The self in contextualized action


This paper suggests that certain traditional ways of analysing the self start off in situations that are abstract or detached from normal experience, and that the conclusions reached in such approaches are, as a result, inexact or mistaken. The paper ŕaises the question of whether there are more contextualized forms of self-consciousness than those usually appealed to in philosophical or psychological analyses, and whether they can be the basis for a more adequate theoretical approach to the self. First, we develop a distinction between abstract and contextualized actions and intentions by drawing on evidence from studies of rehabilitation after brain damage, and we introduce the notion of intentional attitude. Second, we discuss several interesting conclusions drawn from theoretically and experimentally abstract approaches. These conclusions raise some important issues about both the nature of the self and reflexive consciousness. At the same time they indicate the serious limitations concerning what we can claim about self and self-consciousness within such abstract frameworks. Such limitations motivate the question of whether it is possible to capture a sense of self that is more embedded in contextualized actions. Specifically, our concern is to focus on first-person approaches. We identify two forms of self-consciousness, ecological self-awareness and embedded reflection, that (1) function within the kinds of contextualized activity we have indicated, and (2) can be the basis for a theoretical account of the self. Both forms of self-consciousness are closely tied to action and promise to provide a less abstract basis for developing a theoretical approach to the self.

Publication Title

Journal of Consciousness Studies

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