Chapter 4 self lecture Consciousness and the Self Chapter section: A. Consciousness and the Self: From Descartes to Kant

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Chapter 4 SELF

Lecture 1. Consciousness and the Self
Chapter section: A. Consciousness and the Self: From Descartes to Kant
Self-identity has several senses:

  1. How do we characterize ourselves? How should we identify ourselves?

  2. What makes us the same person over time?

  3. Does consciousness make us individual selves, identifiable over time?

  1. Descartes
    Descartes knows that he exists and continues to exist as long as he is a "thing that thinks." This consciousness that allows us to know that we exist composes our soul, a substance, and is independent of a body. For Descartes, self-identity depends on consciousness, on one's thinking, perceiving, etc.

  2. Locke
    Locke believes that self-identity depends on our having the same self-consciousness and memories over time. He differs from Descartes because he distinguishes between a substance (the soul) and consciousness.
    Locke's idea that memory is what constitutes a self-identity is inspired by the Cartesian notion that a person's relationship to her own thoughts is unique. You cannot think my thoughts, and I cannot think yours. According to Locke, memory provides an infallible link between what we might call different stages of a person.
    Two objections: (1) We forget much of what we experience. (2) Our memories are not always accurate.

  3. Hume
    Hume concludes that the idea of a self is simply a fiction. This is because he believes that when we are self-conscious we are aware of only fleeting thoughts, feelings, and perceptions, we do not have an impression of the self or a thinking substance.
    He believes that because we are used to spatiotemporal continuity of an object (we see a tree and believe that it is the tree we saw a moment ago) we rely on resemblance as a criterion of identity. He believes that we cannot even establish the identity of objects on this account.
    But Hume's argument "I can never catch myself" relies on a presupposition: He is presupposing that there is a "myself" to be caught.

  4. Kant

    1. Kant's Transcendental Ego Kant agrees with Hume: Identity is not found in self-consciousness. The enduring self is not an object of experience. It is transcendental. Transcendental: a necessary condition for the possibility of any experience. If there was a different self at each moment of consciousness, we would not be able to perceive anything. Because we do experience objects, we must assume that we have a unified consciousness that combines all of these impressions into the perception of these objects. This is Kant's self. The "I" that had the experience can always be found. The self, for Kant, is also the activity of applying the rules by which we organize our experience. We must "synthesize" our experiences into a unity because we could not come to have any knowledge otherwise. He calls this the transcendental unity of apperception. The transcendental ego is basic and necessary for all human experience.

    2. Kant's Two Conceptions of the Self Kant objects to Descartes on three grounds.

      1. Our concern with self-consciousness is given impetus because we are not often self-conscious.

      2. Kant does not believe that the thinking self is a thinking thing because the self is not in our experience but rather is responsible for it. The self is an activity, which undermines the traditional concept of the soul.

      3. Kant believes that we need two very different conceptions of self. The first is that the transcendental self is essential to being a self, and the second is the idea of the empirical ego, which includes all of those particular things that make us different people. This allows us to differentiate between particular selves.

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