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Self

Ancient and Modern Insights about Individuality, Life, and Death

Self

Ancient and Modern Insights about Individuality, Life, and Death

Drawing on classical antiquity and Western and Eastern philosophy, Richard Sorabji tackles in Self the question of whether there is such a thing as the individual self or only a stream of consciousness. According to Sorabji, the self is not an undetectable soul or ego, but an embodied individual whose existence is plain to see. Unlike a mere stream of consciousness, it is something that owns not only a consciousness but also a body.
       
Sorabji traces historically the retreat from a positive idea of self and draws out the implications of these ideas of self on the concepts of life and death, asking: Should we fear death? How should our individuality affect the way we live? Through an astute reading of a huge array of traditions, he helps us come to terms with our uneasiness about the subject of self in an account that will be at the forefront of philosophical debates for years to come.
 
“There has never been a book remotely like this one in its profusion of ancient references on ideas about human identity and selfhood . . . . Readers unfamiliar with the subject also need to know that Sorabji breaks new ground in giving special attention to philosophers such as Epictetus and other Stoics, Plotinus and later Neoplatonists, and the ancient commentators on Aristotle (on the last of whom he is the world’s leading authority).”—Anthony A. Long, Times Literary Supplement

Reviews

“Richard Sorabji’s books typically display a remarkable combination of virtues: meticulous scholarship, amazing historical range, philosophical insight and precision, and a vivid sense of the issues that a nonphilosophical reader will find interesting and engaging. Self may be his best, displaying all those virtues at a very high level. Sorabji has mastered not only the obvious texts of Plato, Aristotle, and Hellenistic philosophy, but also later texts that many philosophers ignore. Sorabji has a missionary enthusiasm for these texts, and writes about them with the sort of élan that will captivate readers.”

Martha Nussbaum

“Richard Sorabji has accomplished what Vico envisioned and what Foucault, Taylor, and other philosophical anthropologists have variously attempted—namely, to provide a road map to the self. While others have explored the archaeology of the self with highly-selective demonstration excavations, Sorabji has taken up this same project with an astonishing breadth of systematic scholarship encompassing much of literate human history, ranging from the ancient Greco-Roman invention of the persona, Hindu and Buddhist explorations of personal identity to Christian, Islamic, and contemporary variants of the question, ‘what is it to be myself.’ With astonishing erudition and deep thinking, this is a rare work that captures the mystery of philosophy, its wondrously multi-faceted ineffability, as each of us looks into the mirror of the soul and wonders who we are exactly.”

David Glidden, University of California, Riverside

“This is an extraordinarily rich, learned, thoughtful and personal study of a fascinating subject. While exploring a remarkably wide range of subjects—embracing Eastern religion as well as classical Antiquity, the classical tradition and modern Western philosophy—the book maintains a clear focus on a specific set of issues and concepts. Overall, a distinctive vision of the complex, many-layered subject of the self emerges, as well as an exceptionally informative and perceptive review of philosophical perspectives.”

Christopher Gill, University of Exeter

"There has never been a book remotely like this one in its profusion of ancient references on ideas about human identity and selfhood and the sheer quantity of information it provides. . . . Readers unfamiliar with the subject also need to know that Sorabji breaks new ground in giving special attention to philosophers such as Epictetus and other Stoics, Plotinus and later Neoplatonists, and the ancient commentators on Aristotle (on the last of whom he is the world’s leading authority)."

Anthony A. Long | Times Literary Supplement

"A very rich and suggestive study; though personal in approach and shaped by Sorabji’s combination of intellectual curiosity and humanity, it is also incisive in presentation and highly informative."

Christopher Gill | Phronesis

"Sorabji brings to life and makes compelling complex philosophical debates that have been pursued for millennia. There is something for everyone in this magnificent study, and it represents a precious resource for those interested not only in questions of self, but more generally in the evolution of human thought."

Marya Schlechtman | Review of Metaphysics

"The range of Self is breathtaking. Sorabji displays a mastery of Greek, Roman, Medieval, early Christian, Islamic, Modern, Buddhist, and Hindu sources, as well as the work of contemporary philosophers in fields as diverse as ethics, metaphysics, ancient philosophy, and philosophy of language. . . . Self is an important book, and deserves to be read by all interested in its subject matter, whether they are philosophers, classicists, or psychologists."

James Stacey Taylor | Metapsychology

Table of Contents

List of abbreviations
Acknowledgments
Introduction

Part I: Existence of Self and philosophical development of the idea
1 The Self: is there such a thing?
2 The varieties of self and philosophical development of the idea

Part II: Personal identity over time
3 Same person in eternal recurrence, resurrection, and teletransportation
4 Stoic fusion and modern fission: Survival cannot depend on what happens to someone else
5 Memory: Locke’s return to Epicureans and Stoics

Part III: Platonism: impersonal selves, bundles, and differentiation
6 Is the true self individual in the Platonist tradition from Plato to Averroës?
7 Bundles and differentiation of individuals

Part IV: Identity and persona in ethics
8 Individual persona vs. universalizability
9 Plutarch: narrative and a whole life
10 Self as practical reason: Epictetus’ inviolable self and Aristotle’s deliberate choice

Part V: Self-awareness
11 Impossibility of self-knowledge
12 Infallibility of self-knowledge: Cogito and Flying Man
13 Knowing self through others versus direct and invariable self-knowledge
14 Unity of self-awareness

Part VI: Ownerless streams of consciousness rejected
15 Why I am not a stream of consciousness
16 The debate between ancient Buddhism and the Nyaya school

Part VII: Mortality and loss of self
17 How might we survive death?
18 Could we survive through time going in a circle?
19 If we do not survive death, is it irrational to feel dismay?

Table of thinkers
Select bibliography of secondary literature
General index
Index locorum

Awards

Journal of the History of Philosophy: Best Book Prize
Shortlist

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