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Fr. 676

September 29, 2015

3. In particular, we seek to remedy unclear uses of self as linked to its empirical, spiritual and linguistic purposes so as to establish a baseline notion by which to work.

We have pursued this work rather extensively in previous fragments.

At the empirical level, we have sought to moderate the conclusions of those scientific studies the results of which would seem to suggest that the self is a complete illusion. While correct in asserting that the self does not exist as an empirical object like the others, in the world or in the mind, and that everyday allusions to self as permanent or subsisting are misguided, such studies lose sight of the way in which self can be subject to indirect empirical verification. In particular, empirical studies may provide key information for better understanding the relation between nature and nurture, genetics and environment, essential factors for a scientifically sound approach to self. Essentially, there can be no way to set the bounds of self and the interaction of elements therein independently of any empirical considerations. In addition, such studies are sometimes blind to the manner in which self acquires an effective reality for the person. Insofar as the person cannot help but make reference to a more persistent notion of self, identity or character in explaining her thought, speech and deeds and this reference structures these, the notion of self, identity or character plays a real role in the cognitive economy, one for which the empirical sciences are perhaps ill-positioned to account.

At the spiritual level, our work has been rather more constructive, perhaps even negative. Particularly, we have endeavored to show both just how talk of the eternal soul has infiltrated talk of the self and how talk of self does not stand or fall with the (hypothetical) existence of an eternal soul. As to the first, it is clear the extent to which the eternal soul lends structure to modern conceptions of the self, often conceived of as unchanging, inborn, inalienable, individuated, etc.. While we can allow for a certain continuity in self, as well as its uniqueness and our inability to influence it directly, this owes respectively to the way in which consciousness frames self, the nature of self as a non-empirical object, and the radical contingency at its base (as opposed to an inherent uniqueness). As to the second, we have suggested that the latter set of claims do not depend upon the notion of an eternal soul for their content or justification and can be explicated in terms, though not wholly opposed to spirituality, are sufficiently independent thereof for equal interaction.

Finally, at the linguistic level, as elsewhere, our efforts have proven one part positive, one part negative. Negative in that much of our everyday talk of self presents it as being something in terms other than those in which we might justifiably present it. Again, this is perhaps the influence of spiritual discourse on the quotidian. Yet it has also demonstrated positive aspects insofar as we have reasserted both the (at least partially) linguistic nature or existence of self and the linguistic means by which we come to access and work on self. By showing that self is structured in terms of language (i.e. that we make effective certain aspects of identity or character in articulating or expressing them), we also show that self can be restructured through concerted linguistic effort (i.e. that we can make effective new formulations of identity or character in articulating the new or rearticulating the old). This represents another area of agreement with those empirical studies which, in calling attention to how self is illusory, also seek to underline how we might go about altering existing conceptions of identity or character.

In so many ways have we made use of nuance as a corrective to turn talk of self onto more solid ground capable of being formulated in terms of abstract base principles.

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