THE SELF IN CONTEMPORARY PSYCHOANALYSIS
(This paper was written for a philosophy symposium by the same title. I keep meaning to revise it and seek to have it published.)
The Philosophical Context
Two stock and standard questions one trots out in a typical introduction to philosophy are: (1) What is the self? and, (2) How do I know there are other minds? In reviewing issues which are of interest to psychoanalytic theorists we can discern two questions which differ from these, but which bear some kinship and resemblance. (1) How do I acquire some sense of myself, some idea of who I am? (2) How do I come to appreciate the reality of other people, different from myself?
A characteristic of philosophical inquiry is that the focus is away from predominately factual matters (how, in point of fact, do we come to appreciate that there are others?) and toward the issues that more stand in need of conceptual clarification (what should we count as ones appreciating or failing to appreciate the nature of other persons?).
These reformulated questions are particularly appropriate guideposts when we are following trends in contemporary psychoanalytic theory, for current talk has a decided developmental cast to it, and if one were to try to compress a vast universe of contemporary discourse into a few lines, one could do worse than the following summary of psychoanalytic theorizing: Each of us passes, or fails to pass, through a series of developmental stages during which we distinguish ourselves from our mothers or primary caretakers. The sorts of problems in living which Freud thought he could assist by means of psychoanalytic insight were limited to fairly late developmental tasks, the Oedipal conflicts characteristic of neuroses. In the Oedipal phase we are supposed to struggle with the anxiety of wanting to possess one of our parents while wishing to compete with and exclude the other. The capacity to enter into these sorts of triangular conflicts presupposes a fairly well developed and differentiated sense of oneself, and a recognition of oneself as other than that Other who is wanted and other than the Other who is feared. Freud was of the opinion that psychoanalytic theory could help us understand persons who had not developed to this Oedipal level, but he did not believe that psychoanalysis could provide useful assistance for these individuals. For one thing, these earlier stages of development are largely prior to the individual's acquisition of language, and, the reasoning apparently was that they therefore were not accessible to a form of intervention which is a matter of words. With increased interest in these earlier developmental stages we are finding increased confidence in the psychoanalytic community that forms of intervention still largely within the Freudian tradition may indeed be of "therapeutic" assistance to this population.
Working out this shift in vision is requiring considerable adjustments in theory and in technique, and has given rise to a renaissance in psychoanalytic thinking. Taking just one theme of current controversy, the proper role of what historically has been called the "countertransference" is under review. The traditional stance has been that, in principle, at least, psychoanalysts were to have "worked through" their own childhood difficulties in their own analysis, and were in the best position to promote a patient's insight only when their own early feelings did not come into play. Coinciding with a gradual shift away from the predominance of the methodological stance of the natural sciences has been a gradual move away from the ideal of the analyst without personal investment. Recently we hear thinkers like Heinz Kohut describing the epistemological instrument of psychoanalysis as "empathy" and as "vicarious introspection". Even more radical is Harold Searles, whose discussions of his work with persons with very primitive developmental arrests highlights and underscores his own "countertransference" responses. Psychoanalysis is moving toward becoming an avowedly intersubjective exploration (Stolorow, Brandchaft, Atwood, 1983, Atwood,Stolorow, 1984).
As for fashions in philosophy, one noteworthy trend is that the division of the philosophical world into unfriendly camps of "analytic" or "language analyst" versus "continental philosophers" seems to have considerably softened somewhere in the 1970s, so that we are no longer shocked to find a contemporary thinker like Richard Rorty singing the praises, at once, of Dewey, Heidegger, and Wittgenstein. Unquestionably, the analytic philosophers still dominate the literature, and in these circles one is still going to be a bit suspect for ones interest in the phenomenologists, but one no longer lives in fear of banishment from the club. These sorts of political considerations inevitably figure into our taking stock of current trends in either psychoanalysis or philosophy, and part of what makes generalizing about either field so awkward and risky comes from the political undercurrents surrounding what it is, or is not, fashionable to say.
It is gratifying to find that the psychoanalysts have been tapping both the language-analysis and the phenomenological movements in philosophy. Roy Schafer demonstrates a readiness to learn from Wittgenstein and Ryle, and to seek to shift the vocabulary of psychoanalysis from reified and quasi-mechanical visions to what he calls "action language". Roughly, he wants to account for the useful terms of psychoanalytic theory as referring to what Ryle would call action dispositions. We are also seeing fertilization from the continental side of philosophy. Atwood and Stolorow's (1984) explorations in the phenomenological philosophers are a fine case in point. While they are of the opinion that thinkers like Sartre fall short in terms of what they can offer psychoanalysis as an intersubjective exploration, my own view is that Atwood and Stolorow are closer to Sartre than they think.
But there are areas of "contemporary" philosophy which are almost enough "old hat" as to not count as current, but which I fear are not yet being heard clearly enough in the psychoanalytic community. I want to highlight one of these here, and return to it later in my paper. Actually, it was sometime in the '60s that R. C. Buck, an analytic philosopher, remarked that the problem of other minds had been replaced by the problem of one's own mind, and my suspicion is that if that remark captured what was philosophically current in the '60s there is still a lot of catching up to do.
Recent discussion has remarked an interesting tendency on the part of one of philosophy's classical problems--that of `other minds'--to turn itself upside down. Historically and perhaps usually biographically the problem is first posed with the assumption that I know perfectly well what is going on in my own (private) mind, but because of the privacy of minds I must always be in doubt as to the mental states of others. The argument from analogy proposes a route of shaky inference to probable knowledge about the minds of others. Gradually, however, it is realized this this argument is a red herring, that the behavior (including verbal behavior ) of others provides the only possible criterion for what one means when he ascribes mental predicates to them. With this realization the argument from analogy collapses, and the problem of other minds dissolves. [R. C. Buck, "Non-Other Minds" in R. J. Butler, Analytic Philosophy, Basil Blackwell, 1966, pp. 187-210.]
We should, indeed, expect ample material for cross-fertilization between philosophy and psychoanalysis with respect to interest in the topic of the acquisition (and conditions for the acquisition) of language, for this has been a matter of considerable focus of both fields for several years. The Wittgensteinians have been arguing that language could not be taught at all if words had meaning by means of reference to something within the individual's mind and inherently accessible only to each individual. I do not believe the enormous implications of this point have begun to have been sufficiently appropriated in the psychoanalytic community. There we find a continued reliance on a fundamentally Cartesian set of assumptions. One speaks of an "internal world" of "representations" about which we make indirect inferences (or "vicareously introspect") based on the analysand's reports about what "comes to mind." her "representations" is nothing short of rampant. In light of these and a host of related linguistic practices among psychoanalytic theorists, one suspects that there are very few of these theorists who who have much of an idea of the force of philosophical arguments against what Wittgenstein called "private language."
On the other hand, I think many philosophers have been drawn to some version of a view that the self (or one's sense of oneself, or one's view of oneself--I do not know how to put this well) is created in, by, and through language. Here my guess is that philosophers have not begun to grapple with the implications of psychoanalysis, that the "self" at stake in the presence or absence of "self esteem" is rooted in developmental structures which pre-date the acquisition of language.
Another point of some meeting of minds in philosophy has to do with the interest in "action language" and the implications of intentionalistic vocabulary. This has been an area for philosophical discussion of psychoanalysis for some time, and there are many who find in traditional Freudian views an unacceptable tension between Freud's mechanistic and deterministic metapsychology and his clinician's sensitivity to meaning and purposiveness in neurotic conduct. There is nothing like a consensus of philosophers on this score. Robert Solomon's challenging article on Freud's brilliant "Project For A Scientific Psychology" ("Freud's Neurological Theory of Mind", in Wolheim, Freud, 1974) maintains that there is not an incompatibility between teleological and causal explanation, and that Freud was ahead of his time in how he saw this. Sartre, on the other hand, has argued that Freud's talk of "the unconscious" must give way to a recognition of how we consciously, if not in reflective consciousness, choose with each constitutive act projects of "bad faith". Sartre clearly thinks his discussions cover the same sort of ground as Freud, but the idea that an action could really be an action and yet be produced by a kind of mechanical inertia from ones past is flatly rejected.
There is a new twist to this old debate. A few years of discussions between Larry Hedges and myself provided much of the incentive for this symposium, and one of Hedges' thoughts, at one point in time, was that Sartre's vision of "bad faith" or self-deception offers a great deal of interest to the psychoanalyst working with the more traditional "neurotic" population, but that this sort of intentionalistic vocabulary does not fit so well for individuals whose development is pre-Oedipal. I think I may have persuaded him away from this position by now, but it raises a parallel issue. Stolorow and Lachmann have maintained that the notion of "defenses" is only really applicable in the "structural model" of intrapsychic conflict (excessive demands of id and super-ego being defended against by the ego), which presupposes having achieved a basically Oedipal level of development where these structures are presumably formed. The question arises whether a pre-Oedipal individual can be said to have ego defenses, or to have feelings of guilt related to a super-ego.
I don't think this issue has been much noticed, but it strikes me as pretty important. Unlike the notion of regressing to a point of "fixation" in the face of subsequent trauma or anxiety, the idea of a "developmental arrest" suggests that the individual never got to a point where, say, Oedipal guilt and anxiety is even an option. Now describing individuals as having "developmental arrests" is quite the fashion; yet my own guess is that there is virtually no one who is functioning well enough to get to the office of a private practitioner and stop at the market on the way home, who does not also display significant Oedipal conflict, however this may differ qualitatively from Oedipal or neurotic individuals not regarded as "arrested" at some earlier stage, and however much it may be heuristically justified to invoke a "listening perspective" that highlights earlier struggles.
Well then, the emphasis and interest in contemporay psychoanalytic thinking is on a developmental perspective which highlights the development of the self through stages which are prior to the achievement of what Freud called the Oedipus Complex, and the intended focus of this symposium is on new directions in psychoanalytic theory and philosophically interesting concerns these raise. What are we to make of the concept of the self, the task of coming to appreciate that there are other selves, the applicability (or non-applicability) of such seemingly intentionalistic vocabularies as `self-deception' and/or `repression', in light of some of the recent ideas in psychoanalytic theory which address `developmental arrests' characterized `pre-Oedipal.' How are we to comprehend a process by which the infant acquires an appreciation of another person as separate and distinct? How are we to comprehend the purported absence of that appreciation? Presumably some persons do not entirely emerge from these developmental phases. How are we to make sense of this notion of the task of differentiating oneself as distinct from another?
Are there special nuances to concepts of shame and/or guilt as these may apply to individuals whose development is markedly pre-Oedipal? For the individual whose development has attained levels of Oedipal conflict and resolution might be regarded as having achieved the formation of a "super-ego" (roughly, an internalized set of values) and a fairly cohesive "ego-ideal" and a "sense of self" so that, against that backdrop, one might feel guilty for ones misdeeds, or feel shame for one's not living up to one's view of oneself? What are we to think of individuals who the psychoanalyst would characterize as narcissistic, borderline, or psychotic?
I raise these questions with considerable personal interest. My own newborn son James, who will be ten weeks old tomorrow, is very much in my thoughts. In a way, it's quite obvious that James recognizes his being other than his mother and me. The fact that he reaches for us, looks at us, acts in response to us, are all, straightforwardly enough--criterion for recognizing something as other than oneself. Yet we find psychoanalytic theorists talking about stages in which he will progressively differentiate himself from his mother. Louise Kaplan captures the nature of the journey James supposedly will make with the title of her book, From Oneness to Separateness. At this point in his life James purportedly does not distinguish himself from his mother, nor even, as some theorists tell the story, from the world to which, it seems to me, he reacts. He will only gradually manage to separate, moving from this stage Margaret Mahler regards as "normal infant autism" with its absence of differentiation. By now James presumably is moving toward the early subphases of what Mahler calls "symbiosis," and which Margaret Little prefers to describe as the "basic unity", maintained by mutual cueing, and transformed into separation and individuation by tolerable doses of disappointment.
These ideas are challenging enough in application to James' presumed phenomenological world. But psychoanalysis arrives at its commitment to these notions not so much by watching or working with infants, but by seeking to "vicareously introspect" and understand adults (or persons well past infancy) whose struggles (particularly as these come to light in the transference relationship between analysand and analyst) are conceptualized as replications of these early passages. Earlier today you heard Dr. Larry Hedges review Mahler's developmental stages, and suggest to you that the contemporary scene in psychoanalytic thinking can be grasped in terms of four "listening perspectives" appropriate to four developmentally understood forms of personality dynamics. The earliest of these Hedges calls the "organizing personality." While Hedges resists the familiar diagnostic vocabulary, he believes that a failure to achieve these initial organizing tasks correspond to what we later might label the psychoses. Hedges approvingly cites Winnicott's notion of the "false self", "as the infant conforms to the demands of the nurturing other. The false self is based on accommodation to the other's needs as well as renunciation (or non-expression within the relationship) of genuine needs of the infant." (Hedges, 228-9.) I suggested above that it is "obvious" that my James' actions entail that he treats the things to which he reacts as other than himself. My bold assertion will seem far from obvious to many of you, and I am prepared to retreat to a position that in some subtle ways James' actions imply that he is an agent who is other than his context, while in other subtle ways he and his context may be regarded as undifferentiated.
The application of these ideas to the conduct of adults requires even greater subtlety. For then we shall want to say of someone whose "sense of self" is dramatically lacking in organization, as we might say of "psychotics", that they are to be understood as developmentally unprepared to distinguish their affects from the realities of their environment. Our portrayals of these cases will demand subtlety, because we will be describing individuals who in many respects fulfill the ordinary criterion for recognizing that the things they act on are different from themselves as agents. Later this week Jay Martin will be telling you some of his ideas about "fictive personalities." I recently heard Dr. Martin discussing this concept in application to the character Travis Bickel, the protagonist in the movie "Taxi Driver." The motion picture camera helps the audience enter the psychotic world of Travis Bickel: when Travis is angry, everyone we see is angry, when Travis is fragmented, everything is fragmented. This sort of psychoanalytic portrait of the psychotic world as unorganized and undifferentiated is, at once, profound and profoundly odd. It decidedly helps us in comprehending this man to say that he has not sorted himself out from his world, and yet Travis can get from one point in the city to another as well as anyone else, and this would seem to imply that he knows the difference between where he is and where he is heading his car or pointing his gun.
Hedges calls his second from earliest "listening perspective" the "perspective of the merger object." This corresponds to the phenomena of "symbiosis," and to the diagnostic vocabulary of "borderline personality organization." I am reminded here of a troubled individual who used to arrive at my door at 4 a.m. wanting to talk. He would greet me with what seemed a caveat to the effect that he was terribly sorry for getting me up at such an hour, but he really needed to talk. The thing that struck me about him, which perhaps will serve me to communicate the point I wish to capture, is that I am convinced that in certain respects it didn't really register with him that I or anyone could,indeed, be asleep at that hour. He certainly knew how to go through the motions of this acknowledgment, but my belief is that another sense or respect in which, as he experienced things, if he was wide awake, well then, everyone must be wide awake! Here I am reminded of how a child may express his dislike for a certain food: "Spinach is awful! How can you eat that stuff!" The tacit idea is, if I don't like it, no one could like it! What I am trying to call to attention is a certain subtle form of refusing to recognize that anyone else could really experience the world differently from the way I do, and the related sort of profoundly un-selfconscious assumption that the world simply is the way it is for me.
This subtlety figures into why I worded my opening questions as I did: How does one come to appreciate the reality of other people, different from oneself? This is not a matter of skepticism or solipsism or a not knowing that there are other minds. Rather, it is a matter of nuance and here we address the absence of taking something to heart in a full and richly textured way. Elsewhere I have described self-deception as a kind of avoiding dealing with some issue, and in doing so I hoped to capture nuances that would spare us endless debate about whether the beliefs of self-deceived individuals had to be described in contradictory ways. Whether we should prefer to speak of an individual's developmental "stuckness" as a failure or as an evasion (i.e., view the individual's role as more passive or more active) remains to be clarified.
Again, these phases of development presumably precede a period when one is even capable of being `neurotic'. The neurotic supposedly has a well-enough established ego and super-ego as to be capable of repression. Fingarette pointed out in his book on Self-Deception that it takes a degree of concern for integrity (and hence, a degree of sophistication in emotional development) for one to even bother with self-deception. Then should we say that persons whom we regard as not having attained those levels of psychological organization characteristic of the `neurotic' are capable self-deception? To put the matter in a different but perhaps parallel language game, are persons whose emotional struggles are predominantly pre-Oedipal only misdescribed in the structural language of id, ego, and super-ego, in that there presumably would not be a super-ego for such individuals? Stolorow , for example, prefers to speak of `prestages of defenses' rather than simply `defenses' when discussing such individuals. In yet another language game, would it be miscast to speak of such individuals as `repressing' content from a (topographically conceived) `conscious' to an `unconscious'? Even more broadly, what constraints on the applicability of vocabularies which attribute agency and purpose are suggested by the concept of developmental arrest?
The issues identified above may be summarized as: (1) In general, what sort of a concept of self is required for contemporary psychoanalytic theory? (2) What are we to make of the notion of "self" at a stage of development (or "developmental arrest") at which there is said to be an absence of full differentiation between self and other? (3) Does the vocabulary of self-deception (or related vocabularies of repression and defense) have application to such pre-Oedipal stages of development? (4) Are there distinct advantages to such language games as the self-deception vocabulary, which portray the individual in terms of agency rather than (merely) passivity? (5) Are there dimensions of such concepts as shame and guilt which we might need to re-think, in light of current trends in psychoanalytic thinking?
Part II: An account of the self
My infant son James is faced with a paradoxical task. He is a self who will come to be or have a self. He is a self who will discover or create himself, and come to have ideas and feelings about who he is, and how he differs from the world and from other selves. What I want do do here is to sketch a philosophical account of what this self is, that can come to acquire a sense of himself.
There are many philosophers and traditions in which roughly this puzzle has been presented as a paradox: Hinduism and Existentialism quickly come to mind, but I am also reminded of Hume and Kant.
The classic passage from Hume, of course, is this one:
There are some philosophers who imagine we are every moment intimately conscious of what we call our self; that we feel its existence and its continuance in existence; and are certain beyond the evidence of a demonstration both of its perfect identity and simplicity. ...For my part, when I enter most intimately into what I call myself, I always stumble on some particular perception or other, of heat or cold, light or shade, love or hatred, pain or pleasure. I never can catch myself at any time without a perception, and never can observe anything but the perception. (Treatise, Bk. I, Part IV. Section 6.)
One irony here is that Hume's employment of various personal pronouns seems to require that he does have some sort of understanding of what a "self" is, even though he purports to not understand this.
Kant's famous solution to Hume's skeptical dilemmas was to postulate that there are certain intellectual tools which we do not derive from experience, but which, instead, we bring to experience. Perfectly empty in themselves, these are concepts with which we organize the content of our experience. In keeping with Kant I want to propose that at one logically primitive level the "self" is just such an organizing concept. It is an intellectual tool which makes it possible to attribute a body, traits, and actions to someone. Strawson has taken this position too, and proposes that the self is a logically primitive concept not reducible to a mind which happens to have a body, nor to a body which happens to have a mind. So viewed, this self has been lightly referred to as a sort of "logical coat hanger", not itself a garment, but something on which garments--the specifics of what we say of someone--are hung.
Thus I propose that we begin with this "coat hanger meaning of self", self as an organizing concept, understood as itself being devoid of content, but a tool that allows us to make attributions to what we call someone. Think, for instance, of the "it" in "it's raining." To my knowledge there is absolutely no tradition of people expressing ontological agony over this "it". "What's raining?" I don't think anyone has ever worried about this one, nor thought that there must indeed be some "it" which does the raining. So there is, I suggest, a primitive sort of "self" which no more entails a metaphysically interesting additional substance than this "it". "Thing" may be said to work this way too, when we list among a "thing's" properties "it's" size or shape or weight. Equipped with this sort of tool we may feel that the paradox about how a self becomes a self is considerably reduced.
The further implication of what has been said so far is that there is, at this level of discussion, no difference between the concept of self and the concept of thing. "Self" is one of the kind of "coathanger its" on which attributions are hung. We do, of course, regard selves as very special varieties of "its"; but my thinking here is that it is because of the attributions that we make to selves, the predicates hung on this conceptual hanger, that this specialness exists. This point is important in several respects, of which I shall simply hint at one which will come up again further on: On quite different grounds, a conclusion to be drawn from the analytic tradition of Ryle and Wittgenstein, on the one hand, and the phenomenological tradition of Sartre, on the other, is the denial of the Cartesian idea that we each start from the position of knowing ourselves as experiencing subjects, then to somehow work our way to knowledge of things other than ourselves. As I try to think this through I am led to saying that we know and conceptually organize items in the world prior to our having occasion to make attributions to ourselves. The coathanger self is taken from the conceptual closet relatively late. Developmentally, "its" are prior to "I"; the other is prior to myself. It takes a while for who I am to be an issue, notwithstanding the possibility that a later weakness or lack of consolidation in sense of self is a function of very early trauma or deprivation, and in terms of the acquisition of language "I" lags behind "me" and "mine", and these lag behind demonstratives pertaining to the "its" and "others" around. The reformulated question is twofold: what specific grounds will we have for attributing specific traits to James, and how will he come to attribute traits to himself. So viewed, at this organizing concept level, the concept of self differs not at all from the organizing concept thing.
For us James is regarded as a self, and a range of predicates are attributed to him. Among these, we may follow Strawson in distinguishing m-predicates from p-predicates. M-predicates are those we might apply to persons, but also to other things to which we would not attribute states of consciousness. M-predicates include weight, location, color, and many sorts of things which might be said equally about persons, trees, and stones. P-predicates are the other sorts of predicates we apply to persons, which we would not apply to, say, trees and stones. P-predicates include "is smiling", "is going for a walk", "is reaching for the spoon", etc.. Among the p-predicates we shall want to apply to an infant like James, there will be several which might be regarded as predications of experience. Saying that he is happy or unhappy, or that he wants this or that, are examples of experiential p-predicates.
Over time we shall have a great deal to say about him, as we would about any individual. At the narrowest end of a conceptual schema for the self, then, is the self as the logically required subject. At the very broadest end of this schema is the self as the sum total of predicates attributed to this owner, including the whole history and nature of his involvement in the world. Somewhere along this continuum is what may be described as the self of relatively enduring traits, dispositions, patterns, or, borrowing a term used by Stolorow, structures. Sartre speaks here of ones "project"; Fingarette talks of ones "engagement in the world." Somewhere short of this will be the self as it may come to be conceived of by a self. This will be one's own view of who one is, a selective and probably somewhat contrived account one is prepared, as Fingarette puts it, to avow. Short of the explicitly avowed self is a sub-spectrum I shall call the tacitly recognized self. And somewhere short of this is the self that, for any given act or cluster of actions, is coextensive with or constituted by those actions.
Spectrum of conceptions of the self as agent
x a b c d e f g y
^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^
^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^
A B C D E F G
A: Self as organizing concept, "logical coathanger"
B--C: Tacitly recognized self
D: Relatively explicit self conception, self
as avowal (Fingarette)
E: Self as ones "project" (Sartre), ones
"engagement in the world" (Fingarette), as
"structures" (Stolorow), as relatively en-
during patterns and "character traits"
F: Self as the totality of actions attributed to
the ("coathanger") self
G: Self and world as unity which is active and
agent (Spinoza, various "mystics")
x: There isn't any self at all
a: The self is only a requirement of grammar
b--f You are what you do
b: You are the self that is tacit in a given
c: You are who you think you are, which tacit
conception is implicit in patterns of actions acts
d: You are who you say you are
e: You are the patterns to what you do
f: You are the totality of what you do
g: Everything is agency, but you are a myth
y: You are what happens to you. There is
only passivity. There is no agent.
Just a brief remark about the right end of the spectrum. This is supposed to capture various ideas about the self as agent. A philosophical prejudice of mine is that the most important things we have to say about persons focus on persons as agents, and that the "language game" of "action" always stands over and against description of the context of action. This is my way of making the Sartrian point that consciousness is always other than whatever it is consciousness of. My way of putting this is, the description of action always falls within a language game that is other than the language game with which we describe the context or situation for those actions, a category difference between activity and passivity. From this vantage point I am unable to comprehend what various "mystical" traditions would have me comprehend, namely, that I can really exist in unity with my world. It is axiomatic, from my point of view, that whatever I am I am as an agent, and that whatever identifies me as an agent also disidentifies me with some context in which I act. So I cannot follow Spinoza--who I regard as the best of this tradition of "mysticism"--in his idea that I might (in principle) form broader and broader (and more and more "adequate") conceptions of myself such that this whole endeavor to demarcate a "me" might simply be abandoned in favor of an identification with God or nature. This God of Spinoza's is a totality which is considered active (hence, I assume, agent), but other than which there is nothing.
Now let me introduce a series of speculative remarks, in dogmatic form, which elaborate on suggestions introduced so far.
(It will be helpful to express these in the first person.)
Developmentally viewed, I am originally coextensive with my world. I stumble on my capacity to act as my sounds and movements are rewarded. My actions modify my world. There is no self-consciousness here. There is a growing "recognition" (constituted by action-dispositions) of things as desirable or undesirable, and as modifiable. There is (unself-conscious) pleasure in successfully modifying my world, and frustration at failure. We might describe this as the presence (or absence) of a sense of well-being, a sense of what Nietzsche would call power. My point in emphasizing that this is unself-conscious is that one's attention is on the world, and how items in the world feel. There is not a turning back of consciousness on itself to designate these as my feelings. The breast, the brightly colored toy are desirable and I smile, I look, I cry, I reach. Things become organized as desirable and undesirable, gratifying and frustrating, obtainable and unobtainable, modifiable and unmodifiable. Who I am and what I feel--these are not objects and they are not issues. This feels good; that feels bad. And things just are as they feel. Objects are in the world, and my feelings are how those things are colored: my feelings about things are the qualities of things. We might say that my felt power and/or frustration is the bedrock for the eventual development of a "sense of self". The point being underscored, however, is that consciousness (i.e., agency) is directed on the world, and we are not to uncritically import a view of consciousness reflecting back on and making an object of either itself or its supposed contents. Much later there develops what I label the tacitly recognized self.
Here it will help to introduce a sub-spectrum regarding this tacitly recognized self. At one end of this spectrum is the tacit recognition of one's own spatial location implicit in any given overt act. Reaching for the object entails recognizing that it is over there: what is tacit is that I am over here. What is tricky here is to remember that it, not I, is the object of my consciousness. Toward the other end of this spectrum, emerging over time, there is a tacit recognition that certain patterns of action are rewarding or unrewarding, pleasing or unpleasing, in ways which may be either immediate or delayed. Self-consciousness will emerge from hesitancy. While not yet involving a straight-forward making an object of oneself, what we find here is hesitancy or readiness to engage in certain ways which render the world unpleasurable or pleasurable. Our ability to have a particular act conform to the discovered merits of some larger pattern of action is what I designate as the broader sense of the tacitly recognized self. This broader tacit self develops coextensively with the capacity for "reality testing" and for "delayed gratification." Within this development a major subdivision is the emerging recognition of the rewards of adapting actions, and patterns of action, to the modeling, the expectations and the rewards of others. The eventual ability I may have for others to teach me and tell me who I am will depend on the history of my experience of merits or demerits of adapting myself to others. In adapting my conduct to the expectations of others I may enter and live these roles more or less fully. Elsewhere ("Saying, Feeling, and Self-Deception") I have maintained that in so far as the self is constituted by deeds we become who we are by doing what we do. In that same article, however, I noted that we can "affectively distance" ourselves from what we otherwise would be. In short what we are, and what we are on an affective level, can be engaged in ways which are more or less inauthentic and fraudulent.
In elaborating on this self which is coextensive with his acts, I want to bring into view something which I call "ontologically flexible dualism", and which is close to what Ryle has called the "elasticity of the I". Ryle observes that what we identify as the self and agent varies from one conversational context to another. Thus "I" may be portrayed as at one with my car in the sentence, "I collided with the car ahead of me." I distinguish myself from the car in "I'm alright, but my fender is badly dented." Different, again, is "I'm not really hurt, but I am scratched up and I look a mess." And yet different again is, "I can't believe how stupid it was of me to let my mind wander from what I was doing!" As these sentences illustrate, what counts as the self can shift from one sentence to the next. Any particular identification of the self is embedded in a context, and our language makes it possible for us to regard as self in one proposition something not portrayed as self in another. In general, and roughly, the self at any given moment (relative to a given linguistic context) will be coextensive with and constituted by the actions attributed to the self, and will be other than whatever is the correlative context to which those actions are portrayed as a meaningful response. Accordingly, I contend that in so far as James is described as responding to his mother, then, within that portrait, he is other than what he is responding to. This, I think, counts against treating infant and mother, simplicater as a unit. Yet the above remarks equally suggest that in a different linguistic context we might portray infant and mother all on the "agent" side of an interaction, where "they" collapse into "he", over and against some other thing to which he/they respond.
This "ontologically flexible dualism" is a subject-object dualism, according to which the subject identified as agent in a particular linguistic context is other than whatever that agent's actions are about. It is worth emphasizing that subject-object dualism is not the same thing as mind-body dualism. I think Hegel saw this, but it is not generally something which has been noticed. In this light I think we are equipped to reassess the received view that Sartre is a Cartesian dualist. I think he decidedly is not. Sartre's view is that I am what I do, and as such I am always other than the world my actions aim to transform. Thus, as an engaged being which Sartre calls "unreflective consciousness", my actions, which are equivalent to unreflective consciousness, are other than my situation. This is a subject-object (or agent-object) dualism. Quite different is the Cartesian relationship between a substantial mind and extended things. Cartesian dualism is ontologically static, and, by its standards, the real me in that car accident is the mind which inhabits a body.
To summarize: there is a content-empty self which is the logically required owner of predicates that will be attributed to it. This self may be said, at once, to own (have, do, be) various predicates, some of these in common with beings which are not persons, some of which are fairly unique to persons. Prominent among these are actions. At any given moment the self may be regarded as constituted by the actions attributed to it, or we can take progressively broader and broader views of what constitutes the self. When identified with actions within a particular context, the self is thereby distinguished from whatever context is correlatively identified as the context to which those actions are a response. This I am calling ontologically flexible dualism, and I am maintaining that it coincides with Sartre's views, on the one hand, and with the structure of our grammar, on the other. And I am maintaining that this subject-object dualism is not to be confused with Cartesian mind-body dualism.
I spoke earlier about attributing experiences to James. I want to point out that when we talk of an infant's experiences, this is far less a matter of speculation than might be supposed. Much of the source of the idea that this is speculative comes from a tacit acceptance of the Cartesian view of the mind as accessible only to itself. This dimension of Cartesianism is equally present in the Empiricists, who treat "impressions" as something privately witnessed and associated. For those of us persuaded by the anti-Cartesian thrust of either the Wittgensteinian or the phenomenological philosophical camps, it is timely to reconsider the caution many of us have felt we should display in what we will say of the very young.
One of our popular notions seems to be that at birth the infant confronts the world in a way that is profoundly naive. One recalls the classic stance of the empiricists, that the mind is, at birth a tabula rosa subsequently marked upon by the causal operations of our environment. William James remarked that the world of the newborn is a sort of 'blooming, buzzing confusion'. These first moments of post-partum existence seem to fascinate us and tempt us to propose a kind of criterion for 'how the world really is'. Perhaps the emphasis we so readily put on birth will not hold up under scrutiny. Consider the fact that the infant moves about in the womb, stretching, kicking, (is it too much to say) exploring, seemingly going through stages of rest versus activity, seemingly demonstrating moods of agitation versus calmness. There does not seem to be very good reason, except for habit, for the degree to which we so readily suggest that a neat, crisp line is crossed at birth, and that this is when 'experience' begins. Further, many of us have found it tempting to try to capture our vision of what things are really like by likening what is 'out there' with what would presumably be encountered if only we could get free of all the expectations and assumptions and the like that come with our being 'socialized' and 'educated'. When we contemplate such matters we readily become confused. One sample of confusion would be our supposing that the infant's world is somehow to 'look different' from the adult's. My own thinking on this is that my James sees pretty much what I see. With greater confidence I should assert that it is not the case that James stands in relationship to something called an "internal world", as if we did not each approximately share a relationship to public items, but, instead, were each of us somehow confined to witnessing the shadows our own Cartesian walls. Yet I surely do not deny that James has not had much opportunity to structure relationships with things as I have. If the concept of a "subjective world" means something like ones own structures and patterns of meaningful interrelationship with ones context, then James and I surely have quite different subjective worlds. If this concept means that he and I are seeing different things, then I am not ready to accept this.
But there is a simpler argument to be offered here, and one which is perhaps even more to the main point. Many philosophers are considerably persuaded by Wittgenstein's argument against a private language: The upshot of the argument is that words in our language are taught, and in order for this teaching to be possible the words we use can not depend for their meaning on inherently private referents. An extension of this line of reasoning from the fact that we share a language is that it must be possible to introduce persons into our linguistic community by means of applying to them predications which they subsequently learn to apply to themselves. There are, of course, concepts which only could apply to persons who are already part of a linguistic community. To take obvious cases, one must be a full fledged member of a linguistic community to be said to be "articulate", "loquacious", "fluent", or "reticent" (nor could one be concerned about being such things). These cases are something like analytic. Similar are a rough group of predicates which do not quite so directly connect with whether I actually employ language, but which also seem to require my being pretty much a member of the linguistic community: "courteous", "punctual", "insightful", and "gregarious". One must be fairly well into the community for it to make sense to say that one keeps one's promises, or that one is "talkative", "boisterous", "glib", etc.. A dog cannot be glib. Yet more marginal are "polite", "rude", "selfish", "humble". But there must be a fair number of predicates which apply to persons who are not members of the community. These are required for us to have means by which we are able to teach our children to talk, and to engage in talk which is about themselves, and, thereby, to bring them into the community. Among these, I think, are quite a range of attributions we make to our children about what they are wanting, how they are feeling, and what they are doing. There are a great many cases in this category, and here we are not--or not very much--talking or speculating about the infant's "internal world". At the non-speculative end of the spectrum are terms like "hungry" and "unhappy" as these are applied by the primary caretaker to the newborn. If there is speculation, it is far more likely about the connection between particular actions and larger action-disposition patterns we expect pertain. This is not at all like speculating about hidden events. It is worth remarking here in passing that the same is true for a very great deal of "psychoanalytic interpretation": the interpretation seeks to locate particulars within a larger picture. The idea that interpretations are about internal events has been vastly overrated, and this is compounded by confusedly supposing that the exploration of subjectivity is the exploration of something hidden. Subjectivity is, first and foremost, one's way of being involved in one's world, and that is a public world made personal by a style of engagement. We are able to bring another--a "subjectivity"--into our community because we are able to describe what is right before our eyes, and nothing here requires that we guess about what may or may not be transpiring within that other.
We may also regard the teaching of language as something of an indoctrination. We initiate our children into our way of being as we teach them to talk. Lacan tells us that in and through the "order of the symbolic" there arrives in the world something other than us, something foreign and imposed. Sartre has a similar view: The Other teaches me who I am, and, indeed, there is no self except as a reflective object which arises partly because of the Other. Gilbert Ryle held a complementary view: the "I" is nothing but an "index pronoun", which happens to refer to the current speaker, and which is similar in its workings to context dependent pronouns like "it", and demonstratives like "there", "that" "now", and "then". What happens, according to Ryle, is that this index pronoun "I" figures into practices of receiving various attributions through language applied to it by others. What I should like to add to this account of Ryle's, however, is that these complex attributions are applied to us long before we are able to apply them to ourselves or to others.
Of particular interest to me are the kinds of attributions we will be making to James about what he is doing, and what is entailed by the conventions of our language regarding the meaning and significance of his acts. We shall be describing him as "reaching", "trying", and also "wanting", "supposing", "believing", etc. A fact about such words is that using one of them commits us to the application of others, and to surrounding implications of the rules for the use of such terms. This leaves me on the edge of what seems a dilemma as I seek to approach sympathetically the idea from psychoanalysis that James will exist for a time in a "symbiotic" relationship with his mother, and that he will only gradually learn that she is distinct from him. My difficulty here stems from the fact of grammar that anything which counts as a purposeful response by James to his mother equally counts as showing that he is other than what he is responding to. For example, to say he tries to get to her breast entails that he is other than her (or her breast) and that he is treating her as other than himself. But note this: that he treats his mother as other than himself is not the same as his treating himself as other than her. For we should not say that he has some idea of himself, and that his reaching for her counts as his recognizing something about himself, namely, that he is other than his mother. The action really does show something about James, and even about what James "realizes"; but it is mother, in her otherness, and not himself, which is the "object" of which he is aware. There is an implicit awareness of oneself in doing something like reaching for an object, for if I reach for something I am taking into account where it is in relationship to me, but this, which Polanyi calls "tacit knowledge" and which Sartre describes as "unreflective consciousness of the object and consciousness (of) oneself", is not to be confused with a consciousness in which I myself am an object for myself. Similarly, when the infant reaches for something or smiles at something we may describe him as conscious of that thing, and, because this follows from the application of this language game, as conscious that what he has organized as that thing is other than him; but this is not to say that he has made an object of himself.
This last point can now be integrated with some points advanced earlier, when I suggested that as a logically primitive organizing concept, "self" really differed not at all from the organizing concept "thing", and went on to contend that the idea of oneself is far from where one starts. What I have been leading up to amounts to turning on its head the (standard, and Cartesian) idea of our starting from ourselves and working our way "out" to others and to the world. I propose that we start with the recognition of the world, acquire the foundations of the recognition of others as special objects, and only subsequently develop awareness of ourselves. Others teach us who we are, and they are important before we are. This is, of course, not because we are initially altruistic or precociously sensitive to the rights of other persons, but because who/what I am does not initially arise as an issue. As an agent and experiencing subject I am taken for granted in my world. Originally I am coextensive with and magically omnipotent in my world, only becoming conscious of it, in pieces, when it frustrates my harmony and well-being, and as I stumble on my capacity to modify it. That I should ever become an object for myself is a late result of a series of retreats, frustrations, and disappointments. Prior to that, the other collapses into me as agent and tacit self, or emerges in my world as helpful or frustrating. Things are either with me or against me, but my own being does not arise as an issue nor as an object for me. The other who is in harmony with me is, in that context, part of who I am tacitly assumed to be, rather in the way that my car and I are the I that hits the car ahead. The other who is in harmony with me is an undifferentiated or implicit or tacit extension of myself; the other who is not in harmony with me is --I gradually learn--of potential use to me; the other who is dissonant with me, who frustrates me, is part of a gradually emerging world that may be affectively colored as hostile or disappointing. The other is differentiated in a context of dissonance.
As early drafts of papers go, I think I have now answered most of the questions I set out at the start, and then at the end of part I. Let me conclude with a few thoughts about two issues raised there which I have not addressed, namely: does the vocabulary of self-deception apply to pre-Oedipal individuals, and is there anything new we need to say about shame and guilt with respect to such individuals?
Oedipal guilt may be thought of in terms of the establishment of a sense of self which exists for the Other. The motivation for establishing a self at the hands of the Other presumably is that if the Other has been proven safe enough to be entrusted with my being then I can gain a measure of security through taking on an identity bestowed from the outside. The degree to which one will be ready to fully (and affectively) enter into the roles others invite one to adopt will be a function of the relative safety one has learned (or failed to learn) others afford. To the degree that I seriously seek to be the being I am for the other, I will be threatened not only by punishment from without, but also by the collapse of my own sense of cohesion that consists in knowing who and how to be. In Oedipal guilt I take seriously the prospect that I could be a disappointment to the other. Pre-Oedipal guilt may be thought of as being/feeling responsible for a world which is an extension of oneself, and responsible for others who are extensions of myself, where this "myself" is not an object but a tacit subject. The world is mine and me, and when it is disappointing, I am disappointing. Thus pre-Oedipal guilt is sadness and rage over the failure of others, and, even more primitively, over the failures of things, as these too are an extension of me and my magical connection with my world. In narcissistic guilt, the world is my fault. Here 'you are a disappointment to me' rather than the (Oedipal) I am a disappointment to you.
Within part I I mentioned the debate that Larry Hedges and I have had about whether the Sartrian notions of responsibility and bad faith have application for pre-Oedipal individuals. My own view will be clear enough by now. Phenomenologically, the sense of responsibility dates at least to the narcissistic wound and guilt one may feel over the failures of those others with whom one has tacitly identified oneself. Guilt and shame require some rudimentary emergence of some sense of oneself, however unreflective. But I think that the applicability of responsibility as a pre-reflective or tacitly assumed attitude goes back to far more primitive material. Infantile rage is one form of the "grandiose self", as is the presumption characteristic of the "organizing personality" (cf. "psychotic") that the world is how I feel, and reinforcement for the tacit assumption of the omnipotence of one's feelings comes readily from one of the earliest facts of life, which is that the world gets transformed when the newborn child cries.
As for self-deception, elsewhere I have defended Sartre's idea that self-deception ("bad faith") is a flight from what he called a "reflective apprehension of one's freedom". In another place, I argued that his whole notion of "reflective consciousness" was problematic, and that self-deception, as a flight from freedom, might be better described as a flight from being different (i.e., acting differently) rather than (so much) from a reflective apprehension of that possibility. So we seek refuge in what is static, seek to make the world feel good and hold still, and, eventually, carve out the identities others make available to us with that objective. In the present paper I have added the observation that these attributions of agency are presupposed by the language and culture into which the child eventually is indoctrinated. What this means is that it is a fact of our language that persons, to be identified as persons, must be thought of in terms of what they do. My view, then, is that we are agents before we are born. The creation of a self, however, is a response to a disappointing world.
J. Michael Russell
California State University
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