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Fr. 662

August 19, 2015

B.) We can scrutinize Carruthers’ presentation for limitations in the kinds of self there under consideration. Recall first Carruthers’ description of conscious self:

We decide what to pay attention to, what to remember, what to think of, what to imagine, and what sentences to rehearse in inner speech. There is control, of course, and it is a form of self-control. But is not control by a conscious self. Rather, what we take to be the conscious self is a puppet manipulated by our unconscious goals, beliefs, and decisions.

One worry may be that, by evoking a broader term which is not clearly delimited, the objection has broader application than it perhaps should and tempts readers to draw broader conclusions than they perhaps should. For example, the way persons discuss their selves, as per folk psychology, suggests that consciousness does not exhaust their notion of self. If there is perhaps good reason to impose limits on consciousness and on the forms of self operative in consciousness, this does not warrant consigning self to the bin. Rather, what is at issue here proves the relation between consciousness and self. Just how deeply does this coincidence run?

Working from a provisional template, we have previously attempted to elaborate a (sub)classification of selfhood that suits the purposes of our inquiry, i.e. facilitating discourse:

1.) Person: the biological substrate or vehicle for senses of self and personal history.

2.) Self: the mental or emotional correlate to person as substrate or vehicle for senses of self and personal history.

3.) Subject: a construct or property of self as bearer of rights

4.) Individual: a construct or property of self as bearer of a concrete, personal history.

5.) Identity: the more or less conscious synthesis or distillation of the above into a condensed formation permitting identification with; creation of a self-image for others.

6.) Agent: the more or less unconscious way in which the above hang together; everyday experience of oneself when not taken as an object of study or presentation for oneself or others.

Although all relate to selfhood in one way or another, of these, only 5.) would encounter serious complications and need for revision as per Carruthers’ provision. Given that projection of a self-image requires control over and manipulation of sensory-based material, it seems reasonable to assume that this task proceeds in a manner quite unlike that which we imagine. More precisely, the materials offered up by unconscious processes in the mental economy figure prominently in the self-image whether we will it or no, and, so, we engage in self-deception the person goes about fitting the different parts of her identity together.

Yet the other levels of selfhood compensate for this empirical oversight at the level of “identity” in different ways. 1.) “Person” accounts for the impact of genetics upon self, as shown elsewhere in connection with voting habits. 2.) “Self” leaves open to what extent unconscious mental or emotional properties weigh on conscious life and control. 3.) “Subject” and 4.) “Individual” are abstract constructs which neither stand nor fall with the notion of consciousness in that they are ascribed to persons independently of their consciousness thereof. 6.) “Agent” makes room for the cognitively unavailable aspects of everyday experience and interaction with the cognitive economy, unconscious or otherwise. Even 5.) “Identity” allows for the possibility of gradation in our conscious access to a self-image.

All of that is to say that, while there are problems with folk psychology understandings of self, a number of which we have pointed out in previous writings, and we do not wish to maintain self’s immunity against failings, conscious self is more in need of correction and nuance than outright denial. In some sense, selfhood merely requires the proper shading.

In fairness and to his credit, Carruthers does not wish to do away with self but aims instead at a more nuanced approach to the question. It is worth repeating his closing remarks:

Who’s in charge? Well, we are. But the “we” who are in charge are not the conscious selves we take ourselves to be, but rather a set of unconsciously operating mental states.

On this, the present account and Carruthers seem in agreement. The line between conscious and unconscious selfhood requires redrawing: it is more a matter of finding where to draw the line than questioning the line’s existence. If Carruthers may be inclined to give the lion’s share to unconscious self in answer to “Who’s in charge?”, we are more reticent, whether out of good reason or mere romanticism. For, in filtering out different levels or spheres of selfhood, we can more clearly set out conscious and unconscious domains and explore the possibility of interaction. Yet some will wonder whether we accomplish anything by merely multiplying conceptual distinctions. Nonetheless, it is important to remember to what extent the accounts above can be made to fit one another.

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