lundi 6 juin 2011

What is the "True Self"?

From an NYTimes article called "In Search of the True Self", by Joshua Knobe (Yale philosophy/cog sci professor):

People's ordinary understanding of the true self appears to involve a kind of value judgment, a judgment about what sorts of lives are really worth living. So people will tend to arrive at different judgments regarding the nature of Pierpont's self [Pierpont being a "reformed" homosexual man: fundamentally, is he a Christian or a homosexual?] depending on whether they think that a homosexual lifestyle truly is a valuable one.

To put this hypothesis to the test, I teamed up with my colleagues - the psychologists George Newman and Paul Bloom.  Together, we are pursuing a project in the emerging interdisciplinary field of "experimental philosophy." That is to say, we are taking these abstract philosophical questions and using them to generate systematic experimental studies that can give us a better sense of how people actually use these concepts.

More than 200 people participated in our first study. [...]

The results showed a systematic connection between people's own values and their judgments about the true self.  Conservative participants were more inclined to say that the person's true self had emerged on the conservative items, while liberals were more inclined to say that the person's true self had emerged on the liberal items.  (Try running this study on yourself.  I bet you'll find that your judgments also end up corresponding in this way to your own values.)

Of course, it would be a mistake to draw any strong conclusions from the results of this one study. Further research is needed, and the truth is bound to be quite a bit more complex than it might at first appear. Still, the findings do seem to point to an interesting new question. Does our ordinary notion of a "true self" simply pick out a certain part of the mind? Or is this notion actually wrapped up in some inextricable way with our own values and ideals?

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