The Abnegated Self

In Virtue Narrative, and Self: Explorations of Character in the Philosophy of Mind and Action (2021)


Abstract: A self-abnegating person lacks contact with their agency. This can be against their will, in absence of their will, or voluntarily. This does not mean that they cannot provide reasons for or a narrative about their actions. It’s just that the reasons or narrative are someone else’s. People abnegate parts of their agency regularly; for example, within hierarchical institutions. In other cases, the self-abnegation is all-encompassing; for example, a victim of brainwashing. An agent in such a position can completely fail to understand themselves or be understood by others as having a self. I focus on two problems related to self-abnegation. The first is whether there is a conception of a self that can reliably discriminate between strong selves and abnegated selves. The second is whether a person with an abnegated self should be treated as a person with a strong self. I conclude that the good of respecting derived or instrumental agency comes in putting that person in a position to agentially flourish and in maintaining the structural conditions and expectations of agency.

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Nellie Wieland
California State University, Long Beach

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