Thursday, December 10, 2009

Kierkegaard on the Self


Well, it's time to talk about Kierkegaard's ontology of the self. What is a person? What is the reference of the word "I"? Once again, we are going to be referencing The Sickness Unto Death. Let's actually start with the first line in Part One.

"A human being is spirit" (XI 127). So far, so good: If [Human] Then [Spirit]. "But what is spirit? Spirit is the self". Sounds like begging the question, eh? What is the "self"?

"The self is a relation that relates itself to itself or it is the relation's relating itself to itself to itself in the relation; the self is not the relation but is the relation's relating itself to itself" (ibid).

Sounds a little more convoluted; let's see if we can make some sense of that. So, in a human, there is a relation. I'll talk in a minute about what the relation itself is, but, for now, just remember that there exists a relation X. If that relation is capable of self-awareness or apperception, and actually does so, it has a spirit and a self. Thus, the following conditions are necessary (and are probably, although not necessarily, sufficient) for having a "self":

1. They must possess relationship X (which, once again, will be defined below).
2. They must actively apperceive X.

Kant's account of pure apperception is likely what Kierkegaard had in mind, here. Consider, for the sake of simplicity, apperception to be self-knowledge. If ([Zach possesses relationship X] AND [Zach apperceives X]), Then [Zach has a self/spirit].

What is relationship X? The relationship is a "synthesis of the infinite and the finite, of the temporal and the eternal, of freedom and necessity" (ibid). Consider my discussion of freedom (possibility) and necessity from my last post on Kierkegaard. Mere animals do not possess the synthesis of any of those; they exist through pure necessity, finitude, and temporal elements. They lack the necessary relationship to be spirit. Even if they apperceive themselves, they are entities with minds-- which perhaps ought to be respected-- but are not actually selves/spirits, in the technical sense.

There's all sorts of places that the discussion could go from here, but I wanted to start out with a small step. That only touched on the first five-ish sentences of the work, but it's not a bad thing, necessarily, to isolate a fundamental argument and work from there. Hopefully, my post on necessity/possibility will help to dispel fears of question-begging about the nature of the relationship; the other two forms, eternal/temporal and infinite/finite, are also dealt with and, depending on what people are interested in, I'd be glad to post about whatever there's a desire for.


R. J. Marvin said...

I like this post because it clears up my questions on Kierkegaard's theory of self and I think for the most part I agree. Though when you brought up animal minds a few things came to me.

From what I understand from your posts, the synthesis of possibility and necessity has to be had in order for the self to exhist. Its interesting that you bring in the concept of animal minds as an example in which the self is not fully actualized. Animals are "entities with minds" which have no relationship with the spirit. I agree that most animals seem to fail the criterion for possessing a self according to Kierkegaard; though some studies on primates may add a new angle to theories on animal minds. It does seem that, according to the mirror test, there is some sort of realization of self on monkeys. Not only do these animals have apperception but it seems that they excersize their freedom to change their look when put into special contexts. One important note is that the young children fail the mirror test. so I guess my question is that: are there more things out their with a sense of self than we think (chimps who pass the mirror test)? or perhaps is the circle of beings with a self smaller than we thought (since young children faill the mirror test)

This reply is kinda off topic but I just think its interesting to apply theories of human minds with non human ones.