In our daily lives, we often claim that we care a great deal about self-expression. We might also worry about being true to ourselves, and about acquiring greater self-knowledge. Our bookstores are increasingly full of books described as offering self-help. But what exactly is this self that needs to know itself, express itself, be true to itself, and why does it need so much help in doing so?
In this course, we will explore some of the classic philosophical answers to the question of what makes a self. Some will say that it's all about having a soul. Others will say that it's our memories that make us who we are.
We will even take a serious look at a theory, which claims that there is no such thing as a self! But while we will have one eye trained on the grand philosophical visions of such figures as Rene Descartes, John Locke, David Hume, and Jean-Paul Sartre, we will have another eye directed towards the research of contemporary psychologists and neurologists such as Stanley Milgram, Philip Zimbardo, Antonio Damascio, and Oliver Sacks.
These scientific perspectives sometimes support one or another of the philosophical theories about human nature, while at other times they give us excellent reason to think that the philosophers - and our common sense - has got things completely wrong. What they never do, however, is to put the philosophers out of work. The more that science has to tell us about human nature, the more deeply mysterious becomes that self that I think I am. Students who have taken PHIL 412 Selfish Thoughts cannot take this course.