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By Jerrold Seigel

What's the self? The query has preoccupied humans in lots of occasions and locations, yet nowhere greater than within the smooth West, the place it has spawned debates that also resound this present day. Jerrold Seigel combines theoretical and contextual ways to discover the methods key figures have understood no matter if and the way a long way contributors can in achieving coherence and consistency within the face of internal tensions and exterior pressures. Clarifying that contemporary ''post-modernist'' bills belong firmly to the culture of Western pondering they've got sought to supercede, Seigel offers a persuasive replacement to claims that the fashionable self is sometimes selfish or disengaged. either a Fulbright Fellow and a countrywide Endowment for the arts Fellow, Jerrold Seigel is presently William R. Keenan Professor of background at NYU. His past books comprise the personal Worlds of Marcel Duchamp (University of California Press, 1995) and Bohemian Paris: tradition, Politics and the bounds of Bourgeois lifestyles (Viking Penguin, 1986).

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Neither can exist without the other, and neither is prior to the other. To possess the concept of a subject of consciousness an individual must be able in certain circumstances to identify himself and the states he is in without [any reference to] external observation. 29 Reflection on our own consciousness and the powers it can develop may provide us with an important stimulus toward evolving a concept of selfhood, but such reflection by itself cannot tell us what the self is. Like the idea of gold we possess in everyday life, which identifies the metal about which we acquire knowledge through chemical analysis and experiment, but without providing that knowledge itself, the idea of the self invites “objective completion” by way of some additional mode of understanding.

As Martin Hollis has argued, social and cultural experience has a character much like what Kant observed in regard to nature: it does not make sense of itself, it only comes to have sense in the mind that perceives it. Cultural systems are not spontaneously given to us as ordered spaces where action can be Dimensions and contexts of selfhood 23 coherently undertaken and understood, we must each come to know the system by way of the mindful interactions in which we are caught up. To gain social knowledge a person must act – to use Kant’s language – not just as a pupil but also as a judge, applying forms of conceptual understanding that make sense out of what must sometimes appear as a fluid and unstable mass of perceptions and experiences.

Many of the figures dealt with appear because they have long been recognized as important to the topic; others have been included because, in reading them, I found myself surprised and amazed that they had been left out. What I claim about them, individually and together, is that they realize a range of potentials for experiencing and comprehending selfhood under modern conditions that no treatment of the topic can afford to ignore. They bring to light materials for forming and conceiving the self on which not just they but their less articulate contemporaries drew, and that we, their heirs, draw on too when we seek to make our possible selves actual.

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