Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Journal of a Soul 21

The Elusive or Illusive Self.

There have always been sceptics in philosophy and, indeed, in all branches of knowledge.  We may trace scepticism back as far as the dawn of consciousness, I would suggest.  The most famous ancient sceptic was Sextus Empiricus (roughly 100 to 200 A.D.), the very English translation of whose surname would lead us to believe that he needed to be presented with the evidence of his senses to justify his believing anything.  Since the knowledge of reality, (whatever that is, though our common sense would have us assuredly accept the world and all its contents as such!) is always mediated by fallible bodily senses there is no way of proving things are one way or another.  This is in keeping with the Pyrrhonian School of Scepticism whose catch cry may be proclaimed simply thus: "No more this than that!" Such early scepticism worked as a sort of therapeutic apostasy which resulted in practice in a kind of docile acceptance of life in all its vicissitudes.  

Many other philosophers through the ages, of course, were very sceptical, and among these we may certainly number the classical Rationalists like Descartes, Arnauld, Spinoza and Leibniz and, indeed, the classical Empiricists like Locke, Hume and Voltaire to name several. 

However, setting the philosophical excursus of the opening paragraphs aside, we normally equate scepticism with general doubt, and more specifically with, say, the questioning of the existence of God.  Then, added to that, there has even been a scepticism as to whether the Self exists, never mind the questionable existence of a metaphysical Being called God.  Indeed, as we search for some self-identity or for some notion of selfhood in this journey we call human existence, we must face these thorny questions.    The more we journey onwards on this earthly pilgrimage (a glaringly religious but apt metaphor), the more we become dissatisfied with too simple, too pat or too trite an answer or answers.  Further, the more we travel onwards (or downwards or upwards, indeed - choose your own metaphor!) the more we come to realise that it must be left to the individual wayfarer to come up with his or her own authentic answer to the problems life throws at us to either comprehend or perhaps simply accept.

My title above uses two similarly sounding but different adjectives to describe the mystery of the Self, which I capitalise in a Jungian fashion here.  The Self is never a finished product.  Rather it is a project ever in the making; a project I take on to make or design or form like a potter with the clay (a Biblical image).  In that sense, it is elusive.  We simply cannot sum it up in precise words or say that it is a totally finished product. However, we know that as creators of a work of art (the Self in this case) we are very much totally involved in the project.  The second adjective "illusive," which I have used above in my title, I reject as being a descriptor of the noun "self" at all because this word means "not real, though seeming to be."  

The Self is very much a real phenomenon as any psychotherapist or psychiatrist will confirm for you if you need to go to such phenomenological or psychological lengths.  I mention the word "illusive" above and here solely because many great philosophers (most notably David Hume) and many scientists over the years have rejected the notion of Self completely and have adjudged it an illusion.  In this regard, the current writer was both drawn to and a little unnerved at the naive and somewhat arrogant certainty of the title of a recent book, written by a scholar and scientist, which runs: The Self Illusion: Why there is no “you” inside your head. [Hood, B (2012)] This book lies firmly in the tradition of scientism.  By scientism I mean the belief in the universal applicability of the scientific method and approach to all phenomena, including the human person, without exception.  It was the rise of scientism, as distinct from science per se that brought about what I term the eclipse of the phenomenon of the Self.

Who am I? Where did I come from?  Where am I going? are age-old questions and are as old as consciousness  is itself.  They are the first self-reflective questions which are the very hallmark of consciousness and belong to the term almost by definition.  As we go through our normal daytime routine we often ask ourselves as regards our fickle emotions, "Which is the real me?  Is the real me or true self the angry me, the selfish me, the happy me, the compassionate me, the helpful me, the moody me, the joyful me, the suffering me, the moaning me, the selfless me, the generous me, the mean me etc?"

The next few posts will be on that topic.  Where is the true Self at all.  

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