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Part One (First Course): On Selfhood

Lecture V: Self-Consciousness Self-Identity and Personal Identity

1. In the closing stages of my last lecture I argued that the judgment-theory of cognition throws into relief the hopelessness of trying to dispense with a distinguishable cognising subject. Today I want to begin consideration of the nature of this ‘subject’. The fundamental difficulty we have to deal with is very well known. There seem to be respectable reasons for describing the cognising subject as a ‘substantival’ entity in some sense of that term: and there seem to be equally respectable reasons for rejecting the ‘substantival’ description in any sense of the term.

It is reasons of the latter order which, as one would expect, have received much the greater prominence in recent philosophy. But finding objections to the substantival theory has proved a great deal easier than finding a plausible alternative to it. My own view is that, while there are certainly forms of the substantival theory that are indefensible, the objections taken to the substantival theory as such, or in general, are invalid; whereas against any alternative to the substantival theory which has so far been offered there seem to me to be objections of a completely conclusive character. That will be the main thesis to be argued in the present lecture; but I must introduce it somewhat gradually.

2. Let us begin with a proposition the truth of which seems to me easily demonstrable within the context of our recent discussions; the proposition that the cognising subject is always in some degree aware of itself, or ‘self-conscious’.

This, I think, can be seen to be yet another implication of the judgment-theory of cognition. All cognition involves judgment. All judgment involves reference to an ‘objective’ reality which the judging mind is seeking to know. But an essential part of the meaning which ‘objective reality’ carries for the judging mind is its independence of that mind. Hence a mind that is aware of objective reality is always also in some degree aware of itself as subject. It follows that all cognition implies in the cognising subject some degree of self-awareness.

It goes without saying that in very many cognitions the degree of self-awareness present is exceedingly small. But so, for that matter, in many cognitions, is the degree of awareness of an independent objective reality; and yet, as we saw earlier, there are cogent reasons for presuming it present, in however inexplicit a fashion, wherever anything which can strictly be called a cognition occurs. Hence if it be the case that ‘objectivity’ defines itself, for the cognising mind, at least in part, by contrast with ‘subjectivity’, we must, I think, conclude that cognition always involves some awareness, however inexplicit, of the subject as subject.

3. But now what kind of a being is this ‘subject’ of which there is consciousness in all cognition? Its most important, and at the same time its most perplexing, characteristic is that it is, for itself, somehow the self-same being throughout its different experiences; and the self-same being not merely in contemporaneous experiences, but in experiences far removed from one another in time. Thus I am conscious that I who am now thinking about a peculiarly intractable philosophical problem am the same being as I who am now feeling the room to be slightly on the warm side, and am also the same being as I who (as I remember) saw a rainbow yesterday. Indeed, ‘remembering’ brings out in an especially striking manner the self's identity in difference. When we say ‘I remember that I saw a rainbow yesterday’, we imply that the being who now remembers is identical with the being who saw the rainbow. The claim of the memory situation, a claim in the absence of which the situation ceases to be one of memory at all, is that the remembering subject and the remembered subject are somehow the same being in experiences that are different both temporally and qualitatively.

The difficulties in the way of attaching a clear meaning to the self-sameness of the subject in different apprehensions will engage us shortly. But we must first of all support by more formal argument the thesis that cognition of any kind—not merely in remembering—implies a subject conscious of its own identity in its different apprehensions.

4. The standard argument for this doctrine is so exceedingly well-worn as almost to require apology for its repetition, and I shall expound it in very summary fashion. It derives, of course, from Kant, What follows will perhaps serve as a sufficient reminder of its general character.

Cognition is never of an atomic simple. It is always of a related plurality as a related plurality. This is self-evident if all cognition involves judgment, for in all judgment there must be at least the differences of subject and predicate and the affirmation or denial of their union. But we need not invoke the judgment theory to establish our point. It is clear enough, on reflection, that an ‘object’ which stands in no apprehended relation to other objects of our experience—‘an atomic simple’—can have no significance for us, and is thus not an object of cognition at all. Even a ‘this’ is, for cognition, a ‘this-not-that’; apart from its apprehended distinction from, and therefore relation to, a ‘that’ it could not be cognised as ‘this’. But it seems gratuitous to pursue further a point which has so often received classic expression in post-Kantian philosophy. The critic may be challenged to produce a single instance of cognition, or ‘meaningful apprehension’, where the object does not consist in a related plurality.

What is cognised, then, is never bare A, but always A in some sort of relationship to B (C, D, etc.). But unless the subject to which B (C, D, etc.) Is present is the same subject as that to which A is present, no relationship, obviously, could be apprehended between B (C, D, etc.) and A. To take the very familiar example of our cognition of succession in time, perhaps the most basic of all cognitions. If event B is cognised as sequent upon event A, clearly A must, in some form, be present to the same subject as that to which B is present. Otherwise A and B would simply fall apart into separate worlds of experience, and no discerned relationship—not even that of apartness, let alone that of temporal sequence—would be possible.

Does cognition imply not merely a subject identical in different cognitions, but a subject conscious of its identity in different cognitions? Some philosophers who are firmly persuaded of the subject's self-identity show a certain diffidence about pressing for the subject's consciousness of that identity. Nevertheless I would suggest that this must be pressed. For let us suppose that the subject, though in fact identical in two different apprehensions, is in no wise aware of its own identity in them. This subject, let us further suppose, has an apprehension of A, and then an apprehension of B. Now for an outside observer apprised, if that were possible, of the two apprehensions, A and B could be seen to be related, inasmuch as they could be seen both to be objects to the same subject. But for the subject himself, unaware (according to our supposition) that the self to whom B is present is the same being as the self to whom A was formerly present, the two apprehensions must fall apart into separate ‘worlds’ just as surely and completely as though he, the self-same subject, were in fact two different subjects; and the discernment by him of any relationship between A and B (such as that of temporal sequence) must then become impossible. The prius of any discernment by the subject of a specific relation between A and B is surely that the subject is aware of A and B as having at least that general relationship to one another which consists in their both being objects for him, the one self. He must, in other words, be conscious of his own identity in the different apprehensions.

The point is apt to be as elusive as it is certainly important, and a further illustration may be helpful.

Suppose I hear Big Ben striking. A moment later I—the same subject—hear it striking again. Now is my being ‘the same subject’ sufficient in itself to enable me to apprehend the second stroke as the second stroke, as sequent upon the first? Not, surely, unless by ‘the same subject’ we mean a subject conscious of its self-sameness. I may be in so advanced a state of senility that my memory-span is no longer adequate to bridge the gulf between the two strokes, so that, having forgotten the first when I hear the second, I cannot relate the two to one another. It is a precondition of my apprehending the second stroke as the second stroke that I remember having heard the first. But then I do not ‘remember’ having heard the first (and here is the crucial point) unless I am aware that it was I, the being who now hears the second stroke, who heard the first stroke; unless, in other words, I am not merely the same subject, but also conscious of my self-sameness, in the two experiences.

It seems to me, therefore, that while the identity of the cognising subject is a necessary, it is not, without consciousness of that identity, a sufficient, condition of cognitive awareness.

5. The point we have now reached (re-tracing, for the most part, familiar lines of argument) is that all cognition implies a subject that is conscious of itself, and that this self of which we are conscious in cognition is a being which is identical with itself throughout—and in despite of—the diversity of its cognitions. But now our troubles begin. We are led by the argument, apparently, to posit a self which is something ‘over and above’ its particular experiences; something that has, rather than is, its experiences, since its experiences are all different, while it somehow remains the same. It is, in short, what would usually be called a ‘substance’, in some sense of that term, and as such it provokes in the modern mind an hostility which, to say truth, the history of philosophy has done much to justify. What, it will be asked, is this ‘I’ that is supposed to remain the same, and in what does its sameness consist? By universal admission we never have any acquaintance with it by itself, but only as manifested in particular changing experiences. What possible meaning can we attach to an ‘I’ as an identical ‘something’ over and above these experiences? And our perplexities, it will be urged, by no means end there. If we try to conceive the self as an identical substance, how are we to reconcile with this all the phenomena of radical disunity made familiar to us by abnormal psychology, such as sudden drastic transformations of a self's personal character, not to speak of these strange cases of ‘multiple personality’ in which the ‘one’ self seems to divide up into two or more separate selves?

The difficulty of returning satisfactory answers to such questions has proved so formidable that the strong trend of philosophic opinion today is in the direction of relinquishing the notion of a ‘substantival’ self altogether. The notion of a self of some sort, it is conceded, must be retained. We do mean something by the word ‘I’; and we do mean something when we refer to a variety of different experiences as all ‘my’ experiences. But an interpretation must be found, it is urged, in terms of the particular knowable experiences themselves, not in terms of an ‘unknowable’ something beyond them. Hence it has appeared to many to be the most promising procedure to search within the different experiences for some identical quality or, more hopefully, some common relationship, in virtue of which they come to be regarded as all experiences of ‘one self’.

6. What then is this quality or relationship? That is just the trouble. I think it is fair to say that, while the great body of contemporary philosophical opinion favours the view that this is where the meaning of self-identity must be sought, there is no manner of agreement as to what the quality or relationship can be. Indeed, no one seems to have much confidence even in the theory he himself proposes, but rather to be putting it forward tentatively as an hypothesis that is not wholly incredible, and is at any rate more credible than any form of substantival theory. As already hinted, some kind of common relationship, rather than some kind of identical quality, has been very generally taken to be the most hopeful thing to look for. But all the types of relationship between different experiences that are known to us in other contexts—similarity, causality, and the rest—seem open to obvious and crushing objections if we try to regard them as the basis of the mind's self-identity. Any one of them can exist between particular experiences without our having the slightest tendency to take these particular experiences to be all experiences of a single self.1 It is, I think, not easy to dissent from the conclusion reached by Dr. Ewing after a critical survey of the several types of relationship that have been, or conceivably might be, suggested, viz. that ‘if we adopt a view of the self according to which its identity is constituted… by a relation between its experiences, it is probably best just to say that the relation is unique and indefinable.’2

I do not, however, propose to take up time rehearsing the various relational theories seriatim, for the following reason. It seems to me that the whole project of seeking for the identity of the self in a relation of whatever kind, definable or indefinable, between members of a series or group of experiences, is fundamentally futile; indeed self-contradictory. For consider. What we are trying to account for is the identity of a self not for some external observer, but for the self itself; the identity of the self as subject, not its identity as an object—which the self, qua self, just is not. Now as a result of cognition of particular events and their inter-relationships we might come to regard as belonging to ‘one and the same’ object events which exhibited a certain form of inter-relationship. Applied to mental events, there is some sense in saying that we might thereby arrive at the notion of an object-mind as an identical it. But it is the subject-mind, the identical ‘I’ of self-consciousness, which we are trying to account for; and by the route suggested this is plainly impossible. For, as we have already seen, cognition of relationships, and indeed cognition of any kind whatsoever, presupposes an identical subject conscious of its own identity. It follows that the ‘relational’ way of explaining self-identity can only be in terms which presuppose the very thing it is purporting to explain.

I suggest, then, that the attempt to find a form of relationship between different experiences which is sufficient to account for my regarding these experiences as ‘mine’ is doomed to failure from the outset. There is, indeed, an apprehended relationship in virtue of which I call experiences ‘mine’, but it is not a relationship of experiences to one another. It can, I think, only be stated as a relationship of experiences to me, an identical subject conscious of having or owning them; a relationship of ‘belonging to’ which is unique and indefinable, but the apprehension of which is ingredient in all self-conscious experience. It is clear, however, that this relationship presupposes, and in no way constitutes, the identity of the self.

Still, the problem remains on our hands, ‘In what does self-identity consist?’ The relational theory may be, and I think is, open to fatal objections; but so far nothing explicit has been said to show that the substantival account, the difficulties in which gave rise to the relational theory, is in any better case. Let us now look back, therefore, at the notion of the self as a substantival entity, distinguishable from its experiences, and, a little fortified by the apparent bankruptcy of the rival relational theory, consider whether it cannot be formulated in a way that escapes the objections usually thought to be conclusive against it.

7. Two preliminary points are worth making briefly. Critics of the substantival self seem to me a great deal too ready to assimilate it either to Locke's ‘unknowable substratum’ of material things, or to Kant's ‘noumenal ego’. This is, I think, unfortunate. It is by no means the case that the doctrine of the substantival self need take a form that lays it open to the objections to which Locke's and Kant's doctrines are notoriously exposed.

To take first the assimilation to Locke's unknowable substratum of material things, Berkeley has said perhaps all that needs to be said on the ineptitude of supposing that spiritual substance and material substance must stand or fall together. When Philonous in the Third Dialogue points out to Hylas that whereas I have no apprehension whatsoever of material substance, I yet ‘am conscious of my own being, and that I myself am not my ideas, but somewhat else, a thinking, active principle that perceives, knows, wills, and operates about ideas’, he is indicating a prima facie difference in the epistemological status of spiritual substance and material substance respectively that is fundamental. Self-consciousness, it must be insisted, is a fact, a datum from which we have to start. And in self-consciousness the subject of which we are conscious is a subject which in some sense has, not is, its different experiences, and is identical with itself in its different experiences. Even if it were possible for self-consciousness to be illusory, its mere occurrence is enough to refute those who take the view that the notion of a substantival self is as ‘meaningless’ as the notion of an unknowable substratum of material things. It is idle to deny that the former of these notions has any meaning for us if that is in fact what the self is for itself in self-conscious experience.

Very little more reflection is needed to see that the substantival self cannot be straightway identified with Kant's noumenal ego.

For Kant, it will be remembered, the subject self has its reality beyond the space-time world of mere phenomena; and while we can know in self-consciousness that it is, we can say nothing at all about what it is. Cognition of the character, the ‘what’, of the self through introspection is not, for Kant, discernment of the nature of the self as subject—i.e. of its real nature qua self—but only of the self as object, which is a mere appearance in time of the timeless ‘real’ self. Kant's noumenal ego is, from the point of view of theoretical cognition at any rate, as character-less as Locke's substratum of material things.

But the defender of the substantival self is under no obligation to accept Kant's views either about time or about what introspection can and cannot reveal to us. One may perfectly well agree with the argument from self-conscious experience to a distinguishable subject-self without being committed to any of the special arguments which lead Kant to assert that we can have no theoretical knowledge of that self as it really is. I shall in a later lecture have to give some attention to the problem of the nature and status of introspection as a mode of knowledge, and I shall try to show there that it is a mistake to suppose that introspection cannot reveal real characteristics of the self qua self, that is to say, of the self in its functioning as a subject. Meantime I would merely point to the direct testimony of self-consciousness. When I am conscious that I who think A am the I who desires B and the I who feels the emotion C, I regard my ‘I’ as manifesting itself in these operations of thinking, desiring and feeling: and as thus, so far, ‘characterised’ by these operations. The subject self as apprehended in self-consciousness is in that sense always a determinate or characterised self. To deny that the self is reducible to its experiences is by no means to deny that the self manifests its real character (in whole or in part) in and through these experiences. The onus of proof lies upon those who wish to maintain that to the self as subject we can assign no determinate characters at all.

I attach a fair amount of importance to these two points; for there is nothing to be gained by making the problem of justifying a substantival self still more difficult than it already is through pejorative misconceptions as to what belief in a substantival self in fact entails. But the puzzle about this self's identity remains baffling enough and must now be directly confronted.

8. I propose to work towards the view which seems to me in the end the most acceptable by raising in turn, and trying to answer, four distinct but closely related questions.

1. Can a meaning be given to the substantival description of the self; i.e. to the description of it as a being which is distinct from the states in which it manifests itself and is identical with itself throughout these manifestations?

2. Granted that the description is not ‘meaningless’, is there good reason to believe that beings answering to that description actually exist?

3. Given an identical self as so described, of what is it an identity? Is it an identity of spiritual being, of material being, of both, or of something else?

4. How is the identity of the self, so understood, related to what is called ‘personal identity’?

Now so far as the first question is concerned, the answer has already been given in principle in the reference we made to Berkeley. Self-consciousness is a fact of experience; and the self of which we are conscious in self-consciousness is a subject which in some sense has, rather than is, its different experiences, and is identical with itself throughout them. It must be a strangely doctrinaire theory of meaning that would oblige us to denounce as meaningless a description which describes what the self is for itself in all self-conscious experience.

It is sometimes said that the substantival self is meaningless because openly self-contradictory. If ‘I’ change with my changing experience—as I surely do, and as the substantival theory must allow if its ego is not to be something quite apart from the self which interests us, the self of our actual experience—how can it be said, as the substantival theory says, that ‘I’ remain the same?

But this charge of self-contradiction rests on the assumption that sameness totally excludes difference; and this is an assumption to which all self-conscious experience gives the lie direct. I as a self-conscious subject cannot doubt that I who now hear the clock strike a second time am the same being who a moment ago also heard the clock strike, even though I must have become different in some respects in the interval. It can hardly be accepted as an irrefutable principle of philosophic criticism that sameness excludes all difference, when it is a datum of self-conscious experience that it does not.

It may be desirable to add, in order to avert possible misapprehensions, that to be meaningful is by no means the same thing as to be intelligible, where ‘intelligible’ is a synonym for ‘capable of being understood’. The self as we have described it would be intelligible (in this sense) only if it were possible to understand how it remains one amid the plurality of its changing experiences. No claim is made here that the self is, even in principle, capable of being ‘understood’; and no such claim will be made at any point in these lectures. We are aware of our self as of such and such a nature, not of how it is what it is. But awareness of the former is all that is necessary for it to have ‘meaning’ for us.

9. The answer to the second question can again be given very briefly. Yes, there are excellent reasons for believing that selves so characterised do actually exist. And the evidence again comes from self-conscious experience. In self-conscious experience it is surely just not possible to doubt the self's existence. The consciousness of self in self-conscious experience is the consciousness not of something as having hypothetical existence, but of something as having actual existence. As I write these words I am conscious that I am casting about in thought for a suitable illustration, and conscious also that I am hearing ‘noises without’ of a somewhat distracting character. Now, try as I will, I find that I cannot doubt, in the first place, that I am the same being in each of these different experiences and distinct from either of them. But I find it equally impossible to doubt, in the second place, that this I, this identical subject of the different experiences, does actually exist. And if the reader is (as of course he ought to be) unprepared to accept this report at second-hand, let him make a similar experiment for himself. If it be made without preconceptions, I do not fear for the result.

Conceivably it will be said ‘But the witness of self-consciousness may, after all, be false witness, generating mere illusion’. I must confess, however, that I cannot see how this hypothesis can even be formulated without self-contradiction. It involves us in saying ‘Though I am certain whenever I am aware of my self that I do exist, nevertheless perhaps I don't.’ But what can ‘Perhaps I don't’ mean if I am not aware of myself when I say it? But if I am aware of myself when I say it, I must, according to the first clause, be certain that I exist; and I am therefore contradicting myself when I say ‘Perhaps I don't’.

The real source of most of the scepticism about the existence of the substantival self is, I suspect, doubts about its meaningfulness. But with these doubts we have already dealt. It may very well, we have agreed, not be intelligible, in the sense of understandable; but that is irrelevant to the question of its meaning-fulness.

10. Let us move on to our third question, ‘Of what is self-identity an identity?’ The testimony of self-conscious experience (in any form, at any rate, in which we have so far considered it) is to the identity of the self as a conscious subject. I who think of A am aware of my identity with I who feel B and desire C—i.e. an I who has other conscious experiences. It is true that I who think of A may be aware of my identity with I who am walking about the room. But the second ‘I’ here is, and. must be, an ‘I’ which has the conscious experience of ‘walking about the room’. If it happened that, while thinking of A, I was so deeply absorbed in that thought as to be totally unconscious that I was walking about the room, then I clearly could not be conscious of identity between the I who thinks of A and the owner of this walking body. This consideration, of course, has no tendency to rule out the possibility that in fact ‘I’ am a body as well as a mind. It is common ground to all theories of the self that recognise minds and bodies at all that there is some kind of extremely intimate relationship between the self as mind and a particular animal body: and those philosophers may be right who declare that the relationship in question is not merely intimate but integral. That, however, is a problem which must be treated at length if it is to be treated at all, and we shall postpone its discussion. Meantime, we are in a position to say only that the identity of the self, as revealed in self-conscious experience, is at least an identity of mind or spirit, though it may turn out to be more than that. ‘I’ am at least a ‘spiritual substance’.

11. How is the identity of the self, as above understood, related to personal identity? That was our fourth question, and the attempt to answer it will involve us in a long and somewhat complicated discussion. But it seems to me of particular moment that a clear answer to it should be reached. Not a few of the perplexities to which discussion of the self and its identity commonly gives rise have their source, in my opinion, in a failure to appreciate that ‘self’ and ‘person’ cannot conveniently be treated as interchangeable expressions. An important distinction has got to be drawn within the general conception of selfhood; and if it be not drawn firmly, and marked by an appropriate and consistently employed nomenclature, serious confusion is well-nigh inevitable.

The general nature of the distinction I have in mind can perhaps be most clearly brought out by considering what is implied in such relatively common expressions as ‘I’ was not myself when I did that’. Let us take the case of a man making this statement after being told of some violent act he has committed (and of which he has perhaps no recollection) during an epileptic seizure, or some other species of brain-storm. The term ‘I’ in the statement is certainly intended by the speaker to designate his ‘self’ in some sense of that term. Yet in saying ‘I was not myself’ he seems by implication to be denying that the term ‘I’ as used does designate his self. Presumably he must be regarding his self, when he makes the statement, in two different aspects.

Now as regards one of these aspects, that in which the self's participation in the violent deed is denied, there is, I think, no great difficulty in seeing what, in general, the self is taken by itself to be. The self here is being thought of as essentially the bearer of a specific ‘character’. Every man comes in the course of experience to acquire a set of relatively stable dispositions to feel, think, and behave in more or less well-marked ways. He comes to regard himself, accordingly, and to be regarded by others, as the kind of man who, in such and such a sort of situation, can be depended upon to respond in such and such a sort of way. Naturally enough he will be moved to repudiate, as incapable of really issuing from his self, acts which he not merely may have no recollection of having performed, but which he simply cannot conceive himself, qua bearer of his specific character, as ever having performed. He does (in certain circumstances) feel constrained to admit that in some sense it was ‘he’ who acted—‘I was not myself’ he says ‘when I did that’. But while thus allowing that in some sense his self-identity was retained in the act, he will vigorously dispute that it was his self-identity as a ‘person’. For ‘personal identity’ seems to him to lose its essential meaning if there be not preserved the salient features of that relatively stable set of dispositions which constitutes a man's character and marks him off as a distinct individual. (The term ‘person’ has, admittedly, had a long and fluctuating history, and is even now of highly ambiguous import; but to associate it in this manner with the possession of a relatively definite character is a practice that has plenty of confirmation from ordinary linguistic usage. Thus we do not regard the young infant as having yet become a ‘person’. Only later on, when it shows signs of ‘characteristic’ interests and likes and dislikes and modes of response, do we come to speak of it as ‘now quite a little person’.)

But what, now, is the self taken by itself to be in the other aspect, the aspect in which the self's engagement in the act is acknowledged even though its engagement as a person is denied? Why is it that in spite of the strong tendency to identify one's self with the ‘personal’ bearer of a specific character—a tendency so strong that a not uncommon form of words for repudiating an act in one's personal authorship of which one cannot believe is ‘I was not my real self when I did that’—why is it that one does nevertheless refer to the author of the ‘contra-personal’ act as I?

The reason is apparent enough, I think, in those cases where, as sometimes happens, one remembers, or even thinks one remembers, having committed the act. For the ontological identity of the subject of the remembering experience—the I who remembers—with the subject of the remembered experience is part of the very meaning of what we call ‘remembering’. Remembering may be an illusion; but for the man who even thinks he remembers, that ontological identity is implied, and finds its natural expression in the verbal form ‘I remember that I did that’. Thus in the case of my remembering having performed a ‘contra-personal’ act, I cannot avoid regarding the author of it as ‘I’—the being that now remembers—at the same time as I may indignantly reject any suggestion that the remembered ‘I’ and the remembering ‘I’ are the same person.

The implication is, I think, that the ‘other aspect’ in which the self is being regarded in the case before us is that of its ontological character. It is the same self ‘ontologicaily’, but not ‘personally’, that is acknowledged to have committed the contra-personal act. When a man says ‘I was not myself when I did that’, the self-identity that is being accepted is identity of the self as what, in the light of our earlier argument, we may perhaps venture to call the same spiritual entity; whereas the self-identity that is being denied is the identity of that same spiritual entity considered only in respect of its manifestations as aperson’.

A distinction in such terms may be said to be virtually forced upon us in cases like the above, where we ‘remember’ having committed the contra-personal act. Where, as is probably more common, no recollection of the act remains, we may not be prepared to acknowledge that our self was engaged in it in any legitimate sense of the term ‘self’. We may insist that the testimony of witnesses is only to the behaviour of our body, which we decline to accept as our self, however closely the two may be related. In that event we shall, of course, decline to use such words as ‘I was not myself when I did that’, but shall rather say something like ‘It was not I, but only my body, that so acted’. And in many instances we may be well justified in taking this line. There are many instances falling within the general class of actions we are discussing which offer no good evidence that anything save one's bodily processes are concerned. But on the other hand, there are also many instances in which, despite the absence of recollection, it is a reasonable inference that the self—even if not the self as ‘person’—was in fact engaged; and the individual concerned may himself be brought to acknowledge that the evidence is strong enough to compel this conclusion. For while the evidence can be directly only of bodily behaviour, it may well be of modes of bodily behaviour that strikingly suggest conscious purpose (e.g. ‘intelligible’ speech), and which it is consequently hard not to interpret as betokening a directing ‘mind’ of some sort. Where that is the case (and assuming, of course, adequate testimony by reliable witnesses), our choice would seem to lie between ascribing the ‘directing mind’ to some intruding spirit that has in some mysterious manner obtained temporary control of our body, or, on the other hand, ascribing it to one's self, and recognising that the self does, under certain conditions, function in an abnormal way discontinuously with its ‘character’. If only in view of the unique intimacy of the union which every man feels to exist between himself and ‘his’ body, an intimacy so close that it is usual for a man to regard his body as virtually or actually a part of himself, the latter would seem much the more credible hypothesis.

The view to which we are being led, then, is that self-identity is a much wider conception that personal identity. But though ‘self’ and ‘person’ must be quite sharply distinguished, it is vital to bear in mind that they do not designate two different beings. They designate one and the same ontological entity in two different aspects. The self may function when the person does not, but the person cannot function when the self does not. The person is the self, qua functioning in terms of its definitive and normal character. Indeed the person, so far from being an entity different from the self, may be said to be something which the self tends gradually to become. The self starts upon its career with a variety of native instincts, impulses and capacities closely dependent upon its association with a particular animal body. Through the self's actions upon and reactions to its physical and social environment on the basis of these given propensities and powers, the relatively stable system of dispositions we call its ‘character’ is gradually built up, and the self grows into what we call a ‘person’.

But the self's energies, even when the self becomes a person, are not (as it were) poured without remainder into its functioning as a person. As we have seen, even ‘contra-personal’ functioning must on occasion be attributed to the self; self-identity being retained though personal identity is interrupted. We have conceded, it is true, that it is not logically impossible to suppose that the contra-personal act is the work of some intruding spirit, some alien ‘self’ but it seems a far-fetched and extravagant hypothesis.

Moreover, our preferred hypothesis that it is the same self that functions in the contra-personal act as functions in the normal, personal, act is not so very mysterious once we accept the primal mystery that the spiritual substance in man functions only through the medium of, and under the limitations imposed by, a particular animal body. That the state of this body, and in particular the state of its brain and nervous system, conditions most and perhaps all mental functioning, is more or less agreed by everyone; though the advocate of spiritual substance would certainly want to insist (with many other philosophers) that the causal relation between mind and brain is not unilateral but mutual. Now if the brain in its normal state conditions the way in which the mind functions, it will presumably continue to condition it, but with very different effects, when in an abnormal state. More or less violent disturbances of the normal physical organisation of the brain, temporary or permanent, may be brought about by disease, by external injury, or by the chemical action of certain drugs; and where this occurs it is only to be expected that the mental functioning of the self will be abnormal. The degree and kind of abnormality it evinces, which may or may not entail a sharp discontinuity with its ‘characteristic’ functioning, will depend upon the degree and kind and location of the physical disturbance—a matter upon which the researches of physiological psychologists throw great and constantly increasing light. The fundamental point, however, is that once we admit (and how can we deny?) that the self as mind, the spiritual substance in man, is at least partly in thrall to an animal body and functions subject to the conditions which that imposes, there is in principle no mystery about the same self functioning abnormally, and perhaps ‘out of character’ (with consequent loss of ‘personal identity’), where the bodily conditions have undergone sudden and drastic modifications with which the self has nothing to do.

It is not to be supposed, however, that the circumstances which give rise to loss or interruption of personal identity are by any means always purely physical (though it may well be the case that there is always associated with that loss or interruption some disturbance of the central nervous system). The well-known phenomena of ‘dissociation of personality’ are, as a rule, more amenable to explanation in psychological than in physiological terms. It is worth while to say a word or two about this, though it must be with a brevity which will, I fear, make an appearance of dogmatism inevitable.

The key principle I take to be that, in an important sense, the developed human mind can be described as a system of subsystems; each of these sub-systems being an organised group of tendencies oriented towards some specific interest in the life of the self. These sub-systems, in as much as it is the interests of the one self to which they minister, are developed in relatively close integration with one another—only on that account can the mind be described as a system of sub-systems—and normally they are maintained in relatively close integration. This integration is of two distinct kinds. In the first place, the different sub-systems are in substantial harmony with one another; they do not excite to mutually contradictory ways of behaving. In the second place, there is ease of transition from one sub-system to another; so that the self, when for the time being functioning in terms of one sub-system, is not debarred thereby from responding readily to stimuli appropriate to the evocation of other sub-systems. Integration, however, is never perfect in either of these forms, and the degree of disintegration may be great. It is disintegration with respect to the second form which in our present context most closely concerns us, but a chief factor in bringing it about is disintegration with respect to the first. Just because the self is one, incompatibility between its sub-systems engenders a distressing sense of conflict, and one of the many ways in which the self seeks relief from this conflict is ‘dissociation’. We have, say, a group of sub-systems X in keenly felt conflict with another group of sub-systems Y. Each is able to be retained and indulged, and the inner tension nevertheless resolved, if the two can be so completely detached from one another that the self's conscious life in relation to X totally excludes its conscious life in relation to Y, and vice versa. Where that is successfully accomplished—we need not here consider the mechanisms—the conscious life of the self becomes broken into two mutually exclusive phases; one of them, very often, representing the dominant trend of the self's character, the other some group of sub-systems that is in sharp conflict with, perhaps, major ethical dispositions in the self's character. In extreme pathological cases, where a comprehensive group of sub-systems is maintained in complete detachment from the ‘main-stream’ over a long period, it is understandable that the self functioning in the detached group should gradually acquire a new, ‘secondary’ personality which may differ in startling respects from the ‘primary’ personality manifested in the dominant phase of conscious life (from which the group of sub-systems characteristic of the secondary phase has been totally excluded). Thus we get the phenomenon of dual (or it may be multiple) personality.

Now in the light of this general account of the processes involved it would seem really rather absurd to suggest that, because two ‘persons’ have emerged, we must posit two selves—two ontologically different spiritual entities. For the self which, by its actions upon and reactions to its environment on the basis of its native endowment of powers and propensities, built up the specific group of sub-systems that have now become detached, was the same self that built up the group of sub-systems that persist in the main stream. It is surely gratuitous to suppose that the self which now functions in the detached group is a different being from the self which functioned prior to their detachment, and which is still functioning in the ‘main-stream’? The natural interpretation is surely that it is the same self that functions throughout, and that it is its functioning over a prolonged period in a detached group of sub-systems that accounts for the emergence of a personality distinct from the primary personality. This interpretation, it should be added, finds strong confirmation in the frequent success of a psycho-therapy aimed at ‘restoring’ integration of personality by breaking down the barriers that have been subconsciously erected to separate the detached groups from one another. It is certainly very hard to see how two personalities can be integrated if they belong to two independent spiritual entities! The successful therapy seems to presuppose that the ‘two persons’ are different manifestations of a single entity, the ‘one self’.

12. The main thesis I have been trying to establish in this somewhat prolonged consideration of our fourth question is that the conception of self-identity is a much wider one than that of personal identity. The self is a spiritual substance which can, and normally does, function in accordance with its personal character. But on occasion, for reasons not entirely obscure, it may function in a contra-personal way; and, on still rarer occasions, in a secondary-personal way. Nor do these two latter ways exhaust the self's modes of ‘non-personal’ functioning. If the self's ‘personal’ functioning is its functioning in terms of its character or personality, what are we to say, for example, of the self's functioning prior to the establishment of anything that can be called a ‘character’ or a ‘personality’? It is no more contra-personal, or secondary-personal, than it is personal; and yet it is hard to say that it is not the ‘self’ that is engaged in the building up of its own character. This is a case in which it would seem that the self as something less than personal is engaged. Furthermore, I shall suggest later, when I come to deal with the practical life of the self, that there is also a very important group of cases in which the self as something more than personal is engaged—that it can function in, as it were, a supra-personal as well as an infra-personal way. But this must wait. It is unfortunately not practicable to say everything at once, though it would obviate many difficulties if we could.

Let me now sum up this long discussion by stating in formal terms the answers arrived at to the four questions that were propounded.

1. The answer to the first question is that certainly a meaning can be given to the substantival description of the self; for self-conscious experience is a fact, and the self of which we are conscious in self-conscious experience is a self to which this description applies.

2. The answer to the second question is that there is very good reason for believing in the actual existence of such selves; for in self-conscious experience one finds it just not possible to doubt the existence of the self of which one is conscious; and the hypothesis that what is thus indubitable for self-conscious experience may yet be mistaken is incapable of being formulated without an implicit self-contradiction.

3. The answer to the third question is that the self's identity is at least an identity of spiritual being, but that this does not rule out the possibility, to be considered at length later, that the relationship between the self and a particular animal body may be intrinsic to self-hood, part of its very essence.

4. The answer to the fourth question is that self-identity is a much wider conception than that of personal identity. The ‘person’ is the self only in so far forth as the latter manifests itself in general accord with the relatively stable set of dispositions which it acquires in the course of its experience and which constitutes what is commonly called its ‘character’. The functioning of the self cannot be exhaustively described in terms of its ‘personal’ functioning. We must recognise ‘contra-personal’ and ‘secondary-personal’ functioning of the same self, and also—we briefly suggested at the end—‘infra-personal’ and ‘supra-personal’ functioning as well.

13. I have no serious objection if it be said that what I have been doing, in answering the fourth question, is to make a verbal recommendation, to the effect that the words ‘self’ and ‘person’ be used in a particular way. Certainly I have been doing that. I would only add that the recommendation is made, for what it is worth, on the basis of an analysis of the facts of self-experience which seems to disclose the need of a distinction within selfhood which is widely, but very vaguely, recognised, and whose nature is most clearly indicated by using the terms ‘self’ and ‘person’ in the way proposed. The proposal involves no revolution in established linguistic usage—that would only make confusion worse confounded. There is no established usage of these terms. Ordinary usage is confused and inconsistent, with the inevitable consequence of blurring a distinction that is of the utmost theoretical importance. But the usage here proposed has, for both terms, very considerable support from ordinary usage; and that (I suggest) is as much as anyone has a right to demand of the philosopher's use of language when—as is the rule rather than the exception in the discussion of major philosophical problems—distinctions emerge within the subject-matter which are not, and for the practical purposes of ordinary life need not be, clearly and consistently grasped by the layman.

The ancient problem of the self's relation to its body is one which in the present lecture I have striven, perhaps not altogether successfully, to leave a completely open question. But formal discussion of it can no longer conveniently be deferred, and will be the exclusive concern of our next lecture.

From the book: