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A developmental-ecological perspective on Strawson's ‘The self’

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Galen Strawson (1997) considers the self to be best described as a cognitive, ‘distinctively mental’ phenomenon. He asserts that the mental sense of self comes to every normal human being in childhood and comprises the sense of being a mental presence, of being alone in one's head, with the body ‘just a vehicle or vessel for the mental thing that is what one really or most essentially is’ (p. 407). His thesis is determinedly cognitivist (although not naively so) and it is with this that I take issue. As Reed (1994) puts the problem, ‘cognitivism, with its allegiance to the representational theory of mind and its focus on mental states as internal to the mind, is particularly susceptible to the dualistic separation of self from the environment’ (p. 278). One may add that cognitivism is also susceptible to separating the self from the body. Reed suggests that perception not only provides information for the distinction between self and environment from the outset, but also it provides a means of keeping in contact with the world. Memory provides a means of bridging earlier and later aspects of self and integrating diverse elements of experience. Both perceiving and remembering entail aspects of self but in rather different ways. Perceiving is a spatio-temporal process which provides a continuous flow of information about the embodied self in its encounters with the physical and social world. Autobiographical memory requires a duplication of the self so that ‘me-experiencing-now’ can be related with ‘a prior me-experiencing-a-prior-environment’. The question of interest is how a perceived self may, through development, give rise to a remembered self.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Psychology, University of Sussex, Brighton, East Sussex BN1 9QU, UK., Email: [email protected]

Publication date: 1998-01-01

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