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89: 'Diderot and materialist theories of the self'

Charles Wolfe (UGent)
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Abstract
Abstract:The concept of self has preeminently been asserted (in its many versions) as a core component of anti-reductionist, anti-naturalistic philosophical positions, from Descartes to Husserl and beyond, with the exception of some hybrid or intermediate positions which declare rather glibly that, since we are biological entities which fully belong to the natural world, and we are conscious of ourselves as 'selves', therefore the self belongs to the natural world (this is characteristic e.g. of embodied phenomenology and enactivism). Nevertheless, from Cudworth and More’s attacks on materialism all the way through twentieth-century argument against naturalism, the gulf between selfhood and the world of Nature appears unbridgeable. In contrast, my goal in this paper is to show that early modern materialism could yield a theory of the self according to which (1) the self belongs to the world of external relations (Spinoza), such that no one fact, including supposedly private facts, is only accessible to a single person; (2) the self can be reconstructed as a sense of “organic unity” which could be a condition for biological individuality (a central text here is Diderot’s 1769 Rêve de D’Alembert); yet this should not lead us to espouse a Romantic concept of organism as foundational or even ineffable subjectivity (a dimension present in Leibniz and made explicit in German idealism); (3) what we call 'self' might simply be a dynamic process of interpretive activity undertaken by the brain. This materialist theory of the self should not neglect the nature of experience, but it should also not have to take at face value the recurring invocations of a better, deeper “first-person perspective” or “first-person science.”
Keywords
materialism, self, individuality, personal identity

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Please use this url to cite or link to this publication:

MLA
Wolfe, Charles. “89: ‘Diderot and Materialist Theories of the Self’.” JOURNAL OF SOCIETY AND POLITICS 9.1 (2015): 75–94. Print.
APA
Wolfe, C. (2015). 89: “Diderot and materialist theories of the self.” JOURNAL OF SOCIETY AND POLITICS, 9(1), 75–94.
Chicago author-date
Wolfe, Charles. 2015. “89: ‘Diderot and Materialist Theories of the Self’.” Journal of Society and Politics 9 (1): 75–94.
Chicago author-date (all authors)
Wolfe, Charles. 2015. “89: ‘Diderot and Materialist Theories of the Self’.” Journal of Society and Politics 9 (1): 75–94.
Vancouver
1.
Wolfe C. 89: “Diderot and materialist theories of the self.”JOURNAL OF SOCIETY AND POLITICS. 2015;9(1):75–94.
IEEE
[1]
C. Wolfe, “89: ‘Diderot and materialist theories of the self,’” JOURNAL OF SOCIETY AND POLITICS, vol. 9, no. 1, pp. 75–94, 2015.
@article{6931132,
  abstract     = {Abstract:The concept of self has preeminently been asserted (in its many versions) as a core  component of anti-reductionist, anti-naturalistic philosophical positions, from Descartes to Husserl and beyond, with the exception of some hybrid or intermediate positions which declare rather glibly that, since we are biological entities which fully belong to the natural world, and we are conscious of ourselves as 'selves', therefore the self belongs to the natural world (this is characteristic e.g. of embodied phenomenology and enactivism). Nevertheless, from Cudworth and More’s attacks on materialism all the way through twentieth-century argument against naturalism, the gulf between selfhood and the world of Nature appears unbridgeable. In contrast, my goal in this paper is to show that early modern materialism could yield a theory of the self according to which (1) the self belongs to the world of external relations (Spinoza), such that no one fact, including supposedly private facts, is only accessible to a single person; (2) the self can be reconstructed as a sense of “organic unity” which could be a condition for biological individuality (a central text here is Diderot’s 1769 Rêve de D’Alembert); yet this should not lead us to espouse a Romantic concept of organism as foundational or even ineffable subjectivity (a dimension present in Leibniz and made explicit in German idealism); (3) what we call 'self' might simply be a dynamic process of interpretive activity undertaken by the brain. This materialist theory of the self should not neglect the nature of experience, but it should also not have to take at face value the recurring invocations of a better, deeper “first-person perspective” or “first-person science.”},
  author       = {Wolfe, Charles},
  issn         = {1843-1348},
  journal      = {JOURNAL OF SOCIETY AND POLITICS},
  keywords     = {materialism,self,individuality,personal identity},
  language     = {eng},
  number       = {1},
  pages        = {75--94},
  title        = {89: 'Diderot and materialist theories of the self'},
  url          = {http://socpol.uvvg.ro/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=165&Itemid=177},
  volume       = {9},
  year         = {2015},
}