Subjectivity and Selfhood: Investigating the First-Person Perspective

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MIT Press, Aug 29, 2008 - Philosophy - 280 pages
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What is a self? Does it exist in reality or is it a mere social construct—or is it perhaps a neurologically induced illusion? The legitimacy of the concept of the self has been questioned by both neuroscientists and philosophers in recent years. Countering this, in Subjectivity and Selfhood, Dan Zahavi argues that the notion of self is crucial for a proper understanding of consciousness. He investigates the interrelationships of experience, self-awareness, and selfhood, proposing that none of these three notions can be understood in isolation. Any investigation of the self, Zahavi argues, must take the first-person perspective seriously and focus on the experiential givenness of the self. Subjectivity and Selfhood explores a number of phenomenological analyses pertaining to the nature of consciousness, self, and self-experience in light of contemporary discussions in consciousness research.

Philosophical phenomenology—as developed by Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, and others—not only addresses crucial issues often absent from current debates over consciousness but also provides a conceptual framework for understanding subjectivity. Zahavi fills the need—given the recent upsurge in theoretical and empirical interest in subjectivity—for an account of the subjective or phenomenal dimension of consciousness that is accessible to researchers and students from a variety of disciplines. His aim is to use phenomenological analyses to clarify issues of central importance to philosophy of mind, cognitive science, developmental psychology, and psychiatry. By engaging in a dialogue with other philosophical and empirical positions, says Zahavi, phenomenology can demonstrate its vitality and contemporary relevance.


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If you are interested in the philosophy of consciousness and the "self", IMHO, this book is a must read!
Based largely on Husserl's later work, but with references to Heidegger, Sartre, Merlea
-Ponty, Gadamer, Ricoeur and others, the book examines many of ideas about the nature and phenomenology of the self e.g. Is the self just a narrative construction? What is the infinite regress argument? Is the self the only certainty (Cogito), or just an abstraction from the bundle of perceptions (Hume)? How is the self related to time? How does the individual self relate to others?
Dan Zahavi presents and dissects all the arguments with surgical precision, before putting forward his own conclusions, about this often "inconvenient truth" of our self. He refutes with deadly logic the oft repeated "self as illusion" and related "self as social construct" arguments, showing in what important ways they fall short of capturing the self as we experience ourselves in every present moment.
Phenomenology is often obscure and the language opaque, but not this book!
Zahavi presents his arguments with such clarity, it was a joy to read.


1 SelfAwareness and Phenomenal Consciousness
2 The Concepts of Consciousness in Early Phenomenology
3 The Structure of TimeConsciousness
4 Reflection and Attention
5 Consciousness and Self
6 Self and Other
7 Theory of Mind Autism and Embodiment

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About the author (2008)

Dan Zahavi is Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Center for Subjectivity Research at the University of Copenhagen and the author of Self-Awareness and Alterity and Husserl's Phenomenology.

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