On what matters. Personal identity as a phenomenological problem

Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 20 (2):261-279 (2020)
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This paper focuses on the connection between meaning, the specific field of phenomenological philosophy, and mattering, the cornerstone of personal identity. Doing so requires that we take a stand on the scope and method of phenomenological philosophy itself. I will argue that while we can describe our lives in an “impersonal” way, such descriptions will necessarily omit what makes it the case that such lives can matter at all. This will require distinguishing between “personal” identity and “self” identity, an idea well-established in the phenomenological literature – for instance, in Husserl’s distinction between the “transcendental ego” and the person -- but I will argue that self-identity is a normative achievement whose clarification requires a move into second-person phenomenology. The argument moves through three sections. First, I will discuss Aron Gurwitsch’s “non-egological” conception of consciousness and will explain the most important reason Husserl rejected this view in his transcendental phenomenology. Second, I will discuss some contemporary approaches to Husserl’s distinction between person and ego. Third, I will argue that these approaches testify to an ambiguity in Husserl’s account of being “true” to oneself that requires us to understand selfhood as having the structure Heidegger called care. The importance of this will be demonstrated phenomenologically in a critical examination of Paul Ricoeur’s ontology of selfhood, particularly his interpretation of the second-person phenomenology of conscience.



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Steven Crowell
Rice University

Citations of this work

Husserl, the active self, and commitment.Hanne Jacobs - 2020 - Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 20 (2):281-298.
Phenomenological approaches to personal identity.Jakub Čapek & Sophie Loidolt - 2021 - Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 20 (2):217-234.
Personal Uniqueness and Events.Petr Prášek - 2021 - Human Studies 44 (4):721-740.

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References found in this work

Reasons and Persons.Derek Parfit - 1984 - Oxford, GB: Oxford University Press.
Totality and Infinity.Emmanuel Levinas - 1961/1969 - Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press.
Critique of Pure Reason.I. Kant - 1787/1998 - Philosophy 59 (230):555-557.
Ideas pertaining to a pure phenomenology and to a phenomenological philosophy.Edmund Husserl - 1980 - Hingham, MA, USA: Distributors for the U.S. and Canada, Kluwer Boston.

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