Skip to content
Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter March 13, 2014

I Am a Lot of Things: A Pluralistic Account of the Self

Jiri Benovsky
From the journal Metaphysica

Abstract

When I say that I am a lot of things, I mean it literally and metaphysically speaking. The Self, or so I shall argue, is a plurality (notwithstanding the fact that ordinary language takes “the Self” to be a singular term – but, after all, language is only language). It is not a substance or a substratum, and it is not a collection or a bundle. The view I wish to advocate for is a kind of reductionism, in line with some – but not all – broadly Humean ideas. In short, I will defend the view there are the experiences and mental states we have, and that’s it: no additional substances, and no bundles. This does not mean, however, that there is no Self – the Self simply is the experiences. I will try to articulate and defend this view by showing that it can accommodate what I take to be the three main desiderata for any theory of the Self to satisfy: first, that the Self is the subject of experience (a subject of mental states, in general); second, that there is a unity to the Self in the sense that our (conscious, phenomenal) experience is at least partly continuous or ‘stream-like’; and third, that we do not die when we go to sleep or when we otherwise don’t have any (conscious, phenomenal) experiences.

References

Armstrong, D. M. 1997. A World of States of Affairs. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.10.1017/CBO9780511583308Search in Google Scholar

Benovsky, J.2008. “The bundle theory and the substratum theory: deadly enemies or twin brothers?,” Philosophical Studies, 141:175190.Search in Google Scholar

Benovsky, J. 2009. “The Self: a Humean bundle and/or a Cartesian substance?,” European Journal of Analytic Philosophy, 5(1).Search in Google Scholar

Benovsky, J. 2012. “The Speed of Thought. Experience of change, movement, and time: a Lockean account,” Locke Studies, 12:85109.Search in Google Scholar

Benovsky, J. forthcoming. “From experience to metaphysics: on experience-based intuitions and their role in metaphysics,” Noûs DOI 10.1111/nous.12024.Search in Google Scholar

Benovsky, J. 2013. “The Present VS. The Specious Present,” Review of Philosophy and Psychology4(2):193203.10.1007/s13164-012-0120-5Search in Google Scholar

Broad, C. D. 1923. Scientific Thought. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co.Search in Google Scholar

Dainton, B. 2000. Stream of Consciousness. London: Routledge.Search in Google Scholar

Dainton, B. 2003. “Time in Experience: Reply to Gallagher.” Psyche9(10).Search in Google Scholar

Dainton, B. 2008a. The Phenomenal Self. Oxford: Oxford University Press.10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199288847.001.0001Search in Google Scholar

Dainton, B. 2008b. “Sensing Change.” Philosophical Issues18. Interdisciplinary Core Philosophy.10.1111/j.1533-6077.2008.00152.xSearch in Google Scholar

Dainton, B. 2010. “Temporal Consciousness.” Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, online.Search in Google Scholar

Dainton, B. 2012. “Selfhood and the Flow of Experience.” Grazer Philosophische Studien84:173211.10.1163/9789401207904_009Search in Google Scholar

Descartes, R. 1984. Meditationes De Prima Philosophia. Translated and edited by Cottingham, Stoothoff and Murdoch. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Foster, J. 1982. The Case for Idealism. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.Search in Google Scholar

Foster, J. 1992. The Immaterial Self. London: Routledge.Search in Google Scholar

Gallie, I. 1936. “Is the Self a Substance?Mind45.177:2844.Search in Google Scholar

Hawthorne, J., and J. A.Cover. 1998. “A World of Universals.” Philosophical Studies91:20519.10.1023/A:1004276510940Search in Google Scholar

Heller, M. 1990. The Ontology of Physical Objects: Four-Dimensional Hunks of Matter. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.10.1017/CBO9781139166409Search in Google Scholar

Heller, M. 2008. “The Donkey Problem.” Philosophical Studies140(1):83101.10.1007/s11098-008-9227-zSearch in Google Scholar

Hoerl, C. 2009. “Time and Tense in Perceptual Experience.” Philosophers’ Imprint9(12).Search in Google Scholar

Hume, D. 1978. A Treatise of Human Nature. Edited by L. A.Selby-Bigge. Revised by P. H.Nidditch. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Husserl, E. 1964. The Phenomenology of Internal Time-Consciousness. Edited by M.Heidegger and J. S.Churchill (trans.). Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.Search in Google Scholar

James, W. 1890. The Principles of Psychology. New York: H. Holt and company.10.1037/10538-000Search in Google Scholar

Johnston, M. 2010. Surviving Death. Princeton, New Jersey, USA: Princeton University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Kant, I. 1781. Critique of Pure Reason. Edited by P.Guyer and A.Wood. Originally published in 1781/1787.trs. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.Search in Google Scholar

Locke, J. 1975. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, edited by P. H.Nidditch. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Search in Google Scholar

Lowe, E. J. 1996. Subjects of Experience. Oxford: Oxford University Press.10.1017/CBO9780511598005Search in Google Scholar

Merricks, T. 2001. Objects and Persons. Oxford: Oxford University Press.10.1093/0199245363.001.0001Search in Google Scholar

Olson, E. T. 1998. “There Is No Problem of the Self.” Journal of Consciousness Studies5:64557.Search in Google Scholar

Olson, E. T. 2007. What Are We? A Study in Personal Ontology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Parfit, D. 1971. “Personal Identity.” The Philosophical Review80(1):327.10.2307/2184309Search in Google Scholar

Parfit, D. 1984. Reasons and Persons. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Paul, L. A. 2010. “Temporal Experience.” Journal of Philosophy107(7):333359.10.5840/jphil2010107727Search in Google Scholar

Phillips, I. 2011. “Indiscriminability and Experience of Change.” The Philosophical Quarterly61(245):808827.10.1111/j.1467-9213.2011.703.xSearch in Google Scholar

Reid, T. 1785/2002. Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man. Edited by D.Brookes. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press.10.1093/oseo/instance.00106533Search in Google Scholar

Scholl, B. J. 2007. “Object Persistence in Philosophy and Psychology.” Mind and Language22(5):56391.10.1111/j.1468-0017.2007.00321.xSearch in Google Scholar

Sider, T. 2000. “The Stage View and Temporary Intrinsics.” Analysis60:848.10.1093/analys/60.1.84Search in Google Scholar

Sider, T. 2001. Four-Dimensionalism. Oxford: Clarendon Press.10.1093/019924443X.001.0001Search in Google Scholar

Strawson, G. 1997. “The Self.” Journal of Consciousness Studies4.5/6:40528.Search in Google Scholar

Strawson, G. 1999. “The Self and the SESMET.” Journal of Consciousness Studies6.4:99135.Search in Google Scholar

Unger, P. 1979. “There Are No Ordinary Things.” Synthese41(2):11754.10.1007/BF00869568Search in Google Scholar

Van Inwagen, P. 1990. Material Beings. New York: Cornell University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Varzi, A. 2003. “Naming the Stages.” Dialectica57:387412.10.1111/j.1746-8361.2003.tb00279.xSearch in Google Scholar

  1. 1

    When it comes to arguing about the Self from a metaphysical point of view, philosophers traditionally tend to form two allegedly opposing camps. On the one side, there are the friends of a very broadly Cartesian conception of the Self as being a substance or substratum (various versions of this type of view include Descartes (1984), Reid (1785), Gallie (1936), and Lowe (1996)). On the other side lies a more or less united alliance of friends of various kinds reductionism of this substance, either in the form of some type of a broadly Humean bundle theory (such as Hume (1978), and recently Dainton (2008, 2012)), or – more radically – in the form of an eliminativist theory (see for instance Johnston (2010) and Olson (1998)). In Benovsky (2008, 2009), my business was to show that, in general, bundle theories and substratum theories are in fact not very different from each other, and that, in particular, when it comes to the Self, it makes little difference to choose one camp or the other. I will not press this issue here; rather, in this article, I will try to say something positive about the metaphysics of the Self, and instead of doing meta-metaphysics, I will try to articulate what I take to be the correct “first-order” view.

  2. 2

    There are some similarities – but only some – between my view and Parfit’s (1971, 1984) reductionism, as well as Galen Strawson’s (1997, 1999) Pearl View (a view which itself comes structurally close to the Stage View about persistence through time and personal identity (see Sider (2000, 2001) and Varzi (2003))), and – as far as I am able to tell – the Buddhist view of the Self. Of course, there are also obvious important dissimilarities.

  3. 3

    Merricks (2001) is an excellent example and elaborate defence of such a view. Various – and different – variants of such a type of view include, inter alia, Van Inwagen (1990), Heller (1990), and Unger (1979). Heller (2008) is a very good place to look for a recent detailed discussion of an eliminativist-like relationship between tables and fundamental components arranged tablewise.

  4. 4

    See Merricks (2001, 8–9) for this claim, and Benovsky (forthcoming) for a detailed discussion of this issue.

  5. 5

    John Locke held an interesting view on this issue; see Benovsky (2012) for a detailed discussion.

  6. 6
  7. 7
  8. 8
  9. 9

    Locke (1975, Book II, especially Chap. 14).

  10. 10

    For philosophical discussions of these, see Scholl (2007) and Paul (2010), Benovsky (forthcoming).

  11. 11

    In Benovsky (2013, §5), I discuss a different but dialectically parallel case which concerns the debate about presentism and the specious present theory. Some claim that the two are contradictory since presentism claims that there exists only one instant – the present time – while specious present theorists such as extensionalists claim that our experience is temporally extended (thus, it requires more than one instant to exist). The idea I argue for here is that one needs to make a distinction between metaphysical temporal extension and phenomenal temporal extension. Extensionalists need the latter but not the former, and thus their view is entirely compatible with the truth of presentism – indeed, presentism and the specious present theory and entirely orthogonal and independent views, or so I argue.

Published Online: 2014-3-13
Published in Print: 2014-4-1

©2014 by Walter de Gruyter Berlin / Boston