John J. Drummond
Self-identity and Personal Identity
Any answer to the question about the identity of the self must be cast in first-personal, experiential terms and must identify the transcendental structures that make a temporally extended experiential life possible. I shall argue that self-identify and personal identity are not identical. Self-identity responds to the question, How is it that a subject of experience at t2 can be, and can grasp itself as, the same subject in different experiences at t1? Self-identity is rooted in the formal structure of intentional experience, in particular, in the non-temporal form that accounts for the temporalization and continuity of a particular flow of experience. Personal identity, by contrast, responds to question, Who am I? or Who are you? or Who is she? Personal identity, by contrast, is rooted in the content of the particular flow of experience, in particular, those convictions—cognitive, evaluative, and practical—achieved by a self-identical, reflection-capable subject. Personal identity, in other words, is rooted in evidenced beliefs, traits—both affective and character traits—and moods as well as in the practical commitments to certain goods and practical identities rooted in the person’s beliefs, traits, and moods.
Personal Identity, Conflicts and Narrativity
The question of the identity or persistence of the self through time may be interesting for philosophers, but it is hardly a burning question for most individuals. On the other hand, the question of who I am, what or who I take myself to be, can be a vital, even burning question for most of us at some time in our lives. This is the notion of personal identity I take up in this paper. It is an identity that is not pre-given a priori but is always in some sense an open question, never completely decided. Here the narrative conception of self is relevant, since it is often a question of what story or kind of story my identity instantiates. This notion of personal identity is inherently temporal, but not in the sense of temporal persistence but of temporal coherence of past, present and future. And here the question of personal identity is inevitably social, since it is largely a question of what group I identify myself with, what social role I take myself to embody. And what complications occur when I identify myself with more than one group? Here many social conflicts and also intrapersonal conflicts have their source. My topic thus turns on ideas of personal identity that are reflected in the popular expressions “identity crisis” and “identity politics.”
The Two Sartrian Theories of Personal Identity
From Locke to Husserl, identity is defined as the persistence of self-consciousness across time. In The Transcendence of the Ego (1934), Sartre develops a phenomenology of Ego in accordance with this definition. He claims that the individuality is a production of the intentionality of a consciousness that is originally impersonal: it results from a reflection of consciousness upon its experiences; and therefore identity consists of a reflecting selfconsciousness. But, in Being and Nothingness (1943) he develops another conception of identity. He describes it as a “circuit of selfness” (circuit de l’ipséité). In this second theory, less known than the first, identity results from the intentional project that consciousness realizes in situation. Because this second theorization redefines identity in terms of project and situation, it highlights the socio-historical dimension that constitutes the singularity of each consciousness. The circuit of selfness theory thus opens a new chapter in the question of identity by understanding it as the outcome of a personalization carried out by consciousness on the basis of transindividual characteristics (techniques, moral values, established norms, etc.) that shape its “facticity”. Hence, this theorization reshapes the problem usually linked to the notion of personal identity: it is no longer about questioning metaphysically identity by explaining (by means of theories about memory or temporalization of the self) the persistence of self-consciousness across a series of temporal dimensions, but rather describing phenomenologically (with an analysis of the intentional project of subjectivity) the dialectical and ontological relationships between, on the one hand, a consciousness and, on the other hand, a situational dimension from which Sartre proposes to rethink identity. Consequently, this presentation is based on the assumption that the circuit of selfness theory breaks with the philosophical tradition that goes from Locke to Husserl. In order to identify more specifically how Sartre’s phenomenology transforms the question of personal identity, this study is an attempt to answer these two questions: how and why does Sartre develop a second theory of identity? What are the phenomenological stakes and the philosophical issues raised by this second theory? The first question leads to a study of Sartre’s War Diaries (1939-1940) in which – as this presentation shows – he reworked his first theory of identity by means of the following two intellectual traditions: the phenomenology of Heidegger and the French sociology that goes from Comte to Durkheim. In order to explore the second question, the fourth part of Being and Nothingness and also Search for a Method (1957) shall be discussed because they develop a philosophical method – existential psychoanalysis – whose goal is to trace the genesis of selfness starting from the facticity of consciousness, where the social characteristics of subjectivity are concentrated. This study highlights that the principles of this method are precisely what thoroughly redefines the question of identity. The stake of this presentation will be to examine the two sartrian theories of personal identity, but also the inflection that separates them, in order to highlight how their author (before Ricoeur) transformed the traditional question of identity into a genetic inquiry, whose main contribution was a methodical description of the dialectical interactions between the dimensions of consciousness and situation.
Am I More or Less a Story?
The concept of narrative self, as formulated by Ricoeur, is in many ways convincing, even irresistible. Despite its attractive traits primarily as linked to the fact that human beings inevitably do live in stories, I want to ask what we gain and lose if we understand the I as a narrative dynamic. Specifically, I will focus on the link between narrativity, the promise, and the self and I will argue that Ricoeur has insufficiently taken into consideration that the self is and shall remain not only a ground of positively
(self-)determining and narrative activity but fundamentally of negativity as well. I will claim that a non-narrativity, even a protest against narrativity (and against the phenomenon of promise-making), is substantial to the self since its very self-relation and self-understanding is founded on a primary non-determinacy, a non-determinacy to be determined but never ceasing to be a vital dimension of a self.
Identity as Institution: Subjectivity, Embodiment, Historicity
A key discovery of phenomenology is that the subject is embodied, and that embodiment is two-sided: we are at once subjects and objects, experiencers and objects of experience (both for ourselves and for others). Merleau-Ponty thus speaks of an element of discontinuity, divergence, and non-self-coincidence as constitutive, but paradoxical, features of the embodied self. As embodied selves we are constitutively inscribed within historical contexts, subjected to power, interpellation, and violence. These aspects of embodied subjectivity have been explored by thinkers trying to understand the ways in which racial and sexual difference function as, at once, features of our social situation and structures of our own lived embodiment. Elizabeth Grosz thus distinguishes between the body as “lived body” and the body as a “surface of inscription” and argues that it remains a challenge to understand the relation between them. This problem, I argue in this paper, is key to the question of personal identity. Our identities reflect particular “intertwinings” of these two sides of our embodied being. Merleau-Ponty’s account of “institution,” as elaborated in his 1954-55 lecture courses, can be read as an elucidation of this intertwining.
Self-Identity from the Perspective of the Body
One of the persistent puzzles of philosophy concerns our self-identity. We assume that we persist in time as the same self. In Hume’s words, “we feel [the self’s] existence and its continuance in existence; and are certain, beyond the evidence of a demonstration, both of its perfect identity and simplicity.” Yet, what is the basis for this view? As Hume asks, “from what impression could this idea be derived?” “[T]here is,” he remarks, “no impression constant and invariable” that we can point to. Husserl, in affirming our self-identity, takes the opposite tract. In his view, the self cannot be some lasting content. In fact, as identical, “it cannot in any sense be taken as an immanent component or moment of the experiences.” Rather, it “gives up all content” in the change of experiences. Husserl’s insight is that if we identify the subject with a specific content, we make it objective rather than subjective. The two categories, however, are very different: Objects are things that appear; subjects or egos are those to whom they appear. Objects—as the German word, Gegenstand, indicates—stand against us. We are the subjects against which they stand. The difficulty here is that the self that stands against everything else is, in Husserl’s words, “anonymous.” But, if this is so, we are left with the fact that while we may claim that we know that the self is, aside from the bare fact of existence, we cannot say what it is.
Faced with these difficulties, it seems natural to follow Merleau-Ponty and turn to the body as the anchor of our self-identity. The advantage here is that our embodiment persists through our changing perceptions. Through its sense organs, the body is the place of appearing. As Merleau-Ponty expresses this, “our flesh lines and even envelops all the visible and tangible things.” Doing so, it provides measures “for being, dimensions to which we can refer it.” In other words, through our flesh, we can refer to the sensible aspects of being. We can measure it along the axes or dimensions of its sights, sounds, tastes, smells, roughness and smoothness. In providing a place where these qualities can appear, the body, unlike Husserl’s self or subject, is not devoid of all content. It is, itself, directly experienced by us. It, thus, seems to present us with, not just a subject understood as a place of appearing, but also with something that appears. With it, we encounter something that is both subjective and objective.
Does my body, in its persistence of being my body, solve the problem of self-identity? Is it a place of appearing that, unlike Husserl’s ego, is not “anonymous,” but rather has “a proper general character with a material content.” In this paper, I explore this possibility. I shall examine the body’s role in our sense of possessing a unique identity. I will also spell out the consequences of its being both subject and object for our attempts to grasp who and what we are.
Body and Identity: Otherness of My Own Body
Locke, the founder of the modern debate on personal identity, claims that the identity of a person consist in the unity of his or her consciousness, and not in the sameness of his or her body. He thus resolutely refuses to locate the identity of a person in some observable, bodily criteria. Phenomenology shares with Locke the focus on human beings as aware of themselves. Consequently, it also refuses to see the criteria of identity in some externally observable bodily feature. Nevertheless, phenomenology does not embrace the idea that personal identity has to consist either in consciousness, or in the body. We are self-aware as bodily beings. Moreover, phenomenology has a different concept of self-consciousness or self-awareness. In the founding texts by Husserl or Sartre, phenomenology defines itself as an analysis of consciousness, and it defines consciousness by intentionality: we are always directed at something, we see objects, hear sounds, we remember past experiences. We have an explicit or “thematic” consciousness of an object, for instance of a heavy luggage. Apart from that, there is also a non-thematic or marginal consciousness of ourselves as bodily beings: in my experience of this luggage as heavy, I experience my body as weak. That is to say: the body is present to ourselves, experienced by ourselves, even though not explicitly known to ourselves (thematically grasped). The question I address is thus the following one: how does the body form a part of identity of self-aware beings (persons). In the first part of my presentation, I briefly refer to Locke and the post-lockean debate. In the second part, I deal with phenomenological descriptions of the body as lived, i.e. as one’s own body. Having focused on the “mineness” of the body, I will move on, in the third part to the “otherness” or “strangeness” of my own body. My observations on the mineness and alterity of my body will be less based on phenomena such as double touch, as it is often the case, and more on bodily capacities and skills. I will suggest, in my conclusion, that the becoming strange of one’s own body may be seen as a prominent experience of what it means to be a person.
The ‘Wrong Images’ of Personal Ego: Scheler’s View of Time and Personhood
As is well known, Max Scheler’s account of personhood is quite different from the ‘reflexive accounts’ developed by other phenomenologists such as Edmund Husserl or Jean Paul Sartre. According to Scheler, a person can know himself not so much through theoretical or rational processes but primarily through emotional experiences. Indeed, emotions, feelings, moods are what determine the essence of every person. By means of emotions and feelings the person fills the epistemological gap inherent in every objectifying-reflexive act: thus, in Scheler’s phenomenology, personhood cannot be ‘objectified’ since through objectification it recedes to a transcendent level whilst phenomenology is primarily an a-symbolic, immanent and non-observational experience.
In this regard, starting from the criticism of those accounts that understand personal identity in a strictly temporal meaning, Scheler emphasizes the ‘normative’ nature of selfhood. Precisely he suggests that every person is endowed with a particular ‘ordo amoris’ and whoever has the ordo amoris of a man has the man himself. Specifically, it is the ‘normative’ meaning of ordo amoris, rather than the purely factual and descriptive one, that represents the innermost essence of personhood. This idea is the result of the profound analysis by which Scheler addresses not only emotional experiences but also the relationship between personhood and temporality.
As far as the historical-philosophical point of view is concerned, he claims that there are two different ways to stress the intimate relationship between person and time. On the one hand the ego is conceived as an ‘enduring point’ set above a continuously flowing moment, analogous to the moment in which a man in a tower views a stream flowing by below, as something identified with the ‘interconnective whole’ of this stream. On the other hand the individual ego does not ‘endure’ but is instead ‘modified’, without damage to its nature as ego, in every one of its experiences. According to Scheler both images are wrong given that the essence of a person consists rather in ‘becoming different’ (anderswerden) through that person’s experiences. Accordingly, personal identity is not constituted through identifying acts that pertain to contents of experience and the relations of meaning among them but rather through the ‘individual mode’ of experiencing all such contents.
In my paper I intend to highlight the specific phenomenological account of personal identity outlined by Scheler. Firstly, I will sketch out the fundamental traits of Scheler’s account of personhood focusing on the relationship between time and person. I will then discuss the normative meaning of ordo amoris and will argue that, according to Scheler, if the essence of personhood lies in continually “becoming different” then the temporal unity of the self takes second place in his thinking. Scheler focuses instead on the moral nature of personhood: being a person basically means to be endowed with a moral sensibility which allows one to orientate oneself to a specific hierarchy of values.
The Feeling of Being Oneself
The concept of the ego or the self has a very recent existence in the history of philosophy: this nominalization of the first-personal pronoun of the singular is a creation of Descartes and, soon after him, of Pascal, and Locke’s very influential account of the self relies on this invention. In order to assess whether the main concept of the egologies, the concept of self, is a necessary one in philosophy, it can be useful to consider closely one of the reasons that have been avanced in favor of this concept by Thomas Nagel, namely the existence of a very basic feeling, the feeling of being oneself by contrast to all the others one could have been, leading to the position of an
« objective self » that happens only contingently to be me. I’ll try to show that this feeling, far from being a « natural » and naive one, relies on heavy presuppositions coming from the conceptuality of the egologies themselves, among which some must be rejected.
Affectivity, Narrativity, and Pathologies of Identity
In my talk, I address the close relationship between affectivity and the constitution of our identity. While acknowledging that the typical candidates for explaining identity-constitution such as agency, normativity and narrativity are decisive elements in the process of becoming who one is, I argue that the crucial role of affective processes for our identity has not sufficiently been considered in the psychological and philosophical debate on personal identity. To demonstrate the significance of affectivity for our identity-constitution, I will examine pathologies of identity, more specifically, Borderline Personality Disorder. This psychopathological condition includes painful affective instability and severe disturbances of the sense of identity. From the perspective of phenomenological psychopathology, it has been argued that a lack of narrative identity might explain such distortions in how persons affected perceive themselves. By contrast, other authors, particularly in analytical philosophy of mind, have denied the pathological character of the absence of a unifying narrative identity and its contribution to the explanation of pathological self-experiences in Borderline. In my talk, I discuss both lines of reasoning and provide several arguments corroborating two suggestions: First, I start my discussion with the second group and argue that those who deny the explanatory role of narrative identity for self-pathology in Borderline (a) fail to distinguish between narrative identity and narrativity, and, (b) underestimate the structures of narrativity involved in both their self-theory and alternative explanation of self-pathology in Borderline. Secondly, I then turn to the first group and argue that those who recognise the deep impact of the lack of narrative identity have not yet sufficiently considered how disorders of affectivity can give rise to the lack of narrative identity and disruptions in narrativity in the first place. Based on the discussion of these two lines of reasoning regarding narrativity in Borderline and by examining the relationship between feeling and identity, my aim is to show that the affective dimension and its processes constitute the ground of our self-narratives and identity. To show this, I provide descriptions of Borderline experiences that reveal that in many cases our narratives can be expressions of underlying feelings about ourselves or – sometimes even desperate – attempts to regulate self-disclosing emotions. In this context, I shall further argue that our narratives and narrative identity alone may not suffice to guarantee a stable sense of identity. We also need to feel it. On this account, the one I propose, the sense of identity – qua feeling of identity – then turns out to be something that has a much stronger passive character than the notion of a self-constituted narrative identity appears to entail.
Callum Robert Plowright
“No longer themselves”: Losing Yourself in the Other
The onset of mental illness in someone close to you can involve the sense that the person is no longer themselves. Imagine a close friend of yours has developed schizophrenia. In the past they were someone you would meet regularly, sharing ideas and making plans. Now the fluidity and ease of your communication is disturbed, he holds beliefs about his family and the world that you know are not true and rejects your attempts to reason with him. The loss of historical familiarity with that person can be extremely disorienting, effecting everyday experience, and one’s sense of self. Your ability to be the person that you were with them has broken down. Consequently, you feel that they are no longer themselves.
Here, the expression that your friend is “no longer themselves” appears as a matter-of-fact statement about how things are. However, if we explore these experiences phenomenologically a more complex picture emerges, revealing the interdependent and vulnerable nature of the relationship between one’s sense of self and others. For instance, the continuity of one’s sense of self is manifested in part through our ability to engage in habitual and familiar ways with those close to us. It is through the fulfilment of our expectations, and the assimilation of surprises, in such encounters that allows us to be at home in the world with others, and in ourselves.
This paper will consider the phenomenon of experiencing and understanding someone as “no longer themselves”. It will explore the idea that understanding someone as no longer themselves, involves an attempt to refuse the re-identification of an experience of the other, with your experience of them in the present. This refusal, it is argued, can be understood as an attempt to recover coherence in one’s sense of self in response to an experience that disrupts it. This disruption is possible because of the structural role that others play in the coherence of our lived experience, and one’s sense of self.
At the same time the refusal to re-identify is also felt as a loss. I lose the ability to be the person that I was with this significant other. Importantly this loss can also be felt by the other person. This can exacerbate the distance between you and other person, perhaps even reinforcing the extent to which they appear as no longer themselves. It is here that a tension can be discerned between the need to establish coherence in one’s sense of self, and our capacity to engage with a significant other who is both an aid and a threat to that coherence.
This paper will explore these issues by developing a phenomenological account of such experiences, with a focus on the relationship between one’s sense of self and others. It will look at how such experiences impact upon one’s sense of self, and the sense of self of the other. It will also raise questions concerning the possibility of navigating such experiences differently in the interest of the self and the other.
The Distinction between I and Self
I will look at the distinction Heidegger indicates between the I (das Ich) and the Self (das Selbst), and consider different ways of drawing this distinction. I will then explore implications of the distinction for philosophical worries about identity.
Pragmatic Disclosure of the Who
The path from self-reflection to self-knowledge is lined with traps and possible failures. Whoever tries to reach a full sense of one´s identity gets, following David Hume, a myriad of seemingly disconnected egos. In addition, important parts of who we are cannot be accessed directly by self-reflection, as demonstrated by many critics of self-transparency of consciousness. Furthermore, transforming one´s self into an object of reflection unavoidably leads to a kind of reification, which is contrary to the sense that our existence is “immer unterwegs“ (Heidegger). My paper seeks to demonstrate that we can avoid these difficulties if we consider the relationship to oneself as a practical relation and that all three aforementioned traps arise precisely because we tend to misconstrue the issue of personal identity as an epistemological one. If our identity is at the bottom something to be achieved (and only secondarily something to be known), if the core of our self-relation resides in a kind of self-commitment, then we are able not only to dispel certain misunderstandings, but also propose a more robust conception of personal identity. I claim that a phenomenological theory of personal identity might be seen as a robust one, if it is able to account for phenomena such as: succeeded and failed attempts of self-identification, interactive constitution of identity in mutual recognition and its possible pathologies.
Justin F. White
Practical Identity and Disavowal: Self-Conception and Phenomenological Approaches
Anna Karenina seeks forgiveness from her estranged husband by attributing her actions to another woman in her: “There is another woman in me, I’m afraid of her—she fell in love with that man” (412). Harry Frankfurt also describes someone who flings “dishes, books, and crudely abusive language at his companion,” and afterward seeks to distance himself from the outburst by claiming, “I wasn’t myself. Please don’t hold it against me” (The Importance of What We Care About, 1988: 63). Both individuals claim to not have been themselves, perhaps because the actions go against their self-conceptions. But how much authority should self-conception have in such situations?
According to Christine Korsgaard’s approach to practical identity, the way agents think of themselves matters a great deal. When I see myself as a parent, lover, teacher, or some combination of these, these roles become reason-giving and I am more likely to “regard some movement of my mind or my body as my action” and not merely as “some force that is at work on me or in me” (Self-Constitution, Korsgaard 2009, 18, original emphasis). Let us call this the self-conception approach to practical identity.
Steven Crowell criticizes Korsgaard’s account for committing us to an overly reflective and rationalistic picture of human agency, thus distorting how practical identities function in everyday life. As a corrective, he proposes a Heideggerian account in which practical identities are determined primarily by engagement with the world. An agent has a practical identity insofar as she engages with the world and/or her world shows up in a certain way. In this phenomenological approach, one has the practical identity of carpenter, for example, as one’s practical options appear as they would to a carpenter.
This paper argues that the self-conception and the phenomenological accounts of practical identity highlight different but crucial dimensions of robust human agency. Self-conscious thoughts about oneself can significantly impact the way one lives, but consciously valuing oneself under some description does not yet make one’s world normatively structured in the relevant way. Just because one sees oneself in a certain way or wants to be a certain way does not yet make it so. Even if self-conceptions can help bring about changes in oneself, the process is often not straightforward. If self-conceptions are too far-removed from one’s phenomenological practical identity, for example, one could be less effective at self-consciously directing actions. Integrating the self-consciously self-directing element of Korsgaard’s account into the phenomenological account yields an account of practical identity that better reflects the aspirational but existentially-grounded nature of human agency.
I use the phenomenon of disavowal to analyze how these different notions of practical identity interact differently with different practical identities. In some cases, one’s self-conception exerts a decisive power over phenomenological practical identity; in others, one’s self-conception is at most a significant factor in one’s phenomenological practical identity. Correspondingly, sometimes disavowing an identity effectively removes the identity’s practical effect; in others, disavowal is at best inadequate, but can be a sign of practical deception of others, of oneself, and perhaps both.
“Who one is”—a Political Issue?
Hannah Arendt on Personhood, Maximal Self, and Bare Life
Arendt’s phenomenology of the political puts persons in the center. It is persons who act and who become who they are by interacting with and appearing before others. By generating stories through their actions, persons gain their identities, in struggle against or in power associations with others. In this sense, the issue of “who one is” and its intrinsic relation to plurality constitutes a central feature of Arendt’s theory of the political, in its descriptive as well as in its normative aspects. Arendt insists that it is simply “unrealistic” to exclude the personal factor from politics, “the inevitability with which men disclose themselves as subjects, as distinct and unique persons, even when they wholly concentrate upon reaching an altogether worldly, material object” (The Human Condition, 183). If one did so deliberately, this would result in a politics of mere anonymous accomplishment in the best, and in dehumanizing violence in the worst case (The Human Condition, 180f.)
So far, so good. But does this mean reversely that we need the political and the public realm for being persons as such? A differentiated answer to this question will be necessary. Because at first glance this thesis simply seems absurd. It cannot mean that only people who engage in political action are real persons and all others lead shadowy existences without a proper identity, without a story, without being someone: namely this special person. Most of us only lead private existences and are not even interested in politics. Still, we wouldn’t deny them, or rather, ourselves, uniqueness and personhood. Neither would we do that vis-à-vis people who cannot engage in political action: children, people with dementia or severe disabilities, etc. But then, what does Arendt mean if she insists that to “live an entirely private life means above all to be deprived of things essential to a truly human life” (The Human Condition, 58)? What does she point to if she claims that “action needs for its full appearance the shining brightness [of] the public realm,” precisely because of action’s “inherent tendency to disclose the agent together with the act” (The Human Condition, 179)?
We need to explain these puzzling as well as crucial passages if we want to get a grip on Arendt’s theory of personhood. This will be the aim of my paper. One starting point would be to look at the negative cases. And indeed, she does get something right here. The seeming absurdity of claiming that we feel “real” only by being heard and seen by potentially all (The Human Condition, 56) becomes much less absurd if we think of her analysis of the situation of refugees (“We Refugees”, Menorah 31(1)) and stateless persons (Origins of Totalitarianism, 267-303). To lose one’s story (“No one knows who I am anymore”) and to be condemned to an existence where one’s voice does not count and one’s actions do not matter, is to be made “invisible” and “unreal.” It seems that Arendt has drawn her theoretical elaboration of the conditions of “who one is” precisely from these negative cases of being “no one,” of losing one’s place in the world, of being excluded from at least a potentially political life. This gives us a range of what kinds of conditions political life can provide for personhood, from a maximal sense of self down to the annihilation of the person in “bare life”.