Beardman seeks information about another beardman
October 8, 2008 12:10 PM   Subscribe

William James-Filter: does anybody know who said this particular thing about him, and where?

I thought I read an article some time ago that basically said the following (paraphrasing from memory):

William James puzzled for much of his life about the relationship between two senses of the word "I": on one hand, "I" refers to something that is a present subject of experience but which seems transient, while on the other hand, "I" refers to a persisting person, the sort of entity that one could write a biography of.

I find this relationship puzzling, and I was hoping to be able to find a nice little quote that says James did too.

The article that I thought mentioned this was "The Self and the SESMET" by Galen Strawson. But I've looked it over carefully and it doesn't seem to be there. So my question: does anybody know of any place where James' puzzlement about this problematic relationship is discussed? Or, any specific place where James more or less expicitly says, "Now this is a puzzle!"?
posted by Beardman to Religion & Philosophy (6 answers total)
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on 'personal identity' would be my starting place; I will post back if I find the quote you're after.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:33 PM on October 8, 2008

I think this will put you on the right track: Over a hundred years ago, in his Principles of Psychology (1890), William James put forward a fascinating account of the self. In that theory, he makes a distinction between two aspects of self, the self as subject, or the "I," and the self as object, or the "Me." James goes on to investigate the nature of these two aspects of self. He concludes that the me comes in three basic types: the "material me", the "social me", and the "spiritual me." As for the I, James concludes that, at least for the purposes of psychology, there is no need to postulate a subject of experiences, a metaphysical I that goes beyond the physical being who does the thinking. Rather, he concludes that 'the passing thought ... is itself the thinker' (1890, p. 401).
posted by beagle at 12:43 PM on October 8, 2008

Principles of Psychology Ch X probably has some of what you're after. Try searching down the page for 'word', if you're interested specifically in his thoughts on the ambiguity of the word 'I' - you'll get a couple of points like 'Hereafter let us see the words ME and I for the empirical person and the judging Thought.'

What aspect of this are you interested in? Do you mainly want to know what James thought about it, or what Strawson (or whoever) said about James, or do you want to know in general what people think about the metaphysical problem of personal identity (understood as persistence through time) or the unity of consciousness or our ability to introspect, or do you want to know about ambiguity in the word 'I', or what? What level are you at with this stuff, too?
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:06 PM on October 8, 2008

If you're looking for authors that discuss James's thoughts on this subject, try this Google Books search. This one seems particularly relevant.
posted by beagle at 1:42 PM on October 8, 2008



Level = ABD

Interest for the purposes of AskMefi question: mainly just getting a quote that says "There's A, there's B, and how they relate to each other is a question" (whether that quote is from James, Strawson, or whoever).

What leads me to happen to want such a quote: my work is in philosophy of psychology and the metaphysics of personal identity. Lately I've been reading stuff from the recent cog-sci-meets-phenomenology ferment (e.g. Dan Zahavi, Shaun Gallagher), and coming across talk of "minimal" selves and "narrative" selves--the first being a kind of bare-bones 'experiential dimension' and the second being more or less what gets called a 'person' in the identity literature. However, whatever relationship these writers envision between the two selves (if it makes sense to characterize them as such at the end of the day) isn't addressed. I thought it'd be nice if I could rustle up something from James, who considered similar issues, remarking that there really is a relationship here worth pondering. Instead, the philosophers I've looked at (and often James himself) just seem content to leave it at, "We have lots of selves."
posted by Beardman at 2:32 PM on October 8, 2008

Sounds like something Alan Watts might have said.
posted by callmejay at 4:39 PM on October 8, 2008

« Older Pedal steel tune of mystery!   |   Smooch mechanics Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.