The Ontology of the Self: Themes from Descartes
Vili Lähteenmäki (Helsinki) & Donnchadh O’Conaill (Fribourg)
What is the nature of the self or the subject of experiences? One traditional answer is that the self is nothing over and above its experiences, e.g., it is a bundle of experiences as described by Hume. The traditional alternative view is that the self is a substance, an entity which has experiences and is not composed of experiences or reducible to them.
There are a number of well-known problems facing this view, but an issue prior to any of these concerns what this view comes to; that is, what is it for a self to be a substance? In addressing this issue, we propose to go back to one of the most famous proponents of this view, Descartes. We shall start with the fundamental building-blocks of Descartes’s metaphysics: the ontological categories of substance, attribute and mode. Descartes uses these building blocks to construct an entire metaphysical system. We propose to use these categories to construct an alternative ontology of the self, one which departs from Descartes’s own views at various points. As well as providing an account of what it is for a self to be a substance, this approach allows for various ways in which the self’s relation to its body can be understood.