Mind Identities and Self.

“I am a mildly big fan of National Geographic. Although it does not prove anything, but that is the only magazine I subscribe to. While the articles in themselves are of high informational content I always used to wonder what does it take to write one of these articles.”

“An another interesting event happened at Puneet Bhaiya’s place an year back. We were discussing about the education system, and he said that the system here (USA) is much better. For a child growing up in India does not even know that a field, such as Anthropology exists and he can pursue it.”

“I like to take pictures. And write sometimes. But over the years, I have found more meaning if those pictures had a story behind it. More than often, these stories have a human aspect. Or to say an anthropological aspect.”

So, a culmination of all these random thought, excited me to try a course in Anthropology Department at UCSD. After looking at the possible options, two courses stood out. The first one was what they call as ‘culture core’, which talked about theoretical foundations of cultural anthropology. The first class was an introduction to ‘Structuralism‘. Although, interesting, it felt too dry. Moreover, I was probably not allowed to take a core anthropology course. The other option I has was – Mind, Self and Identity. The website description of the course said,

“This seminar critically examines social, cultural, and psychological theories of the person, and their relationship to conceptions of the person found in moral political and religious discourses. It explores the role of concepts of the person in ethnographic research.”

So, its been seven weeks into the course, and I am loving every part of it. This course, can be divided into thee different parts. The first part talked about the concept of a Person, from historical, anthropological and philosophical perspective.  This was later extended to the modern concepts of the self, more from a philosophical perspective. Next we read the ethnographies relating to the cultural effects on the concept of personhood. Interestingly, one of them talks about a small village – Mangaldihi in West Bengal. This is where we stand currently. The final section is about Existential and Experiential dimensions of Selfhood (not really sure what it means).

So much for background. I wanted this post to be basically a documentation of the first part of the course. The first part, was more philosophical in nature. We read about various western philosophers and their arguments to what does self entail. It was really interesting to follow a historical path to philosophy of self. Although, expected, but still I was excited to see the Descartes’, “I think therefore I am”  being part of the discussion. Anyhow, here I am trying to document, some philosophers who have had something important to say about self. As of now I am providing with some statements from wiki, that best describe the meager knowledge I have about them. Sometimes I supplement it with my statements about their philosophies, hopefully will be able to do justice to them some day.

  1. Socrates (~400BC): Forming an accurate picture of the historical Socrates and his philosophical viewpoints is problematic at best. Socrates did not write philosophical texts. The knowledge of the man, his life, and his philosophy is based on writings by his students and contemporaries. Foremost among them is Plato; however, works by Xenophon, Aristotle, and Aristophanes also provide important insights.
  2. Plato (~300BC): “Platonism” is a term coined by scholars to refer to the intellectual consequences of denying, as Socrates often does, the reality of the material world. (My: He believed in a separation of reason and desires, and suggested the former to be superior to the latter. However, his reason was external to self, in line with the ‘Order of Cosmos’)
  3. Aristotle(~350BC): was a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. Like his teacher Plato, Aristotle’s philosophy aims at the universal. Aristotle, however, found the universal in particular things, which he called the essence of things, while Plato finds that the universal exists apart from particular things, and is related to them as their prototype or exemplar. For Aristotle, therefore, philosophic method implies the ascent from the study of particular phenomena to the knowledge of essences, while for Plato philosophic method means the descent from a knowledge of universal Forms (or ideas) to a contemplation of particular imitations of these.
  4. Augustine (300AD): In both his philosophical and theological reasoning, he was greatly influenced by Stoicism, Platonism and Neo-platonism. A Latin church father, is one of the most important figures in the development of Western Christianity. (My: He supported the reason over anything else argument, but his reason was directed to the service of God.)
  5. (Stoics: Need Names here)
  6. … There seems  to be a big gap in time…
  7. Descartes (~1600AD): (My: If we have to name anyone as the Father of Modern Philosophy, then it will be Descartes). Many elements of his philosophy have precedents in late Aristotelianism, the revived Stoicism of the 16th century, or in earlier philosophers like St. Augustine. Descartes was a major figure in 17th-century continental rationalism, later advocated by Baruch Spinoza and Gottfried Leibniz, and opposed by the empiricist school of thought consisting of Hobbes, Locke, Berkeley, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Hume. He is best known for the philosophical statement “Cogito ergo sum” (My: More apt to say that I doubt, therefor I exist). (My: Dualism – Soul/Mind is separated from the body and has separate existence). Suggested that the body works like a machine, that it has the material properties of extension and motion, and that it follows the laws of physics. The mind (or soul), on the other hand, was described as a nonmaterial entity that lacks extension and motion, and does not follow the laws of physics. This form of dualism or duality proposes that the mind controls the body, but that the body can also influence the otherwise rational mind, such as when people act out of passion.
  8. Hobbes(1650AD): His account of human nature as self-interested cooperation has proved to be an enduring theory in the field of philosophical anthropology. He was one of the main philosophers who founded materialism. (My: Life is bruta, nasty and short. He was somewhat opposite of Descartes, and did not give much weight to mind and reason. Its all body.)
  9. John Locke(1650AD): widely known as the Father of Liberalism. Locke’s theory of mind is often cited as the origin of modern conceptions of identity and the self, figuring prominently in the work of later philosophers such as Hume, Rousseau and Kant. Locke was the first to define the self through a continuity of consciousness. He postulated that the mind was a blank slate or tabula rasa. Contrary to pre-existing Cartesian philosophy, he maintained that we are born without innate ideas, and that knowledge is instead determined only by experience derived from sense perception. (My: So he was an empiricist, as opposed to rationalist)
  10. David Hume (1750AD):  (My: Need to read more about him. Looks like he was against rationalism, and pro senses)
  11. Immanuel Kant(1750AD): Kant believed himself to be creating a compromise between the empiricists and the rationalists. The empiricists believed that knowledge is acquired through experience alone, but the rationalists maintained that such knowledge is open to Cartesian doubt and that reason alone provides us with knowledge. Kant argues, however, that using reason without applying it to experience will only lead to illusions, while experience will be purely subjective without first being subsumed under pure reason. (My: Very Chaapy Guy).
  12. Contemporary Philosophers: G.W.F. Hegel, Henry David Thoreau, Karl Marx, Charles Sanders Peirce, Friedrich Nietzsche, Émile Durkheim, Ludwig Wittgenstein