What Am I? Descartes’s Various Ways of Considering the Self

Journal of Modern Philosophy 2 (1):2 (2020)
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Abstract

In the _Meditations_ and related texts from the early 1640s, Descartes argues that the self can be correctly considered as either a mind or a human being, and that the self’s properties vary accordingly. For example, the self is simple considered as a mind, whereas the self is composite considered as a human being. Someone might object that it is unclear how merely considering the self in different ways blocks the conclusion that a single subject of predication—the self—is both simple and composite, which is contradictory. In response to this objection, this paper develops a reading of Descartes’s various ways of considering the self. I argue that the best reading of Descartes’s qualified claims about the self, i.e., about the self _qua_ mind or the self qua human being, presupposes an account of the unqualified self, that is, of the self _simpliciter_. I argue that the self _simpliciter_ is not a mind, and that it is not a human being either. This result might suggest the pessimistic conclusion that Descartes’s view of the self is incoherent. To avoid this result, I introduce a new metaphysical account of the Cartesian self. On my view, the self is individuated by a unified mental life. The self is constituted by the beings that jointly produce this mental life, and derives its unity from it.

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Colin Chamberlain
Temple University

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