"Self-Representation and the Unity of the Self"


Location: 131 Decio Hall (View on map.nd.edu)

Yoon Choi (Marquette)


131 Decio Faculty Hall 


The model of the self that dominates contemporary theorizing is roughly Lockean, taking the self to be a series of causally related mental states. The prevalence of this view appears to have less to do with the independent merits of the view and more to do with metaphysical difficulties surrounding the roughly Cartesian, non-reductive alternative, which views the self as a persisting entity that has mental states. Thus it has been argued that it is unnecessary to posit this metaphysically suspect persisting entity, since “a complete description of reality” could be given without reference to such an entity (Parfit, Reasons and Persons, 212); indeed, some have gone further and suggested that positing such an entity involves a downright “falsification of the facts” (Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, ¶17), and betrays a prejudicial assumption that “the categories of grammar are also the categories of reality” (Russell, An Outline of Philosophy, 179). What about Kant? It is not clear where he stands on this question; there is equivocation in the texts (see Van Cleve,Problems from Kant, 239) and disagreement among interpreters (cf. Kitcher, Kant’s Transcendental Psychology and Ameriks, Kant’s Theory of Mind). For purposes of this essay, I adopt and proceed from a line of thought set out by Simon Blackburn, who argues that we are “forced” to reject the reductive project “by the need to acknowledge [the] standpoint" of "the active subject of thought and action,” the reasoner (“Has Kant Refuted Parfit?,” 182). The question I focus on is whether the ‘I’ of the Transcendental Deductions is the self-representation of an “active subject of thought and action” in the relevant sense, and thus whether a non-reductive conception of the self is written into the conditions of objective experience; or whether it is only when we engage in overt, higher-level forms of practical and scientific reasoning that such a conception of the self is deployed. I also consider the implications of this question for how we conceive of the unity of the empirical self.

This talk is part of the "Kant and the Self" workshop.