Free «Understanding the Self» Essay

Understanding the Self


The “self” had a crucial impact on human conduct. It is reflected in self-esteem and confidence, communication patterns, and responses to other people. In spite of the persistent impacts on the ideas and deeds, self often is still poorly understood; human beings apply minimal focused attempt to identifying the main aspects of the own self-image. The purpose of this paper is to discuss to what extent humans’ understanding of the ‘self’ is dependent on opposition between human and animal. The discussion will utilize the opinions of Descartes, Derrida and Bergson.

Researchers and philosophers actually understood the ‘self’ in a different way, depending on the opposition between human and animal. For Bergson, the humans’ “self” could be distinguished with the help of dissimilarities between animals and people – namely, social life and language. René Descartes, in fact, believed that animals were indistinguishable from lifeless things in that beasts were not conscious - they were not living creatures, who acknowledged own “self”, had perceptual and personal understanding, or were able to experience suffering. And for Derrida, the dissimilarity between animals and humans was extremely important as vanishing the division among all animals includes a move from the boundaries of a person to the crossing of boundaries between human being and a beast. And whilst crossing the limits of a person people surrender to an animal - to the beast within own “self.”

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Bergson’s Input

The important input of Bergson is that, in the middle of the metaphysical cynicism following upon Kant, he rejected to twist the metaphysics out of the head and dared to point to genuine experience as the resource of metaphysical insight, the experience of free will of “self.”

Very crucial to Bergson’s approach to an experience of liberty is his division between the superficial and the profound self, the division that parallels between homogeneous and heterogeneous duration.

Therefore, there are ultimately two various “selves”, one of which is the outside projection of the other one, its spatial and social symbol. People reach the former by profound introspection that follows by the seizing of the internal states as living creatures. But moments at which human beings grasp themselves are rare, and that is just why they are not so often free. The major part of the living people exists outside ourselves, barely perceiving anything of ourselves but the own ghost, the pale shadow that genuine duration projects into homogeneous space (Bergson, 1983).

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However, the brain, the society, and the language are the external and dissimilar symbols of one and the same inner dominance. They retell the exceptional success, which living has won at a provided moment of the development. They express dissimilarity of a degree, and not merely of degree that separates human beings from the rest of the animal globe. They let people understand that humans moved extremely far from their initial stage of development, thus demonstrating that human beings alone are capable of this huge jump in the evolution (Bergson, 1983).

What is the concerning language and the social order that leads Bergson to conclude to this dissimilarity? To reply briefly, language that people have due to the exceptional intuition of homogeneous allows them to communicate with other people and, therefore, leads to the social living. This makes people able of creating own lives along dissimilar models, whose capability is the key to the dissimilarity. Animals are born with the capability to function in certain ways. The potentials of variation are thin, and this is why, animals never break a chain of determinism. Nevertheless, there are still opportunities, and this is why Bergson admits that they stretch the chain. But human being’s possibilities are limitless (Bergson, 1983). Human beings may utilize many various words and terms, which they may apply to the indefinite amount of objects. This is something dissimilar from animals. For instance, ants may have a type of language, but if so, every symbol corresponds to a certain object. Bergson asserts there is a dissimilarity not merely in degree, but in a sort, a dissimilarity between the individual and definite, and the general and indefinite.

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There is still a question: Is the evolutionary power within man actually dissimilar from evolutionary power within an animal? This is true that the body of a human being does not cause his capability to have general notions and to utilize language. Conversely, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that individuals’ admitted dominance to lesser kinds of life is simply that they have a tool that permits them to operate to the fuller capability. This is a trouble intrinsic in Bergson’s philosophy. It is as if an indistinct being, whom people can call a man or a superman, had sought to acknowledge himself and had succeeded merely by abandoning a part of himself.

Bergson obviously uses a metaphor; however, at the same time, his philosophy possesses accurate truth. Generally speaking, Bergson pointed to noteworthy confirmation for distinguishing animals from people – specifically, language and social life – even if his philosophy of evolution appears, at least, at a surface degree that people have seen it, to lead in the contradictory direction.

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Animals as Things

Till the 19th century, the Western opinions were, with some exceptions, that nonhumans were totally outside the legal and moral community and that neither the usage nor treatment of them increased any concern. People could utilize them for whatever aim they wished, and could cause suffering on them. Non-humans were regarded as creatures, which were indistinguishable from lifeless things and toward which people could merely have no legal or ethical obligations. The restricted extent that the unkind treatment of animals was thought to increase an ethical issue, was merely due to the concern that people who abused animals were more likely to treat other people terribly.

Dissimilar grounds were suggested to justify the position of animals as things. Some people, for instance, René Descartes, thought animals were, as the factual matter, indistinguishable from non-living things in that animals were not conscious - they were merely not beings who understood own “self”, had perceptual and also subjective awareness, or were capable to experience suffering (Descartes, 1988). Consequently, they were not creatures who had genuine interests; that is, they did not have desires, interests and so on. According to René Descartes, animals were just the “machines” that God made and thus were no more conscious than real machines created by a man. If René Descartes were right, and non-humans are not conscious and have no own interests, then it would not, certainly, make sense discuss ethical or legal responsibilities toward animals concerning the usage or treatment of them more than it would talk about the responsibilities toward usual alarm clocks. Some researchers argue whether Descartes actually thought animals were not conscious, but if he did, he would have been strange. At that time period, many people did not doubt animals were conscious and had interests. Rather, they thought that human beings were ethically justified in neglecting non-humans’ interests and treating them as if they were lifeless things as animals were inferior to people (Descartes, 1988).

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Derrida’s Point of View

The issue of an animal and animality in relation to human beings is, to utilize a Derridean phrase, debatably not one issue among many, but a question, which is constitutive of the other philosophical issues (Derrida, 2004). It is a statement, which shapes the fundamental principle of much of Derrida’s work and his understanding of “self”. His consequential deconstructive treatment of the issue and reconfiguration of the limits that get between human and non-human animals open the novel opportunities for a creative deconstruction of ideas of accountability and of moral ties between human beings and animals (Derrida, 2004). 

Derrida is actually profoundly concerned about what he calls the extraordinary genocide of animals, and committed to think people find themselves waging around the question of compassion towards animals as not merely a responsibility, but a necessity (Derrida, 2004).  

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Amusingly, difference is the clear vehicle behind Derrida’s desire to increase, rather than eradicate, the limits between humans and animals, yet the outcome of this rethinking of limits comprises some results, somewhat less radical than their pattern. Logically enough, Derrida criticizes the tendency among philosophers to evolve a huge military camp of the animal and treats it as a deconstructive accountability to point out there is a huge array of other living creatures, which cannot be homogenized, except by means of aggression, within the category that is called the animal or animality in general (Derrida, 2004). Furthermore, deconstructing the separations among all animals comprises a move from “the ends of human” that is the limits of a person, to the “crossing of limits” between animal and human being. Crossing the limits or “the ends of man”, people come or surrender to an animal in itself, to the beast inside and the animal at unease with itself (Derrida, 2004). It is vital to keep in mind, nevertheless, that doing so barely removes such limits. Actually, this instance does not count any genuine surpassing of the limits between animal and man if anything, arriving at the boundary merely, provides more profound identity to “self” in the “beast in me” (Derrida, 2004).

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Therefore, this paper mentioned the question of the specific dissimilarity between humans and animals. The understanding of “self” still raises lots of questions and debates. The most famous minds have strived to provide the way of self-understanding depending on the opposition between human and animal. However, there is no one common concept today. Descartes and many of his contemporaries used to think animals life was pretty like the less thing in that they were not conscious - they could not possibly acknowledge own “self” as humans, could not suffer from pain, and could not have any perceptual or personal acknowledgement. Bergson and Derrida, on the contrary, paid attention to the dissimilarities between humans and animals. Bergson believed that social life and language allow people to distinguish their own “self”. And for Derrida, the distinction between individuals and the representatives of fauna was especially important as vanishing the division among all animals includes a crossing of boundaries between human being and a beast. And whilst crossing these boundaries, people surrender to an animal - to the beast within own “self.”

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The beasts have been there since the origin of time and have accordingly had a defining background presence. The animals were made before a man. Having been in the world all along, they have, therefore, been capable to serve as the ready point of separation from which a human being was capable to discover own self-conception. That is why, the importance of the sense in which the animal is “behind” a man can not be exaggerated.

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