Simon Gusman / Different Dimensions of Selfhood

clinic3bNot many people would deny that they experience a sense of selfhood: that they are who they are, that they are the thinker of their thoughts, the subject of their experiences, the agent of their actions. That they are the body that they move and that they are the one who is speaking the words that come out of their mouth.

Apart from this subjective sense of selfhood, we also have what we can call an objective sense of selfhood. This is how we describe ourselves when someone would ask us who we are. We say our name, where we are from and depending on the context others things about our lives. We ascribe qualities to ourselves as if it were an object. This apple is green, this person is born in The Netherlands. We view ourselves as if it were through the eyes of someone else, and how we describe ourselves in this objective way does not differ from how we would describe other people.

Things get more complicated when we take time the flow of time into account. My subjective sense of selfhood is most certainly there in the present, as I am the subject of my experience an actions here and now. But I can never experience my past and future in the same manner, they can only be experienced as object of our experience, as memories, plans and speculations. Thus, our experiential episodes become part of our objective identity over time. The objective side of selfhood is therefore always changing. While I may focus on the constant factors of my life when I am describing myself, there are always a lot of things that are changing. As I am writing this, I am back in my office at my home university in the Netherlands. Looking back, my research visit at the Center for Subjectivity Research this summer seem like another life, as I was surrounded by different places and people. Yet the two episodes of my life are directly linked to one another: if it were not for my research visit then, I would not be writing for this blog now. How different episodes of our lives fit together could be called the self as a project: something projected through time, and a project that is still in the process of being finished.

These three facets of selfhood – the self as subject, object and project – and the question about how they fit together is the leading question of my research. I focus on the work of Jean-Paul Sartre, as he combines a phenomenological method with an existentialist view of life. The former causes him to emphasize the subjective dimension of selfhood, while the latter emphasizes how the projects we undertake and are, play an important role in our identities.

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