David Hume said that the “self” is an illusion created by closeness and proximity (much like our erroneous believe in “cause and effect”). A modern example of Hume’s ideas about the “self” might be to look at movie film. At 30 frames a second, the individual pictures come so quickly that it looks like continuous movement instead of thousands of individual pictures. And the changes between each successive picture is so slight that we would hardly notice if we examined successive pictures one frame at a time. Since we have not been watching our “self movie” while sleeping, in the morning the projector is still running, and our minds simply fill in the blanks for the frames we missed, falsely giving us a notion that we are still same “self” from yesterday.
Fortunately, not all philosophers are as radical as Hume in denying that there is a continuous self. But, even those who admit there is a “self” do not agree as to what it is, how it is formed, and whether or not it changes.
In Week 8, we’ll be re-addressing the “essential self” as necessary in order to experience freedom and to make moral decisions that are truly freely made. So, the whether or not a continous “essential self” actally exists is an important philosophical concept.
For this week’s assignment:
1Describe your “essential self”—that is, the set of characteristics that defines what makes you a particular person. If you do not believe an essensial self exists, explain why not.
2Explain why you think the essential self can or cannot change during a person’s lifetime.
3Since the essential self will (supposedly) actively resists anything that is not in our genuine best interest, how could self-sacrifice and martyrdom be regarded evidence of a person who lacked an essential self? Alternately, would voluntarily subjecting oneself to those things be a true indicator of an essential self? Explain your answers.
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