Re: Selfishness vs Altruism; an outdated dicotomy?

Robert Owen (
Sat, 20 Nov 1999 23:29:30 -0500

Cynthia wrote in response to the following:

> > I believe that the most important quality in the universe is self.

I'm sorry I don't know who I am responding to here, but at any rate it seems just as illogical to refer to "self" as a "quality" as it would be to regard it as a "quantity". A quality is a predicate; so what subject or substance exists such that we can attribute "self-ness" to it? Note that whatever it is, it cannot BE a self, but must have the property or attribute of "self" -- "The grass is green" does not mean that grass IS "green-ness".

> I like what you say here. But I think you're glossing over how intertwined,
> your well being is with the well being of others.

Yes, Cynthia, it seems to me that "self" is a relation but not a relatum; I mean that "interpersonal" is redundant. Subjects of sensory deprivation experiments report, not an exacerbation of "self-consciousness" but rather a dissociative state in which eidetic imagery constitutes their universe devoid of any subject-object dichotomy. "Self-consciousness" seems to me precisely that condition induced by a perception of some "object" interpreted as an "other" (that is, a mirror phenomenon, the object being "another self"). In my opinion, what is usually regarded as "self-awareness" is either a subvocal monologue misconstrued as a dialog, or a unity attributed to a set of serial memories.

I realize this is very general, but a concrete illustration would be a person total isolated from others, with no immediate expectation of rejoining a community, who quickly creates the relationship called "self" by means of a constructed duality. There cannot be an "I" without a "Me".

Finally, I am not denying the reality of individuation; I only mean to assert that what is meant generally by "self" is a social construct and if reified or hypostatized as a "substance" the result is an illusion.

Thank you for your post,


Robert M. Owen
The Orion Institute
57 W. Morgan Street
Brevard, NC 28712-3659 USA