Re: Glen on "Selfishness vs Altruism...?

Robert Owen (
Sun, 21 Nov 1999 04:07:44 -0500 wrote:

> In a message dated 11/21/1999 0:15:13 AM EST, writes:
> << 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".

It was a pleasure to learn, Glen, that you made the statement because I have great respect for your views.

> I am glad to here you don't deny the reality of individuation, but I do not
> know that I completely agree to the self being a social construct.

To simplify things, refer to the effort of Depth Psychology from its inception to deal with basis of all psychoneuroses: primary narcissism. For Freud this meant "the depersonalization of the Super-ego", for Jung the depersonalization of the unconscious "autonomous complexes" supporting the "social construct" he called the "Persona" (Greek for "theatrical mask"), for Adler the elimination of compensations generated by a sense of inferiority, etc. Psychoanalysis, unlike Behaviorism, never denied the reality of selfhood, but sought to liberate it from the artifacts of repression induced by social authority figures.

My argument is addressed to the issue of "Personality" which I treat as as epiphenomenon of relationship rather than an ontological given.

> ...what we think about the self is heavily influenced by social and cultural
> experience, but it seems to me that the self is a mental construct that I
> would have regardless of society. True, the experience of "other" greatly
> aids in defining the borders of the self, but I don't know that it is really
> the self that is lost in those sensory deprivation experiments. Rather,
> perhaps it is the sense of other that is lost, so that only the internal self
> remains (though we might agree that without a self and other, there may be no
> practical difference between losing the sense of self and losing the sense of
> other). All I can say with certainty is that I exist, and that I am aware of
> my own existence. It may be true that my self is constructed from serial
> memory (in fact, I would argue that a large part of the self is made up of
> precisely that), but its construction doesn't take away from its reality. I
> do agree that the self is not a substance.

I am copying your entire paragraph because it should be read by those who have not followed this thread. Space does not permit a comprehensive reply but I want to assure you that I distinguish "self-consciousness" from what was once called "aseity" -- contemporary English has no homologous term. Spinoza speaks of "God" as "sui generis" -- a similar concept. Aristotle used the term (in English) "uncaused cause". The general idea is that, in trying to describe the basis of "identity" (from Latin "idem" = "same") with respect to human reflexive cognition and conation (from which the experience of autonomy derives) we encounter paradoxes everywhere if not outright contradictions (what Kant called "Antinomies of Pure Reason"). While some efforts have been made to formulate a suitable "Metapsychology" I am under the impression that they have not been successful.

I would guess that the essential Axiom is "Unity"[1] and that the notion of "consciousness" is a gratuitous postulate, because it appears to me to be certain that "Self" is an agent that cannot be an object of perception as such. Without knowing who or what "I am", this post would not exist were it not for the agency denoted by my name.


[1] I play with the notion that the authentic "Self" is, metaphorically,
     a territory, and "self-consciousness" a virtually useless map designed
     by navigators who always kept the coastline in sight in order to avoid
     falling off the edge.  Take a look at a Tibetan Buddhist Mandala and
     imagine it existing in a virtual psychospace having the property of
     extension but not location.

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