The Network Self
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The Network Self

Relation, Process, and Personal Identity

Kathleen Wallace

  1. 232 pagine
  2. English
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eBook - ePub

The Network Self

Relation, Process, and Personal Identity

Kathleen Wallace

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The concept of a relational self has been prominent in feminism, communitarianism, narrative self theories, and social network theories, and has been important to theorizing about practical dimensions of selfhood. However, it has been largely ignored in traditional philosophical theories of personal identity, which have been dominated by psychological and animal theories of the self. This book offers a systematic treatment of the notion of the self as constituted by social, cultural, political, and biological relations. The author's account incorporates practical concerns and addresses how a relational self has agency, autonomy, responsibility, and continuity through time in the face of change and impairments. This cumulative network model (CNM) of the self incorporates concepts from work in the American pragmatist and naturalist tradition. The ultimate aim of the book is to bridge traditions that are often disconnected from one another—feminism, personal identity theory, and pragmatism—to develop a unified theory of the self.

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Introduction to The Network Self

I am large, I contain multitudes.
(Walt Whitman)1
I am myself plus my circumstance.
(Ortega y Gasset)2
[A] man has as many social selves as there are individuals who recognize him … and as there are distinct groups of persons about whose opinion he cares.
(William James)3

1. Basic Thesis

The Network Self: Relation, Process, and Personal Identity develops an account of a relational process self that addresses both metaphysical interests in the nature and identity of the self and practical concerns about autonomy and responsibility.
First, the metaphysical thesis. The self is “relational” and a process; it is what I call a cumulative network. I argue that social features and relations, for example, familial, ethnic, or other cultural and social relations, are as central to conceptualizing the self as are physical, biological, and psychological traits. The claim is that the self is a network of interrelated traits, physical, biological, psychological, social, and so on. Second, the claim is that the self is a temporal, changeable network of accumulating traits and is, therefore, a process. This is a naturalistic, but not merely physicalistic, theory of the self.
The thesis as I develop it launches from the insights of two contemporary relational approaches to the self in philosophy, relational self theories and mereological theories. In feminist (and communitarian) theories a “relational” self has meant a “social” self, or a self that is in relationship(s) with others, causally determined by “outside” social factors, or that has its motivations and values shaped by social influences. My approach seeks to show how social relations are among the many kinds of relations constitutive of selves by giving an account of the self as a network. The self is plurally constituted, but is a unified, structured whole, a network with synchronic unity.
In contemporary analytic metaphysics, four-dimensionalist theories of objects conceptualize persons as spatio-temporal regions and understand relations mereologically. But, four-dimensionalist accounts entail that selves are multiple person-stages or person-parts, and hence, weaken the notion that the self is one “thing” re-identifiable as such through change. My approach seeks to remedy that problem by giving an account of the diachronic unity of the self as a process (which may not be the same as narrative unity). My positive account develops this account, borrowing some ideas from the American pragmatic and naturalist tradition. I comment in Section 7 on some of the ways in which that tradition is a rich resource for addressing contemporary philosophical issues, but my account does not require prior familiarity with it.
Second, the practical concerns about autonomy and responsibility. By “practical” I mean related to practice, action, and agency. I argue that a metaphysical theory of the self helps to interpret the extent to which responsibility is an identity-presupposing concept, and the nature and possibility of autonomy. Conceptualizing the self as a network also gives reasons for why we should think of the self as continuing as a self (and as possibly deserving of care) even when it is severely psychologically impaired or compromised. I’m suggesting not that the theory establishes how and when care ought to be provided; rather, it gives an account of why it would make sense to think of a compromised self as a self deserving of care. Perhaps tangentially related are the approaches of Haslanger (2012) and Thomasson (2015). Haslanger argues that concepts of race and gender ought to be shaped by normative concerns about social justice. Thomasson suggests more generally that metaphysics can be understood as a “project of ‘conceptual engineering,’” that is, as “working out … what concepts would be most useful for a given purpose and in a given context.”4 I am not, however, suggesting that the concept of the self should be shaped by specific normative goals (e.g., social justice, care, etc.). But, my approach is normative in so far as I am recommending that we ought to conceive of the self in a particular way (as a cumulative network) at least in part because doing so allows us to account for an array of practical dimensions of selves, such as autonomy, responsibility, continuity as a self in the face of impairments. My approach then is not just “descriptive metaphysics” in Strawson’s (1959) sense, not only because I do not limit myself to “common sense” categories, but because it is also a recommendation for how we ought to think of the self. In proposing the cumulative network model of the self, I am also suggesting a revision, if not in common sense, at least in philosophical approaches to the self. The latter are not just abstractions from or more articulate statements of common sense. They need to do different interpretive work from that done by common sense.
Prevailing philosophical conceptualizations of the self—e.g., as a psychological or biological entity or as a physical object or as narratively constructed—don’t do all the interpretive work, descriptive and normative, that I think a theory of the self ought to do. I think we want a theory that recognizes that a self is both socially constituted and autonomous, is responsible even if it has changed over time, continues as a self in the face of change, even in the face of impairment, and so on. There is practical work that metaphysical concepts can and ought to do. Thus, my approach is (1) that a theory of the self can and ought to be evaluated by its implications for practical questions (one respect in which my work is “pragmatic”), and (2) that treatments of practical issues can and ought to be evaluated by the merits of their metaphysical assumptions. This is contrary to what some personal identity theorists have recently argued, and I side with those who are on the other side of that debate.

2. The Practical and the Metaphysical

Shoemaker (2007) suggests that contemporary philosophers’ analyses of persons and personal identity develop out of two distinct areas of interest, (1) an interest in practical concerns on the one hand, and (2) an interest in the nature and identity of objects on the other. Velleman (2002) argues that answers to metaphysical questions about the nature and persistence of the self do not coincide with answers to practical questions about self-regard and self-governance (autonomy).5 Olson (1997) argues that the two areas should be kept separate: practical concerns should be dealt with by ethicists, issues about persistence and identity should be dealt with by metaphysicians, conflating the two just leads to confusion (69). Korsgaard (2003) argues that the unity of the self is a pragmatic, not a metaphysical matter. By “pragmatic” she means what is necessary for the possibility of agency. She argues that the unity of a self as an agent has practical grounds in the “raw necessity of eliminating conflict among your various motives” and because of “the unity implicit in taking a standpoint when one deliberates and chooses” (169). On one hand, Korsgaard accepts the idea of a division of labor between metaphysics and ethics; on the other hand, in arguing that a problem that arises from metaphysical treatments of the self (Parfit’s in particular, Parfit [1986]) can and should be solved “pragmatically” she is also reflecting the idea that both “practical” and metaphysical perspectives are necessary to a full understanding of the self.6 Schechtman puts this point more explicitly, arguing that metaphysical concerns about identity and persistence are important to practical concerns and that issues of practical significance should have some place in a philosophical account of personal identity:
facts about personal identity are incredibly important in our dayto-day lives. This does not mean that this is all there is to our lives, or that everything about our identities can be learned by looking at judgments of practice and value. But it is a strong indication that we should not simply ignore the practical in understanding what we are and how we continue.
(Schechtman, 2008, 52)7
West (2008) argues that metaphysical questions about identity over time are inextricably tied to practical questions and that those practical considerations may justify the conclusion that “there is no single correct answer as to whether a bodily criterion or a psychological criterion is correct” (73). Gallagher and Marcel (1999) criticize purely introspective methods and theorists who approach an analysis of self in “a manner that is abstract or detached from behavior and action normally embedded in pragmatically or socially contextualized situations” (274). They suggest that “problems and paradoxes concerning the notion of the self are the result of searching for the self within these abstract perspectives” (274), and that a different approach is needed:
[F]or this more comprehensive model [of the self], considerations about agency and ethical action are most pertinent. We are led to a perspective that takes ethics (in the most general sense of “having to do with how one lives one’s life”) as a suitable starting point for working out an understanding of the notion of self.8
Metaphysical and practical issues are not always the same. However, theories that address practical concerns—such as a theory of autonomy or of reflexive self-regard—can’t help but make some metaphysical assumptions, even if unarticulated. And, a theory of the self that ignored practical issues would be incomplete in virtue of ignoring important aspects of what it is to be a self. As Schechtman argues, if we want to understand the self as it actually is we have to consider the social and cultural infrastructure that contributes to defining what a self is (Schechtman, 2014). Additionally, the merits of a theory might be weakened if it had problematic implications for practical concerns. Baker (2009), for example, criticizes four-dimensionalism for having “an anemic conception of material objects” (1). By treating objects as merely occupied space-time regions, four-dimensionalism, she argues, fails to recognize the ontological distinctiveness and significance of different kinds of objects, and specifically, of persons. Ordinary objects are merely a matter of convention, of our picking out particular space-time regions for our purposes. Baker also argues that four-dimensionalism clashes with presuppositions of morality and makes it difficult to understand ourselves as human agents with responsibility for our actions (12–13). It might be argued that such a criticism is motivated by practical and value concerns and thus represents exactly the confusion that ought to be avoided. However, my approach is that some metaphysical and practical concerns should be commensurate with one another and therefore, that it can be legitimate to raise a practical concern as a relevant consideration for a general theory about the self. This might mean that practical concerns about agency or autonomy should be revised in light of metaphysics, but it might also mean that a general theory of the self should be reconsidered in light of practical concerns.
Thus, I attempt to walk a fine line between being sensitive to the distinction between practical and metaphysical concerns, while at the same time addressing some of the ways in which the practical may be important to understanding who and what we are. I develop an account of practical capabilities, such as autonomy, as a (norm governed) way in which a self as a particular kind of relational process functions. And, I also discuss responsibility as an identity-presupposing concept and how this bears on the attribution and distribution of responsibility. I show how practical concerns about identity and agency may be relevant to deciding fusion and fission thought experimental cases in philosophy, which were originally introduced as a way to test metaphysical intuitions and theses about identity.

3. Origins: Relational and Temporal Self Theories

As noted earlier, the view advanced in this book takes off from the work of two areas of philosophical work:
  1. The idea of a relational self, proposed by feminists and communitarians, whereby relations are conceptualized in terms of relationships, social and interpersonal. The idea I take from this work is that a self has multiple dimensions or traits and is in important ways socially constituted, although in my view a relational self is more than a social self.
  2. The four-dimensionalist (temporal parts or stage theory) idea of a person, developed by metaphysicians concerned with problems in the constitution and identity of material objects, according to which an object (a person) is a spatio-temporal region composed of relations between spatio-temporal parts, stages, or (sub-)regions. I take the idea that a self has temporal features in a different direction and argue that the self is in an important sense its history, and thus, a process.
While they have different provenances, both approaches aim to demystify or to naturalize (not necessarily in a reductive sense) the self and both are “relational” views of the self, albeit in different senses. A “social” relational view of the self arises from objections by feminists, communitarians, and others to an atomistic view of the self that ignores the extent to which the self is a product of its social relations and cultural or community locations.9 Four-dimensionalism concerns part/whole and temporal relations and problems in the metaphysics of identity of physical objects that change over and persist through time. Four-dimensionalism argues that objects perdure10 as four-dimensional spatio-temporal regions; time and space are dimensions of objects. Four-dimensionalism contrasts with three-dimensionalism, according to which an object has spatial dimensions and is something that endures, persists, through time.

3.1. Temporal Self Theories

Four-dimensionalist theories in contemporary metaphysics come in two varieties, the temporal parts theory and stage theory. On a temporal parts theory, a person or a self consists of temporal parts (e.g., the Monday-part, the five-year-old part; the “size” of the spatio-temporal region can vary). The person as a whole is a space-time worm. This entails that at a time a self is never wholly present, but only a part of a self (e.g., the “today” part) is present. On stage theory, there are multiple, three-dimensional person-stages that are united in some appropriate way to form a person-career. Thus, I the person today writing this sentence am a different person (person-stage) from (albeit a “counterpart” to)11 the person yesterday who wrote a different sentence, but those two persons are stages in my person-career.
Both varieties have odd results for conceptualizing aspects of selves, such as agency and responsibility, that are important for practical concerns. That only a part of a person is present or that a person (person-career) is multiple persons (person-stages) has weird implications for understanding who acts (a part of a person? of a stage? is that a person?) and who is responsible for actions (a different part or stage?). While I find four-dimensionalism unappealing in this regard, I take the stance that it is worth exploring further how to retain the important and compelling insights about the nature of the self as a temporal spread. I will propose that the self be modeled as a process as well as a network, what I call the cumulative network model of the self. I see myself as working in the spirit of four-dimensionalism, moving away from thinking in terms of static spatio-temporal regions. I will introduce a way to think more dynamically about the self as cumulatively related to its past.12

3.2. Relational Self Views

Feminists and communitarians object to atomistic views of the self that ignore the extent to which the self is a product of and constitute...

Indice dei contenuti

  1. Cover
  2. Half Title
  3. Series Page
  4. Title
  5. Copyright
  6. Contents
  7. Preface
  8. Acknowledgments
  9. 1 Introduction to The Network Self
  10. 2 The Relational Process Self: The Cumulative Network Model
  11. 3 Identity and the Network Self
  12. 4 Fusion and Fission: Thought Experiments, Persons, and Personal Identity
  13. 5 First-person Perspective and Reflexive Selves
  14. 6 Autonomy and the Network Self
  15. 7 Responsibility and the Network Self
  16. References
  17. Index