In this paper, I examine some reasons in favour of interpreting David Hume as an upholder of a narrative conception of personal identity, taking my cue from the vexed question of the unity of the self. I argue that, despite Hume’s conclusion in A Treatise of Human Nature that the self is reducible to a series of perceptions that lacks any cohesion, having a unified self within a Humean perspective is in fact a real possibility. Specifically, I shall claim that a conception of the self as narrative represents a convincing candidate to clarify what Hume is interested in when he reflects on the issue of the unity of the self, which, I believe, turns out to be a practical matter for him and not a metaphysical one, as it is generally believed. When facing the problem of the unity of the self in Hume, most interpreters focus on those places in Book 1 of the Treatise where Hume deals with personal identity—namely T 1.4.5 and 6, and then the Appendix. And it is the case—so the story goes—that the Appendix proves that Hume’s associationist premises preclude the possibility of having a unified self. As I shall try to show, this is not the case. Hume does provide a positive explanation of how it is possible to obtain a unified self; however, if we want to understand this explanation, we have to go beyond the apparently insurmountable problems that the self conceived as a unitary mind presents, and look at Hume’s conception of the self as an agent. I proceed by first showing, in §1, why the dilemmas of the Appendix do not really touch on the issue of the unity of the self, and how, instead, Hume’s subsequent inquiries in Books 2 and 3 of the Treatise into the workings of the indirect passions of pride and humility offer a route to think of a unified self in narrative terms. Then, to further support my interpretation, in §2 I compare it with two different contemporary approaches to narrative identity. On the one hand, a robust conception of narrative identity can be advanced, such as the one promoted by Alasdair MacIntyre. On the other hand, the possibility of conceiving personal identity in narrative terms can be wholly denied, as in the case of Galen Strawson. I want to suggest that a Humean approach makes it possible to occupy a middle ground between these two extremes, and to affirm a “fragmented unity” of the self that represents nonetheless a persuasive solution to the problem of the unity of the self in Hume, given his philosophical presuppositions.

A Fragmented Unity: A Narrative Answer to the Problem of the Unity of the Self in Hume

Lorenzo Greco
2022

Abstract

In this paper, I examine some reasons in favour of interpreting David Hume as an upholder of a narrative conception of personal identity, taking my cue from the vexed question of the unity of the self. I argue that, despite Hume’s conclusion in A Treatise of Human Nature that the self is reducible to a series of perceptions that lacks any cohesion, having a unified self within a Humean perspective is in fact a real possibility. Specifically, I shall claim that a conception of the self as narrative represents a convincing candidate to clarify what Hume is interested in when he reflects on the issue of the unity of the self, which, I believe, turns out to be a practical matter for him and not a metaphysical one, as it is generally believed. When facing the problem of the unity of the self in Hume, most interpreters focus on those places in Book 1 of the Treatise where Hume deals with personal identity—namely T 1.4.5 and 6, and then the Appendix. And it is the case—so the story goes—that the Appendix proves that Hume’s associationist premises preclude the possibility of having a unified self. As I shall try to show, this is not the case. Hume does provide a positive explanation of how it is possible to obtain a unified self; however, if we want to understand this explanation, we have to go beyond the apparently insurmountable problems that the self conceived as a unitary mind presents, and look at Hume’s conception of the self as an agent. I proceed by first showing, in §1, why the dilemmas of the Appendix do not really touch on the issue of the unity of the self, and how, instead, Hume’s subsequent inquiries in Books 2 and 3 of the Treatise into the workings of the indirect passions of pride and humility offer a route to think of a unified self in narrative terms. Then, to further support my interpretation, in §2 I compare it with two different contemporary approaches to narrative identity. On the one hand, a robust conception of narrative identity can be advanced, such as the one promoted by Alasdair MacIntyre. On the other hand, the possibility of conceiving personal identity in narrative terms can be wholly denied, as in the case of Galen Strawson. I want to suggest that a Humean approach makes it possible to occupy a middle ground between these two extremes, and to affirm a “fragmented unity” of the self that represents nonetheless a persuasive solution to the problem of the unity of the self in Hume, given his philosophical presuppositions.
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: https://hdl.handle.net/11697/194359
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