Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
Mary Beth Mader
My dissertation addresses a classical philosophical question: In what way is the fact that there is something-it-is-like to be me related to my identity as a person in and among other people? To answer these questions, I turn to two principle resources: Enactivism and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. The enactivist position in philosophy of mind and cognitive science argues that perception and cognition are not processes that happen in a representational or computational mental space. Rather, perception and cognition are activities engaged in by animals, with their bodies. Maurice Merleau-Ponty has been an especially influential figure in the field, largely due to his phenomenological analysis of the role played by the lived body in shaping the environment we perceptually confront. What enactivism and Merleau-Ponty share is a recognition that the objects we encounter in perception refer to the subject of perception in a minimal sense. I encounter 'things' in the world, not as objects, but as affordances or action possibilities based on what my body can do. I argue that Merleau-Ponty's philosophy allows us to make sense of the overlapping connection between this minimal self of perception and the more personal self of social life. Merleau-Ponty stresses the role played by the situation in giving my body to me as a means of interaction in perceptions. It is because I am situated in a world that solicits me, that I can perceive. This means I must be passive and open to the world in order to enact myself as a perceiver - not just an active body (as posited in enactivist accounts). I trace this passivity through accounts of minimal selfhood and personal selfhood. I argue that the subject achieves herself as a perceiver and person only by means of interaction with a situation that contains other people and perspectives more developed than she is. It is through engagement with the already instituted ways of perceiving and expressing oneself that one comes to enact oneself - both as a perceiver and a person - and ultimately, to take a perspective on oneself.
Dissertation or thesis originally submitted to the local University of Memphis Electronic Theses & dissertation (ETD) Repository.
Butler, Michael George, "Appearances of Selfhood: Merleau-Ponty, Enactivism, and Instituted Self-Consciousness" (2017). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 1678.