3 - Phenomenology of self  pp. 56-75

Phenomenology of self

By Dan Zahavi

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Initially, three different philosophical concepts of self are distinguished: a Kantian, a hermeneutical, and a phenomenological concept. The phenomenological concept is then analysed in detail. The first step of the analysis consists in an investigation of the first-personal givenness of phenomenal consciousness; the second step involves a discussion of different concepts of self-consciousness, a discussion which culminates in a criticism of the so-called higher-order representation theory. In conclusion, the article provides some examples of how the phenomenological concept of self may be of use in empirical science (psychiatry and developmental psychology).


In the following chapter, I wish to outline and discuss some of the reflections on self that can be found in phenomenology. But let me start with a cautionary remark. Phenomenology is not the name of a philosophical position. It is the name of a philosophical tradition inaugurated by Husserl (1859–1938), and comprising among its best-known champions philosophers like Scheler, Heidegger, Schutz, Gurwitsch, Fink, Merleau-Ponty, Sartre, Levinas, Ricoeur and Henry. Like any other philosophical tradition, the phenomenological tradition spans many differences. This also holds true for its treatment and analysis of the self. In short, there is not one single phenomenological account of the self, just as there is not one single account of the self to be found in analytical philosophy. There are a variety of different accounts. In what follows, I have consequently been forced to make a certain selection, and to focus on what I take to be one of the most promising proposals.

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