Sei sulla pagina 1di 4

Hartney 1

Aliya Hartney
Laura Templeman
Philosophy 101_40
18 April 2018
What is the Self?

What is the Self, what makes our being? Are we more than a physical body? Does our
self exist through time; is it constant from birth? Does self even exist? If so how do we know?
These are the important philosophical questions that may cause you to question every fiber of
your being, whatever that is. Philosophers in many ages have attempted to answer these
questions, but there are three main answers: Dualism, Materialism, and Idealism. Dualists
believe that there are two aspects of the self, mind and body. Materialists, or physicalists believe
that all of our self can be explained by the physical. Idealists believe that our true self is
metaphysical, and without the metaphysical there would be no physical. Although these are the
main answers not all the answers fit neatly into these labels. Some philosophers, like the
Buddhists even say there is no self. But before you accept any of them it is important to have an
understanding of the different arguments, starting with dualism.

1. Cartesian Dualism: Descartes 1596-1650

René Descartes is the most famous Dualist, one branch of dualism, Cartesian Dualism, is
named after him (Self lecture, slide15). To start how does Descartes prove that the self exists?
Descartes is famous for his desire to take nothing for granted. However, in all his doubting he
could not doubt the existence of self; for what else could be the perpetrator of his doubt? Thus
his famous saying “I doubt therefore I am”. As a dualist, Descartes believed that self or being is
comprised of both metaphysical mind and physical body. According to Descartes, “Minds are
nonextended thinking substances” which are “not subject to the laws of physics” (p131 UQ).
Although Descartes believed mind and body to be distinct, he observed that they appear to
influence each other. Therefore they must have a point of interaction, which Descartes believed
to be the pineal gland. Yet, how can a nonphysical entity interact with a physical body? And
even if they interact through the pineal gland is it not physical? For many this question is enough
to reject the view point of dualism, and support either an entirely physical or entirely
metaphysical self.

2. Idealism: Berkeley 1685-1753

“Matter is just a collection of immaterial ideas” to idealists (p 41 DW).An Idealist
believes that the true self is nonphysical; the most prominent idealist is Bishop George Berkeley.
On the existence of self Berkeley says “to be is to be perceived” (Self lecture, slide26). Truly,
Berkeley believes that it is the perception of something that truly makes it exist. To Berkeley
there is no physical world, everything exists in the mind only. The major problem with
Berkeley’s mindset, is why we continue to exist even when there is no perceiver. Such as when
we sleep. For that is the logical next step of his argument, if to be is to be perceived then without
perception there is no existence. However, this is clearly not the case. Berkeley defends his
beliefs by calling God the “eternal perceiver” capable of perceiving everything and thus keeping
everything in existence (Self lecture, slide26). However the existence of God is a philosophy
question in itself, so it does not provide a perfect proof for the argument of idealism.

3. Materialism: Hobbes 1588-1679

Hartney 2

Materialists believe that all can be explained by the physical world, or in other words
“humans are just physical creatures” (p41 DW). For the most part Materialists don’t need to
prove the existence of self, since they usually argue that it is simply a body and most accept the
existence of their physical body. The real challenge for materialists is explaining consciousness
or thoughts. Why do we feel like we are more than our physical body? The answer varies from
philosopher to philosopher. As a monist, Thomas Hobbes believes that everything is “matter in
motion” (Self lecture, slide 24). Everything can be explained in terms of movement, or energy.
Our perceptions? Simply movements within us, caused by movements without (Self lecture,
slide26). Emotions? E motions, just motions within our physical body (Self lecture, slide26).
Thus it is only motion that gives us a perception of an inner being. Hobbes did not offer much in
proof of his theory, but instead offered evidence against dualism and idealism (Duncan).
Perhaps, Hobbes was hoping future scientific discoveries would provide his evidence, but
without strong endorsing arguments Hobbes materialistic view leaves us wanting (Duncan).

4. Locke 1632-1704
John Locke is an empiricist, meaning he believes true knowledge can only come through
the senses. Because of his empirical view, Locke would most likely align himself with the
materialists, because classical idealism and dualism viewpoints rely on knowledge that cannot be
attained through the senses. Can you see or touch a soul or a thought? According to Locke our
“self is a compilation of experiences” and it’s our memories the “stored experiences” that define
our self (Self lecture, slide25). At our birth self is just a blank slate (Self lecture, slide 25).
Furthermore if anything ever happens to our memories then our self is no longer the same, “Self,
therefore, extends back as far as I can remember past experiences” (p119 UQ). The main
problem with Locke’s argument is that we are constantly losing memories. Can you remember
your fourth birthday? Most people cannot, and according to Locke because we have lost some of
these stored experiences we are no longer the same Self. Truly, we are never the same person for
long. For the most part we desire a greater feeling of stability and identity than Locke’s theory

5. Hume 1711-1776
David Hume is another Empiricist, and the ultimate skeptic. Hume’s view of self is “we
cannot say that the self exists” (Velasquez, 423). Holding with Empiricist values Hume argued
“If a concept is not based on the sensations or “impressions” of our sense experience… then it
must be meaningless.” (Velasquez, 420). Applying this reasoning to self, Hume said that the
belief of an inner self has “no foundation” (Velasquez, 421). All that we know is our perceptions,
and that is all we can know. Hume holds that there really is no inner self, all we are is “a bundle
or collection of different perceptions.” (Velasquez, 421). Hume attempted to perceive his self,
but no matter how he delved into his mind all he found were previous perceptions. Thus he
concluded that self is unknowable. Our perception of self has no impression, comes from no
sensory knowledge, it has no foundation (Velasquez, 421). Yet, we all feel that we have
something that defines our being even though we cannot perceive it or proves its existence.

6. Ryle 1900-1976
Gilbert Ryle is a monist, he views the mind and body as one. According to Ryle, the mind
or the self is simply referring “to certain aspects of our bodies” rather than “a specific entity”
(p139 UQ). The self is not separate from our physical body it is a part of it. To think of it in any
Hartney 3

other way would be a category mistake. As it is explained in Dream Weaver, “to say there is a
body, brain [physical] and a mind [self]” is like saying “there’s a left-handed glove a right-
handed glove, and a pair of gloves.” it is illogical (p52 DW). Just say there is a pair of gloves, or
there is a body. To Ryle, a “logical positivist”, the question of self is not even a philosophy
question, it does not need to be made metaphysical and “metaphysical issues are not answerable”
(Self lecture, slide 18) Furthermore Ryle argues that “no one but philosophers have a problem
with understanding self” (Self lecture, slide 18). However the philosophers, who still consider
the question of self, argue that Ryle is simply begging the question, and does not really prove
why the self is not its own entity (p139 UQ).

7. Spinoza 1632-1677
Baruch Spinoza is also a monist, but not only does he argue that the self and the physical
body are attributes of one substance, he also claims that all is one substance. This substance is
god, everything is just a part of god. Our apparent perception of separation is simply an illusion
(Self lecture, slide28). The capabilities of our self to think, happens only because our self is god
(Self lecture, slide28). Spinoza’s god has two essences, extension and thought, which in turn
have numerous “modes” (Nadler). Other than both being aspects of god, thought and extensions
are “distinct” and “have absolutely nothing in common” (Nadler). It is the modes of these
essences that make up the rest of the universe, but in the end everything is still just an aspect of
God. Extension is the essence of matter, and thus our physical body is one of its modes (Nadler).
In contrast, what we call our self or are inner being is a mode of thought.

8. Buddhism
Our final answer to the question of self comes from the East. Similar to Spinoza
Buddhists believe that our self is simply part of the rest of the world. However they also argue
that because “we are made up of non-self parts” which change from moment there really is no
self (Self lecture, slide9). Buddhists “call the belief in a permanently abiding self “ignorance”
(p111 UQ). Rather the “fluctuation of impermanent non-self parts” is what we have called self,
but it is truly nothing separate from the component parts. Although it appears as though
Buddhists say there is no self, they are really saying self is just a name we created not “a
substantial, permanent, transcendent entity” that many believe it is(Self lecture, slide 13). We do
not have a personal identity; we are connected to the entire universe. Our “creation of a self may
just be a defense mechanism” used as “a tool for survival or maybe psychological comfort” it is
not reality (p41 DW).

What is self? There is no clear cut answer. Cartesian Dualism argues that our self is
metaphysical and separate from our physical body and yet they closely interact. Idealism, says
that our self is metaphysical and without the existence of this self there would be no matter.
Materialism argues almost the exact opposite that our thoughts and what could be called the
inner being is simply an aspect of the physical world subject to all the same rules. Then there is
Locke who says we are really just experiences. Following suit, Hume argues there is only
perceptions, but there is no perception of self. Ryle wonders why we even look at the question of
self, when its mystery is caused by a semantic category mistake. Spinoza labels self as a mode of
god’s essences. And finally, Buddhists say self is just a convenient name, there is no self. All of
them have their problems, and all of them have their arguments, what is the true answer? I leave
that up to you, if you even exist to decide.
Hartney 4

Works Cited
Bowen, Jack. The Dream Weaver: One Boy’s Journey through the Landscape of Reality.
Anniversary Ed., Pearson Longman, 2008.
Duncan, Stewart. "Thomas Hobbes", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Summer 2017
Edition, Edward N. Zalta (ed.),
Nadler, Steven. "Baruch Spinoza", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Fall 2016 Edition,
Edward N. Zalta (ed.),
Rauhut Nils Ch. Ultimate Questions: Thinking About Philosophy. 3rd ed. Prentice Hall, 2011.
Templeman, Laura. “What is the Self?” 6 February 2016, PowerPoint File.
Velasquez, Manuel. Philosophy: a text with Readings. 8th ed., Wadsworth, 2002.