PSYO4080/6081: Topics in Personality and Social Psychology

Personal Identity and Self in Western Thought:
From Religious and Philosophical to Scientific and Social

LSB 4269 Monday 1:35-3.25

John Barresi
Department of Psychology
Dalhousie University
Halifax, Nova Scotia

Office: LSC 2540; Office Hours: Wed. 2:35 - 4:30
Telephone: 494-2443
Email: jbarresi@dal.ca
Web-site for course: http://jbarresi.psychology.dal.ca

Course Outline (Winter 2007)

In this course we will trace transformations in western conceptions of self and of personal identity from ancient Greece to the present, with a particular focus on the origins and development of the sciences of mind. We will track, concurrently, the historical development of religious, philosophical, psychological, biological, social and neurological concepts of self and will try to form an integrated view of the historical transformation of these concepts as they progress toward a science of mind. The main historical theme that will be demonstrated is that this history breaks into two natural periods, from circa 500 BCE to 1800 CE and from 1800 CE to 2100 CE. During the first period a variety of concepts of self were generated but primarily focused on an immaterial, immortal soul, and a material body that would be reconstituted in the resurrection to maintain personal identity. From the fourth century C.E., theory was heavily influenced by religious considerations, though also with major philosophical and some empirical developments. From about 1800, when Locke wrote his new theory of personal identity based on consciousness, the shift has been gradually away from religious and philosophical notions of personal identity and self to more scientific and eventually social conceptions. Toward the end of the twentieth century the idea that there is any such thing as a unified self, or, personal identity, has been under severe attack on a number of fronts: philosophically by personal identity theorists like Parfit who attacked the idea that personal identity ought to be an important notion, as well in deconstructionists like Foucault and Derrida; in the work of narrative and social construction theorists like Gergen; and in psychological-functional and neuroscientific theorists like Dennett and Damasio. Nevertheless, talk about self proliferates, not only in the sciences of mind but in society in general. Why so much interest in a non-existent entity? Maybe by tracing the history of concepts of personal identity and self, we can answer this question.

As primary texts we will use Raymond Martin & John Barresi (2006), The Rise and Fall of Soul and Self: An Intellectual History of Personal Identity [R &F] and Richard Sorabji’s (2006) Self: Ancient and Modern Insights about Individuality, Life and Death. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Also included is: Barresi, J. On becoming a person. Philosophical Psychology, 1999, 12, 79-98.


Course Outline of Readings

1. January 8: Introduction to class

2. January 15: R&F Introduction, pp. 1-8; Barresi, J (1999) On becoming a person, Philosophical Psychology, 12, 79-98; Sorabji Intro pp. 1-14; Ch. 1 The Self: Is there such a thing, pp 17-31.  (58 total pages)

3. January 22: R&F Ch. 1 From Myth to Science, pp. 9-28; Ch. 2 Individualism and Subjectivity, pp. 29-38; Sorabji Ch. 2 Varieties of self and philosophical development of the idea, pp. 32-53.  (52)

4. January 29: Sorabji Ch 5 Memory: Locke’s return to Epicureans and Stoics, pp. 94-111; Ch 8 Individual persona vs. universalizability, pp. 157-171; Ch. 9 Plutarch: Narrative and the whole life, pp. 172-180; Ch. 10 Self as practical reason: Epictetus’ inviolable self and Aristotle’s deliberate choice, pp. 181-197.  (59)

5. February 5: R&F; Ch. 3 People of the Book, 39-54; Ch. 4 Resurrected Self, pp. 55-74; Sorabji Ch 3 Same person in eternal recurrence, resurrection, and teletransportation, pp. 57-82.  (60)

6. February 12: R&F Ch. 5 The Stream Divides, pp. 75-92; Sorabji Ch 6 Is the true self individual in the Platonic tradition from Plato to Averroes, pp. 115-136; Ch. 11 Impossibility of self-knowledge, pp. 201-211.  (49)

7. February 26: R&F Ch. 6 Aristotelian Synthesis pp. 93-108; Ch. 7 Care of the Soul, pp. 109-122; Sorabji Ch. 14 Unity of self-awareness, pp. 245-264.  (50)

8. March 5: R&F Ch. 8 Mechanization of Nature, pp. 123-147; Sorabji Ch 12 Infallibility of self-knowledge: Cogito and the Flying Man pp. 212-229.  (42)

9. March 12: R&F Ch. 9 Naturalizing the Soul, pp. 142-170; Sorabji Ch. 13 Knowing self through others versus direct and invariable self-knowledge, pp. 230-244.  (43)

10. March 19: R&F Ch. 10 Philosophy of Spirit, pp. 171-200; Ch. 11 Science of Human Nature, pp. 201-228.  (58)

11. March 26: R&F Ch. 12 Before the Fall, pp. 229-252; Ch. 13 Paradise Lost, pp. 255-281.  (53)

12. April 2: R& F Ch. 13 Paradise Lost, pp. 281-289; Ch. 14 Everything that Happened and What It Means, pp. 290-305; Sorabji Ch. 15 Why I am not a stream of consciousness, pp. 265-277.   (38)

Course Requirements

1. Class attendance (15%).  2. Class discussion (25%). Take note that absence from class is also de facto absence from class discussion. If you are late to class or miss any class I want a GOOD EXCUSE in order for you not to be docked points.

3. Two 30-minute class presentations plus discussion: A 15-minute summary and critique of a part of the reading followed by a 15-minute discussion of this material (30 minutes total time). One presentation/discussion should occur during the first half of the course and one during the second half (15% each = 30%).

4. A final critical review of some material covered in the class. It can be an overall review and critique of concepts of self or it can focus on one issue covered in the course but should not be too narrow in scope and should take an historical view of the issue. The paper should not go beyond the scope of material covered in class. If you do extra reading it should be quite limited and DIRECTLY related to material covered in the texts. This is not an independent research paper, but a place for you to collect in an organized way thoughts that you have had on material covered in the class. The paper is due 1.5 weeks after the last class (max 15 pages double spaced) (30%).

No final exam. Any numerical to letter conversions will use the department conversion scheme.  Graduate students have the same requirements but are expected to produce higher quality work than undergraduates.