Saturday, May 19, 2007

A Strictly Social Concept of Self

Sometime I want to explore the idea that persons (in contrast to physical bodies) have no existence outside of a social framework, that persons are constituted by social roles, and such roles are to be understood in terms of communal norms and institutional practices. But such a view (expressed by Sellars and Rorty most recently that I know of) raises puzzling questions. After all, I can stand back from my social situation and appraise it. I can abandon one role and assume another--while remaining numerically the same throughout such transitions. How are such activities possible, if I am defined in terms of my social role? Strictly speaking, none of my social content seems to be necessary to me. But if the "I" is identified with its roles, various counter-factual and modal constructions containing personal pronouns become puzzling.

We thus entertain the idea that the "social self" is all there is to the self. But there is a multiplicity of social selves associated with each human body, and this suggests that deictic occurances of first person pronouns are pragmatically ambiguous. If told that a certain token of "I" denotes the self which is instantiated in (or "consubstantiated" with) this body, one can reply "Which self?"

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