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Embodied Perceptions of Others as a Condition of Selfhood?

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Against recent claims that infants begin with a sense of themselves as distinct selves, I propose that the infant's initial sense of self is still indeterminate and ambiguous, and is only progressively consolidated, beginning with embodied perceptions of others. Drawing upon Merleau-Ponty's phenomenology of perception and Hegel's notion of mutual recognition, and with reference to empirical studies in developmental psychology, I argue that perceiving other persons is significantly different from perceiving inanimate things. Until sufficient motor capacities have developed for exploring and perceptually disambiguating inanimate things, it is only in perceiving others who recognize her that the infant is able to realize herself as a self. As the physiological and behavioural evidence suggests, whereas inanimate things initially captivate and dispossess the young infant, other people return her to herself. This paper lends support to the ideas that humans are ontologically social beings, and that selfhood is socially conditioned rather than given with consciousness.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Philosophy, Ryerson University, 350 Victoria St., Toronto, ON M5B 2K3, Canada, Email: [email protected]

Publication date: 2008-01-01

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