The Self. Psychological and Philosophical Issues [Book Review]

Review of Metaphysics 32 (1):147-148 (1978)

Abstract

This volume publishes the papers which were offered and discussed by a group of philosophers and psychologists during a conference "designed to explore the interrelations between philosophical analyses of the family of concepts relating to the self... and empirical studies in psychology of the development and manifestations of self-control, self-knowledge, and the like," held in Chicago in 1975. The late editor arranged the papers "in terms of four topics" indicating the major themes they address. After his introduction, "Conceptual Issues in the Psychology of the Self", written after the conference and intended as an harmonization of opposing views expressed in the discussions, he presents three papers concerned with psychological and philosophical aspects of "Self-Control and the Concept of Agency." In "Self-Control and the Self," Walter and Harriet N. Mischel start with "an overview of some of the main types of self-control that psychologists have researched". Such psychological studies reveal the human being as "an active, self-aware problem-solver, capable of changing himself and achieving substantial self-control through the application of rational principles to a much greater degree than has usually been supposed in psychology". William P. Alston intends to determine in what ways the self has to be taken into account in the psychology of motivation in "Self-Intervention and the Structure of Motivation". That "there is an agent that does the integrating... and so on," is to be recognized as a fact. The understanding of this self-intervention, however, demands the admission of at least two motivational systems of higher-level-wants and of lower-level-wants, differing in structure and in the mode of acquisition. Charles Taylor explores "what is involved in the notion of self, of a responsible human agent" in his paper, "What is Human Agency". A person is found to be essentially characterized by the capacity for reflective self-evaluation. "Self-Knowledge" is discussed in the following two articles. Kenneth J. Gergen defends "The Social Construction of Self-Knowledge" in line with ideas of George Herbert Mead. Self-knowledge is "primarily a socially mediated and essentially arbitrary construction of experience". In its case "there is virtually nothing to know". This socio-cognitive conception of the self is emphatically rejected by David W. Hamlyn in his "Self-Knowledge". Knowledge about oneself as studied in psychology and sociology is essentially different from self-knowledge in the full sense, "connected with some kind of commitment to oneself". Different scientific views of certain aspects of human existence are presented in "Self-Development and Its Failures". Freud’s conception of the human person finds a realistic correction in the theoretical and practical work of contemporary psychoanalysts insisting upon the need of the concept of a "cohesive self," as described in Ernest S. Wolf’s "'Irrationality’ in a Psychoanalytic Psychology of the Self". This need is denied in behavioristic psychology, as Willard F. Day, Jr. shows in "On the Behavioral Analysis of Self-Deception and Self-Development". "To a behaviorist, there is no such thing" as the self. Consequently, there cannot be a genuine self-development as distinguished from a progress toward creating a desirable environment. Self-deception means fighting the environment. "A Critique of the Behavioral Paradigm and an Alternative Conceptualization" is offered by Paul F. Secord in an analysis of "Making Oneself Behave". Meaning and deficiencies of the understanding of the self in sociological social psychology are outlined by George J. McCall in "The Social Looking-Glass: A Sociological Perspective on Self-Development". The self is seen as essentially a social self or looking-glass self. Problems with regard to an explanation of the personal choice of behavior of a determined social role, however, seem to demand impulses as well as institutions as a locus of self-appraisal. "The Meaning of ’self’ and the Multiplicity of Selves" is the title of the last section of the book. Various uses of the term ’self’ are distinguished by Stephen E. Toulmin in "Self-Knowledge of the Self". The author is primarily concerned with establishing the relations of even the sophisticated psychological and psychiatric uses of the term to the everyday experience and language of reflective conduct. Rom Harré finally hopes to interpret "the syntax of much of the talk of ‘I’ and ‘me', ‘thou’ and ‘we'... as monodramatic performances" in "The Self in Monodrama".

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