The Constitution of Selves

The Constitution of Selves

The Constitution of Selves

The Constitution of Selves

Synopsis

An amnesia victim who asks "Who am I?" means something different from a confused adolescent asking the same question. Marya Schechtman takes issue with analytic philosophy's emphasis on the first sort of question to the exclusion of the second. The problem of personal identity, she suggests, is usually understood to be a question about historical life. What she calls the "reidentification question" is taken to be the real metaphysical question of personal identity, whereas questions about beliefs or values and the actions they prompt - the "characterization question" - are often presented as merely metaphorical. Failure to recognize the philosophical importance of both, Schechtman argues, has undermined analytic philosophy's attempts to offer a satisfying account of personal identity. Considerations related to the characterization question creep unrecognized into discussions of reidentification, with the result that neither question is adequately addressed. Schechtman shows how separating the twoallows for,a more fruitful approach to the reidentification question, and she develops her own narrative account of characterization.

Excerpt

The personal identity problem has enjoyed a revival among analytic philosophers over the last three decades. Since questions of personal identity are of fundamental interest outside philosophy, there is some reason to hope that in this area philosophy will do what it is popularly thought to do—apply rigorous standards of argument and investigation to basic problems of human existence. A glance at the contemporary literature on personal identity, however, quickly disappoints these expectations. Instead of questions of self-knowledge, self-expression, and authenticity, we find discussions of the necessary and sufficient connections between entities called individual "person time-slices" which allow us to say they are slices of the same person.These creatures inhabiting philosophical theories of identity seem to have little to do with persons as we know them, and the concerns about identity these theorists address seem far removed from the compelling identity issues familiar to us from lived experience, psychology, and literature.

The contemporary philosophical discussion of identity omits a great deal that seems central to the topic of personal identity. This book is motivated by my own disappointment. My goal is to articulate more clearly what contemporary analytic work on personal identity neglects. In Part I, I consider central issues from within the contemporary debate, arguing that current analytic identity theorists have failed even on their own terms.In Part II, I step outside the confines of standard personal identity literature, using resources and issues neglected by the standard discussion to provide more robust and satisfying perspectives on questions about persons and personal identity.Here I focus on our experience of life as lived history, investigating how personal identity is linked to the capacity to construct coherent autobiographical narratives and to enter into the activities and social interactions that define the lives of persons.

Much of the preliminary work involved in understanding and criticizing . . .

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