Monday, January 07, 2013


Chris Bertram wrote a post about the consistency of the Self and quoted this passage from Montaigne's (1533-1592) Essays:
I am unable to stabilize my subject: it staggers confusedly along with a natural drunkenness. I grasp it as it is now, at this moment when I am lingering over it. I am not portraying being but becoming: not the passage from one age to another … but from day to day, from minute to minute. I must adapt this account of myself to the passing hour. (“On repenting”, Screech trans 908-9)
This reminded me of Hume's skepticism of a Self beyond any thought or perception:
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 can never catch myself at any time without a perception, and can never observe anything but the perception. When my perceptions are remov’d for any time, as by sound sleep; so long am I insensible of myself, and may truly be said not to exist. (Hume, Hume, D., 1739–1740/1978, A Treatise of Human Nature, L. A. Selby-Bigge (ed.); revised by P.H. Nidditch, Oxford: Oxford University Press.)
These conceptions of Self are opposed to the concept of some modern economists, with all their emphasis on self-reliance, choice and consistency but they have been give some support in modern cognitive psychology, starting with the work of Kahnemann & Tversky.   Last year Kahnemann was interviewed by Tim Adams and provided a few choise thoughts about Homo Economicus:
Many people now say they knew a financial crisis was coming, but they didn't really. After a crisis we tell ourselves we understand why it happened and maintain the illusion that the world is understandable. In fact, we should accept the world is incomprehensible much of the time.

Investment bankers believe in what they do. They don't want to hear that their decisions are no better than chance. The rest of us pay for their delusions.
I think we are maybe 20 years away from the extinction of the "I am the master of my fate" thinking which is so prevalent in America.

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