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Unified consciousness and the self

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Abstract:

I am in complete sympathy with Galen Strawson's conclusions in ‘The Self’ (1997). He takes a careful, measured approach to a topic that lends itself all too easily to speculation and intellectual extravaganzas. The results are for the most part balanced and plausible. I am even in sympathy with his claim that a memory-produced sense of continuity over time is less central to selfhood than many researchers think, though he may go too far in the opposite direction. Thus my purpose in these comments is not to criticise his conclusions. Instead, I want to look at certain aspects of the framework of argument and observation that he uses to reach them. In particular, I want to look at elements (3) and (4) in his list of features that we conceive a self to possess. (3) concerns synchronic singularity, i.e. being one mental being at a time, and (4) concerns diachronic singularity, i.e. being one mental being over time. I will argue that the spirit of Strawson's claims about (3) and (4) is supportable but that the letter of them is flawed, due mainly to a failure to distinguish singleness of self from a self being unified. The feature relevant to Strawson's overall analysis is being unified, not being single.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Cognitive Science PhD Programme, Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario K1S 5B6, Canada.

Publication date: January 1, 1998

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