Project Description

Personal Identity at the Crossroads: Phenomenological, Genealogical, and Hegelian Perspectives

The question “Who am I?” may commonly be understood as pertaining to the identity of me as a person, be it in the form of a re-identification question (“Am I to be identified with this or that person in the old snapshot?”) or in the form of a characterization question (“What are the essential characteristics of myself?”). In our research, we intend to investigate how this question has been dealt with and transformed in the particular context of three important strains of Continental thought: phenomenology, Foucauldian genealogy, and Hegelian and neo-Hegelian thought.

In the context of Foucauldian thought, the question “Who am I?” tends to be analyzed as a form of violence and is therefore rejected, as we read it, for instance, in the famous exclamation: “Do not ask who I am and do not ask me to remain the same: leave it to our bureaucrats and our police to see that our papers are in order” (Foucault, The Archeology of Knowledge). In phenomenology and in the philosophy of existence, the human being is often said to be irreducible to any form of identity, as we read both in Heidegger and in Sartre. Heidegger tries to preclude any confusion of “selfhood” (Selbstsein) with the idea of a “persistently objectively present self-thing” (beharrlich vorhandenes Selbstding; Heidegger, Being and Time, §64). And Sartre states unambiguously: “the principle of identity must not represent a constitutive principle of human reality.” (Sartre, Being and Nothingness). Yet, after adopting certain conceptual distinctions, such as the one between “sameness” and “selfhood,” phenomenologists are often willing to tackle the question and develop a phenomenology of personal “selfhood.” The Foucauldian rejection of the question, and the phenomenological accommodation of the question, is different, however, from the Hegelian and Neo-Hegelian perspectives, which understand any form of identity in the light of “objective spirit” or which derive identity from the process of recognition.

Our research projects aims to explore these approaches to the personal-identity question from a pluralistic, yet integrative perspective. It starts from the assumption that – in Continental philosophy – it is precisely phenomenology, genealogy, and the Hegelian perspective that have contributed essential insights to our understanding the personal identity question. Our project intends to bring these impulses into a mutually challenging dialogue.