendental I can’t be the object of myself. One can only think about it or symbolically hint at it, but do not know about it (Kant distinguishes between thinking and cognition, consciousness and knowledge). The transcendental I as the basis of knowledge as the source of the unity of consciousness, as a guarantee of human freedom, can’t be cognized, for it is a thing in itself.

    A somewhat different solution to the problem I proposed to E. Husserl in the framework of transcendental phenomenology. He, like Kant, emphasizes the impossibility of the existence of the I outside his relationship to the external object for him. I and its object are the two necessary poles of every act of consciousness. This intentional attitude expresses the specifics of the ego. Therefore, no “purely internal” experience is fundamentally possible. Intentional objects can be not only physical things, other people, events, but also states of one’s own consciousness and itself. However, according to Husserl, the intentional object may not be real. It is enough that he is given I directly in his experience. From the solution of the question of the reality of the phenomena given by the I, the phenomenology abstains (the so-called “transcendental reduction”).

    Unlike Kant’s opinion that it is impossible to know the transcendental I as a thing in itself, Husserl considers such knowledge possible. The transcendental self, expressing the deep foundation of individual consciousness, can be given to oneself with immediate obviousness in the act of transcendental reflection. In the case of this reflection, there is “absolute knowledge”, which lies at the basis of all knowledge and serves as the supreme authority for the substantiation of knowledge and consciousness in general. From this point of view, the entire transcendental phenomenology can be regarded as “egoology,” the doctrine of the transcendental self.

    However, the transcendentalist understanding of the Self-gives rise to a number of difficulties. The main one is the identification of I. On the one hand, the transcendental I is understood as the deep expression of my individuality, it is given in the act of my reflection aimed at my consciousness. But, on the other hand, in this I (unlike the self of my empirical consciousness) all traces of individuality are erased, in it, in essence, there is no difference between me and you.

    Nonclassical understanding of the self, developed in the philosophy of the 20th century, refuses the understanding of the I that Descartes formulated. It is important to emphasize that this does not mean abandoning the problem itself. I am understood as an expression of the principal dependencies, connected, first, with the inclusion of a person in the world of objects and situations through his body, and secondly, with the attitude of a person to other people, including through communication. Nonclassical understanding, thus, removes a number of problems associated with understanding the self in classical philosophy and at the same time opens up new dimensions of the problem.

    The Bodily incarnation of I. It would seem that this fact is obvious, at least from common sense, although for Descartes in the existence of my body it is possible to doubt. However, the philosophical acceptance of this fact as authentic and its analysis revealed some important features of the Self and its self-transcendence.

    First, it was shown that, contrary to the classical understanding of the I (separated in this paragraph and by empiricists), the acts of my consciousness can be identified only if they are assigned to a specific bodily individual occupying a definite position in space and time in the world of physical objects and real events, which has a certain biography, which also is nothing other than life in relationships with other people (the same empirical bodily beings as I am) and in real concrete situations. Outside of my body with all its random empirical characteristics, I do not exist.

    Secondly, a full-fledged self-conscious I is not given initially but arises at a certain stage from a relationship with others. However, already in the initial experience, the unique position of my body in space and time is related to the peculiarities of my perception of the world. According to some thinkers, the former even determines the latter.

    Thus, J. Piaget believed that, according to the experimental data obtained in his studies and meaningful in his genetic epistemology, the child at the first stages of mental development merges with his body. He can not at this period treat himself from outside, does not distinguish himself from the states of his body, and the latter from external objects. This is the stage of “egocentrism” (although the conscious “ego”, I do not yet exist), meaning that the child can not understand the uniqueness of his position as included in other possible positions. Other people, especially adults, are perceived as sources of pleasure and punishment centered around the child’s body. Psychological development, according to Piaget, means a consistent decentralization of intellectual structures, i.e. the possibility of treating yourself from the outside. This means the emergence of J. Husserl in later works draws attention to the fact that the objective structure of experience is constituted through an attitude to my body and its unique position. So, for example, the main spatial values of experience are “here” and “there.” Meanwhile, “here” is the place where I am with my body, more precisely, this is my body. “There” is understood as a potential “here”, i.e. again determined through an attitude toward my body. If there were no differences between different parts of my body, there would be no difference between “ahead” – “behind”, “left” – “right”, etc. Another person is also constituted by me through a relationship to my experience, i.e. to my body.

    According to J.P. Sartre, the initial consciousness of the empirical subject is indistinguishable from the experience of his own body, its capabilities and the situation in which the body turned out to be. The subject at this stage does not exist as I. That means that he can not treat himself from outside, can not localize his experiences (eg, pain), does not distinguish them from what happens to external objects. The emergence of the self means a break with this direct experience.

    Piaget, Husserl and Sartre are right that the subject’s perception of his body and his actions is different from the perception of external objects and situations and can not be understood by analogy with the latter. Perception of me by another subject is really different from my self-perception. These philosophers are wrong in another: in interpreting self-perception as an initial experience and in perceiving external objects and situations as an experience of the derivative. Modern psychology, in particular the work of J.Gibson and W. Naiser, showed that the subject’s perception of his body, his position among other objects of experience and the perception of objects and events external to the body mutually suggest and complement each other (see Perception).

    The subject sees his hands, legs and other parts of the body (although he can not see his face – this is an important fact of the experience, having philosophical consequences), hears and sees his steps, he hears the sounds of his own voice, feels the movements of his limbs and head, receives various kinds of information from all parts of the body. This allows him to specify his changing position in the real world and to perceive real situations as they are. Therefore, in reality the child immediately distinguishes himself from external objects (there is no “egocentric” stage in his development) and does not confuse himself with his own mother. Other people are not constituted by the subject in relation to their own body. Adults for a child are not just parts of his world, centered around his body. There is reason to believe that the child initially perceives the emotional states of other people (primarily his mother) as real, and not simply concludes them by analogy with their own in the later stages of mental development (babies are born ready to receive a smiling or frowning face). “Here” and “there” of the spatial structure of experience mutually assume each other.

    Incomplete self-evidence of the I. For classical philosophy, I and the phenomena of consciousness belonging to him were considered not only self-evident, but even unquestionably. But if we regard the ego as an empirical unity, as inseparable from the body of the individual subject with all its random characteristics and as related to the subject’s activity in the real world and in relations with other people, then the question of the obviousness of the I must stand differently. Of course, there can be no doubt that my Self exists, as well as in the fact that I have such thoughts and intentions, that I make such and such decisions and experience some experiences. However, I can be mistaken about the meaning of my experiences: for example, it is wrong to localize the feeling of pain, to misconstrue the idea of memory with actual events (and thus “remember” what was not, that is, remembering that in fact, they are not). For Descartes and Husserl, these facts do not abolish the thesis of self-evidence of states of consciousness, for for them consciousness is an independent world whose connection with the external world is very problematic and in any case does not say anything about the meaning of the phenomena of consciousness.

    But for a nonclassical understanding of I, consciousness is not a special world, the entire meaning of consciousness consists precisely in orientation in external reality, and if my comprehension of my experiences from the point of view of referring them to reality turns out to be erroneous, this means also the erroneous judgments of the I about the states of one’s consciousness and thus about myself, for I do not exist outside these states. I include my own image as a necessary component, or I am a concept: a system of opinions (some of which may not be fully understood) about my appearance, my past, my personality and personality, the desirable state of the “ideal self,” as well as self-esteem – Determination of how much my real Self corresponds to my ideal self. As shown by numerous studies of modern psychologists, the presence of erroneous judgments in the composition of the I – concept, i.e. misconceptions I’m talking about myself, is quite common. In the 20th century. a theory was formulated (in the psychoanalysis of Z. Freud), according to which I do not know the deep states of my own psyche, for the latter are not given to consciousness, being subconscious. According to psychoanalysis, I can not have complete control even over consciousness, because impulses coming from the subconscious can affect consciousness.

    Moreover, I can not be considered the supreme authority, who takes free decisions and is responsible for them, although I myself mistakenly perceive myself as such. Psychoanalytic interpretation I raised many objections. One of the most interesting belongs to Sartre. From his point of view, consciousness is initially and necessarily free. However, it can try to avoid this freedom, for the recognition of the latter means taking responsibility for one’s own actions. This attempt is expressed in the free restriction of one’s own freedom in the form of creating a subconscious world as supposedly independent and from the consciousness of the independent. The presence of the subconscious (and as a fact it exists) is just a self-deception of consciousness, a way to avoid responsibility.

    In modern philosophical and psychological literature there is controversy about the possibilities of self-deception I, about the relationship between the conscious and the unconscious in I. Different points of view are expressed. But the problem itself is recognized as real by all disputing parties.

    I am a product of communicative interactions with other people. For the nonclassical approach, I am not something originally and primarily data. It arises in certain conditions, more precisely, it is created in my interaction with other people and outside of these relations does not exist. Of course, Descartes is right in his statement: when the subject pronounces the phrase “I think (or I understand),” he thereby affirms the fact of his existence. But the whole point is that the lonely subject left to himself (and in classical philosophy he was understood as identical to his consciousness), understood in isolation from the external world and the world of other people, can not utter this phrase.

    For the statement of oneself as existing, meaning the act of self-reflection, suggests the transformation of oneself into the object of one’s own self. And this is possible only if I can “look” at myself, comprehend myself in imagination or in thought, rights. This other is generalized, so I can describe the states of my consciousness, think about my past, or analyze my self-concept (in this case, my empirical self becomes the object of my self-knowledge), but I basically can not say anything definite about that I that is the subject of all these acts, for the latter I is not an empirical object.

    Such an understanding of the I, important for the non-classical approach, is differently interpreted in various concepts.

    Thus, Sartre emphasizes that I am not only alien to the nature of individual consciousness (which merges with my body in its subjective reality), but also in a certain sense distorts its characteristics. Consciousness is initially free, and I express the limitation of this freedom, for it has certain specific characteristics relating to this person. I am as it were the curing of the absolute primordial freedom of the individual consciousness. I as an object is the result of self-reflection and the latter, as knowledge, is adequate to this object. This, however, assumes that knowledge of the Self does not give true knowledge of man. I am an act of self-reflection and how its object arises from my relationship to others. This process goes through several stages. At first a person feels himself the object of another (eg, when the other looks at him), but does not know himself in this capacity to the fullest. And only as a result of verbal communication there is a full-fledged self.

    Since I, as it were, obscures the true life of the subject from himself (it is, according to Sartre, an example of “false consciousness”), the subject tries to get rid of it. But this can not be done, firstly, because the empty consciousness itself gravitates towards a consolidation, self-objectification in the form of the ego, and secondly, because life in the society of other people forces the consciousness to assume the image of the I (man is not can live outside the society of others, but others make him accept the image of the self, thereby making it difficult for him to access himself: “others are hell”). The only thing that the mind can do is constantly change its self, changing the image of the I (one is inseparable from the other). The constant change I am, according to Sartre, an important indicator of the authenticity of life.

    A different, more fruitful understanding of the I gives the domestic philosopher M.M. Bakhtin. He emphasizes the difference of self-perception (I am for myself) from perceiving me to others (I am for another). At the same time, I can become a full-fledged self only by treating myself from the point of view of another person. After all, the other sees in me what I myself can not in principle see: my face, my body in its integrity and in its relation to objects and people around me. The other completes my “excess of vision” for me. By assimilating the viewpoint of another, a person does not “distort” his consciousness (as Sartre believes), but, on the contrary, gets the opportunity for his development. I need another person for self-fulfillment. All kinds of life of consciousness, including experiences, thoughts, the image of oneself, presuppose an attitude toward oneself from outside, i. from the point of view of the other.

    Very interesting and promising concept I am developing the modern English philosopher and psychologist R. Harre, who tried to rework a number of ideas of the outstanding domestic psychologist LS Vygotsky and the late L. Wittgenstein. The concept of Harre is based on a philosophical analysis of the great material of modern psychology, linguistics and cultural anthropology. According to Harre, I have a discursive character and is a product of a certain kind of communication. I am not a subjectively experienced givenness of consciousness, therefore it can not be detected by a simple description of the latter (in the statement of this fact, representatives of philosophical empiricism were right). I am a concept, one might even say, a certain theory. It is not invented by an individual, but is assimilated by every individual in the process of his communication with representatives of a particular culture. Because cultures differ from each other in space and history, I too can have differences. In our culture it has three functions:

    1. expresses the formal unity of consciousness, plays the role of its center,
    2. characterizes the unity and continuity of my individual life, my biography, and
    3. embodies an agent of action, carried out on the basis of freely taken decisions.

    Each of these functions (including the possibility of free choice) can be fulfilled only as a result of individual assimilation of certain “collective representations” about consciousness and cognition, about the individual, his capabilities, rights and obligations, life values. In this regard, Harre considers it necessary to distinguish two I. One refers to an individual as existing in space and time and included in a particular culture. This I express my responsibility for my actions, it presupposes that I have the memory and unity of biography, so I am responsible not only for what I have done just now, but also for what I have done in the past. This type of I is inherent in all cultures, because without him no social life is possible. But there is another I, which is inherent in me, but can not be localized in space and time. This I express the presence of some “inner world”, which is the subject of a reflexive relationship on the part of the second self. The “inner world” of consciousness does not exist initially (as the philosophical classics believed), but is constructed as a result of the development of my external communications with other people (here Harre uses a number of Vygotsky’s ideas).

    However, this kind of education is not inherent in every culture, and in many ways specific to the western culture of the last centuries. I, being the center of reflection over the “inner world” of consciousness (such a I, in Harre’s opinion, is absent in a number of non-Western cultures), can be considered a peculiar transcendental self. it is not given in empirical experience, but serves to formalize the data of consciousness. However, it does not express the original nature of consciousness at all, as the philosophical transcendentalists thought, and still is not a “thing in itself,” as Kant believed. It’s just a social construction inherent in a culture of a certain type.

    Harre draws attention to the fact that the simultaneous fulfillment of the I of all his three functions (which is characteristic of modern Western culture) is not logically necessary. These functions can be disconnected. For example, a subject can possess the ego as a formal unity of consciousness and, at the same time, not have the ego as the continuity of the individual life-biography (this is possible in the event of memory failures). I can have the I as a formal unity of consciousness and the continuity of my biography and at the same time do not have the I as an instance of making free and responsible decisions (this is the case for some types of schizophrenia). Other cases are possible. All of them are usually considered as an individual pathology. But they can also be a consequence of changes in culture and then become massive. In the case of the so-called “Altered states of consciousness” I generally can temporarily disappear. In a word, the modern Self is a fragile formation, possible only in certain cultural and historical conditions.

    Today we can talk about the emergence of post-nonclassical approaches to the understanding of the Self, which casts doubt on some of the attitudes of its nonclassical understanding. The post-non-classical approach to the self concentrates around two points:

    1. the corporal embodiment of I. Attention is drawn to the fact that at least one of the functions of the I, namely one that ensures the unity of the biography, can be embodied not only in individual memory, but also in texts that testify to individual life. In this case, we can say that my I exist not only in the body shell, but also in the form of different texts – files (“file I”). True, this is not a full-fledged existence of the I, nevertheless a modern person increasingly has to communicate with another I through file incarnations (in particular, in cases of telecommunications). Since the same file relating to me can be simultaneously in different places, it can be said that my file I, being unique and individual, at the same time can exist in many copies. In the framework of the studies of cognitive science, I analyze the possibility of controlling from my side at a distance an artificial structure, somewhat similar to my body, but located elsewhere (“telepresence I”). Is it possible to consider that in this case my Self is embodied in two bodily shells at once? If I am nothing but a system of discourses, can this system be implemented in another body shell, just as the same program can be implemented by different computers? This issue is also today the subject of discussions among philosophers and specialists in artificial intelligence;
    2. the disappearance of the ego as a result of communicative interactions. A number of researchers accept the ideas of M. Bakhtin and R. Harre that my self is the result of communicative relations with others, and at the same time make a conclusion about the disappearance of the self in contemporary cultural and social conditions. This conclusion theorists (as the rule that separates postmodernism) try to justify by analyzing two circumstances. First, the different streams of communication into which a modern person is involved are so numerous and heterogeneous (and sometimes incommensurable) that the individual consciousness is unable to integrate them in the form of the unity of the Self. Consciousness is “oversaturated” and “fragmented”. Secondly, all traditions without exception, with the hierarchy of values embodied in them, have lost their authority today, can not be considered indisputable. Therefore, I as an agent of action, assuming the existence of “collective representations” about the rights and duties of individuals and responsibility for their actions, loses its meaning. From this point of view, one can not speak of sincerity, of authentic existence, for no method of being can be less or more authentic. I can not be considered the author of my actions, these theorists believe, for I react basically in accordance with those communication systems into which I was accidentally dragged. I am not the author of my own texts, for the latter are really nothing but collages, gluing together from texts of others. If, within the framework of the nonclassical understanding of psychology, psychologists have investigated, for example, the change of types of self-identification during life (Erik Erkson’s work on self-identity crises), then psychologists who adhere to the postmodern approach (K.Jergen) argue that today the problem of self-identity has lost its meaning. Having become fragmented, I disappear. It is important to emphasize that this is not just about the disappearance of the I as a philosophical problem. Classics of philosophical empiricism also believed that I as a philosophical problem does not exist. However, for them I also expressed important features of our everyday experience. From the point of view of theorists of postmodernism, sometime earlier I existed and expressed the features of individual life in the conditions of a certain culture. Now, in their opinion, I have disappeared, and nothing can be done about this.

    In postmodern interpretation I fixed a number of problems of modern culture. However, in general, it is hardly acceptable. My involvement in different communication flows does not mean my dissolution in them. The development of culture does not lead to the lubrication of the individual principle, authorship, but to the growth of individualization, the enhancement of the role of creativity. Of course, we can talk about changing the type of personality, the nature of the self and, possibly, changing the ways of self-identification, but not about the disappearance of I. If the postmodernists were right, culture and man would not have a future.

    Much more interesting and promising is the program of communicative interpretation I am in the mainstream of the ideas of Bakhtin and Harre. This program assumes a comprehension of the modern material of psychology, culturology, linguistics. The role of the philosopher in its implementation is to identify and analyze the different semantic structures included in such a complex formation as the I, in the study of the various relationships between these structures, and not only those that are present today, but also those that are possible in other situations. Such an analysis can shed light on possible ways of changing culture and man.

    Tags: Western Philosophy
    Rate your experience with this philosophy study!

    Discuss this Study