Here, from Stan Persky’s review of Barry Dainton’s Self: Philosophy in Transit:
Many well-known and respected philosophers and scientists deny that selves exist in any meaningful way and suggest that our sense of having or being a self is simply an illusion. As Barry Dainton puts it in the book under review,
It is worth noting that in some contemporary intellectual circles the doctrine that there exists anything resembling a self as traditionally conceived — a fundamentally mental thing that is in principle separable from a body — is widely assumed to have been wholly discredited, regardless of how most people might think of themselves. Indeed, the banishment of the self as traditionally conceived is sometimes seen as a hallmark of modernity.
Dainton adds, as would I, “But I believe this assumption is simply wrong, or at least far too simplistic.”
The history of radically alternative conceptions (or denials) of selves stretches from ancient Buddhist thinking to contemporary neuroscience.
Would it simplify the problem if we asked, does a cat have a self?
My own sense (O’Leary for News) is yes for sure, but the cat’s sense of self is more limited than a human’s. There are so many questions he not only doesn’t ask—and this is a critical distinction that is not always made—can’t ask.
I once paid a visit to an alternative Tegmarkian universe, and asked a cat why he existed. Unusually, in that universe, he was able to answer:
He said: To kill and eat rodents!
I kind of wished I hadn’t bothered to go so far for the answer, as I could have found that out at home, rescuing chipmunks (a cute but remarkably stupid North American rodent) from needless torment by cats.
When humans ask questions like, Why do I exist? or Do I really have a self? there are usually a hundred questions underlying each such question that take millennia of philosophy to even tease apart.
Not so with the cat. It’s just a different order of being.
All the Darwinism in the world will not erase that fact in nature, but if you are still watching Airhead TV, well, … safe prediction, you’ll get more of it.
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