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In search of self III

October 14, 2015

Let us take a moment to consider more concretely the different kinds of purposes to which an explanation of self might be subordinated. A scientific study which aims at proving that conventional notions of self are no more than an illusion is more likely to accept neuroscientific, psychological and cognitive considerations, evidence and argumentation over and against folk psychological, spiritual or linguistic. Conversely, spiritual inquiry into self will more likely accept religious or mystical considerations, evidence and argumentation as opposed to the merely empirical. Against the foregoing, a linguistic study into self might discount both kinds of considerations and accept merely those grounded in our usage of self in everyday language.

This study does not aim to discredit certain of the above to the benefit of another. Although we will have more to say on how these intersect with our own purpose and the kinds of considerations that we will subsequently admit into our calculus of reasons, we shall not carry out any thoroughgoing critique other than that necessary to establish the limits and reciprocity between purposes. Because, it goes without saying, these purposes and fields cannot be wholly isolated from one another. The findings of one are likely to influence or impact those of another, of which one such case is to be found in recent attempts to link accounts of self taken from Buddhism and contemporary cognitive science respectively.

Consequently, we have shown that self can and does stand as an object of inquiry. Having established its availability as an object, as per our first question, we can move on to the second, namely what kind of tools can be brought to illuminate self. Insofar as the tools are fixed by the nature of the explanation and the nature of the explanation by the nature of the purpose, we are led to the conclusion that the tools must fit the purpose. Accordingly, the politico-discursive purpose which we have set for our explanation necessitates tools made to match.

These tools will prove twofold. On one hand, we shall admit linguistic considerations insofar as the reference to and presentation of self in the public sphere must pass by linguistic means. Indeed, language proves one of the primary means by which we can gain access to and correct a vision of self. More simply, if self makes itself manifest in language, tools for treating self follow from the latter.

Yet linguistic considerations do not exhaust self. For, on the other hand, empirical considerations likewise weigh on public proceedings in that scientific advances can weigh on public discourse after passing through more popular channels. We need only consider the lengthy debate to which procedures such as cloning and stem cell therapy have given rise in recent years. Such developments cannot help but have consequences for the public’s view of selfhood and personhood and so apply pressure on extant notions of these. This pressure provokes alteration in our views of self and, by extension, the way we talk about self. Accordingly, a treatment of public discourse via the lens of self cannot do without the empirical.

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