The idea of point of view from which one perceives the material environment and acts on it, the Self 1, is indispensable to the management
of the human form of life. (p.5)
[But] It cannot be emphasized enough that the use of expressions like Self 1 ...with their air of permanence and substantiality, is no more than a rhetorical convenience (p.16).
The Singular Self
Postmodern Therapies Tool boxes
click the button to the left to play, in the middle tostop,
and click the button to the right to end sound.
I hope I can capture your imagination with the quotation at the top of PMTH NEWS today. I have just finished reading Rom Harre's book, The Singular Self, and I want to indulge my fascination with a concept that he calls Self 1. Although the term Self 1 is not a very catchy term, I hope you don't get fooled by that. If you'll scrutinize this concept with me here maybe you can see the touch of profundity that I think it contains.
So, what is "Self 1"? The Self 1 is the part of who you are that makes you feel like a physically distinct person. It is what makes you feel that your consciousness is somehow tied to your body. If you are afraid that death brings nothingness, then it is because you are afraid of losing your Self 1.
An example might help. Picture us all gathered around a birthday cake. What you see is necessarily different from what I see, because you are looking at the cake from another side. In this case, you can't see, the spot where I punched my finger through the white frosting into the dark chocolate beneath, just as I can't see the smooth unblemnished frosting on your side of the cake. This is because your awareness is tied to your body and your sense of that mind-body link is your Self-1. Your Self-1 is your sense that no one else can ever be in exactly the same place as you are, at least not at the same time. That means that your Self-1 is not only what gives you your unique point of view it is also what makes it so difficult to even imagine becoming a free floating consciousness that is no longer distinctively "you."
So, what does Harre say that is so intriguing about this "Self-1"? He says, mysteriously, that this Self-1 is "the reification of the unique personal point of view." (p.81) To reify, you'll recall, you take something abstract and treat it as if it had material existence. To reify "love," for example, means to think of it as existing quite apart from those who love. Harre says that the sense of Self-1 is just a reification. And, if you can wrap your mind around that one, I say that it's a stunning idea.
The reification is that we each are trapped in a kind of personal showing of the world, trapped in the idea that nobody else can see what we see because they would have to be inside us to see it -- and that's impossible, so our reification tells us. Reifying things that way has us putting a little person inside ourselves that watches the showing. It is as though the self is a little person sitting in our heads watching the show but really only seeing what is inside this singular point of view. Maybe it's not a whole inner person, just an inner eye and ear, but it's the same thing. That's what our reification of Self-1 tells us.
And, when you think about it, what a crazy reified idea it is, that
we have this ghost of a consciousness inside us that looks and thinks and
that the body is just a kind of casing that the inner Self-1 ghost controls.
This image, Harre says, is an
The Self-1 image is a crazy idea, but I must admit I can get myself into the mood of seeing myself as basically just this inner eye. And, when I look over at you, on the other side of the cake, I can see (or imagine that I see) that because you, too, see only one side of this cake, you are hence a Self-1 consciousness tied to your body, just like me.
If this is a reification that bewitches us, where does it come from? How do we fall prey to this illusion?
Harre tells us that we fall prey to the illusion of Self-1 when we learn to talk. He holds that there is a certain pattern in our speech that teaches us to think of ourselves a this inner Self-1. He suggests that if If I didn't learn to speak in terms of "I" and "you" and realize that when you say "I" you are referring to your "I" not mine, then I couldn't properly index the world into various points of view and see my owner inner eye as just one the many (p.28).
If the sense of a inner singular self is a reification, what would life be like without it? Hard to imagine. But it seems to me that if none of us reified the inner sense of self we would be more like my dog, unable to see oneself as having a distinct point of view, simply seeing and loving, or hating, or itching, -- but responding to the world without a sense of ourselves locationally unique. Or, perhaps, it would be like I feel when I close my eyes and imagine floating through space. If consciousness wasn't seen as attached to a body, experience would just be a scatter of images with no sense that we are different people seeing different images.
If the Self-1 is a reification, perhaps we need to ask if we should continue to reify our experience this way. As you can see from the quote above Harre tells us that the Self-1 is essential. He says it is, "indispensable to the management of the human form of life." (p.5)
But later, he seems less clear about it. And, towards the end of the book, he says that some cultures have a less clearcut sense of Self-1. In talking about this less Self-1 culture Harre adds that the sense of selfhood is "invaluable both in helping us to free ourselves from the illusion that only the self-structure of Protestant individualism is normal, and in illustrating one of the ways that multi-individualism is a cultural norm." (p.159)
So, I must say it all leaves me with a question, and let me invite you to ponder this question with me: To what extent must we protect our way of life that creates us as individuals with a unique point of view? How psychologically dangerous is it to abandon this reification (given that it is even possible for us to do so). If another culture can do it with psychological impunity, can the rest of us minimize our awareness of our self-one reification? Isn't this what happens, for example, in meditation? (see Harre, p. 117). Also what happens in intimacy as we blur the boundaries of our identities? And, shouldn't we ask: is the reified Self-1 all or nothing? Or can we learn to move away from too much Self-1 when we choose in order to enhance our bonds with each and improve the quality of our communication.
Well, these are things I am thinking of asking Rom Harre when he visits us in a couple of weeks. For me, his theories give us a picture of how we developed a "me culture." Isn't the reified Self-1 just another eXcuse for saying "I'm number one?"
I don't know, but for me, the question now becomes one of studying
the advantages and disadvantages of having reified our sense of self the
way we have -- because I feel convinced now, that he's right. Any
sense of Self-1 is a reification.
While I was reading Harre in the last few weeks, I ran across a passage in which he commented on how hard it is to conceptualize having more than one person in the same body. It does seem true. Why is that? Then, I remembered Wittgenstein speaking of the importance of intermediate cases (Philosophical Investigations, #122). An intermediate case for the singularity of self, I thought, might be conjoint (or Siamese) twins. "What about it?" I asked the people in our community.
Nick Drury said, he thought of conjoint twins as "being two persons as they are not occupying the same point in space (although admittedly a very close one)." Drury pointed out, that he had heard of a case in which they shared brain material. Still, he was inclined to call them "two persons."
George Spears was more torn. He reminded us that, " ...we are not necessarily searching for truth here." Then he continued, "Certainly what we call a Siamese twin would/could experience feelings...perhaps two different sexual feelings at the same time (seems like the mixture of what appears to be 'two', though, could ultimately be considered as one 'feeling' for this being--no matter how 'mixed' we 'individuals' would consider them to be)," but he continued, "the question is..can we still consider such a being a 'person'? [as opposed to two people?]"
And Val Lewis said, somewhat longingly
I thought, "Don't you ever want to be detached from
Perhaps you would think about this with us. Consider, for example,
the case of Abigail and Brittany Hensel. They are able to coordinate
their bodies to walk and run gracefully and without deliberate control
of their conjoined body ˆ± even though they only have two legs and a conjoined
If such conjoined twins could both feel the same stumped toe, would the pain belong to only one of them and not the other? What would keep us from speaking in such a case of two people occupying the same space?
Maybe Rom Harre understood the problem best when he said that there
is a grammatical rule that we presume from the start that says we simply
cannot have two people occupying the same space (p.7). For the most
part this seems to be so, but it also seems to me that the case of conjoined
twins helps us see the possibility for imagining two people occupying the
same space, at least in part..
In a draft copy of a new and upcoming book Rom Harre , he said,
But, I wondered, what did he mean by that? Does he think of all postmodernism as "irrational" and "relativist"? Or is it just that he wants us to distance ourself from a strain that he has judged to be irrational and relativist? Hmm.
I put the question out to the good people of PMTH, and here is what
Riet Samuels said:
Tom Strong then suggested we invite Jack Martin and Jeff Sugarman to PMTH for comment.
Tony Michael Roberts said that
he sensed there might be a realist bent to Harre's theories, and he added:
Jerry Shaffer responded to Robert's
moral condemation of non-relativist moralities by saying:
And Roberts replied:
Shaffer came back:
Then, Roberts responded:
Next, I said,
And Riet Samuels said:
And you can count on us doing that.
In this issue of PMTH NEWS I have told you a little about Harre's concept of Self-1. You might well ask, What's after Self-1?
Fair enough. Self-1 is only a part of the theory that Rom Harre give us. There is, after that, for example, Self-2 and Self-3. But there is really much more than this.
For the most part you will have to wait until next issue to read more about our converations, but let me give you just a glimpse of our discussions in process.
Today, Tony Michael Roberts and myself have been discussing what it means for a Self-2 to be inaccurate. Does that mean, we asked, that Harre would say that there was such a thing as a true Self-2? That seems unlikely.
Then, on a completely different front, Katherine Levine was talking with Riet Samuels, and Brendeen Longoria about whether therapists can escape giving advice to clients and, if they can, how they might present this to their clients.
Tom Strong and myself were talking about a topic that is dear to both of our hearts, how do people avoid mndless disputes (i.e., differends) when they are enmeshed in different language games,
And, finally, George Spears and
I were discussing whether or not Rom Harre
a bit more postmodern than he wanted to believe. Question for you:
If he was more postmodern than he wanted to believe, would that mean his
Self2 was inaccurate?
This will send a post to me, Lois Shawver.
Tell me of your interest. If you are looking to join us, also give me a
little information about yourself that tells me how you fit the profile
for joining the PMTH online community. And, in either case, .tell
me that you got the idea to write by reading PMTH NEWS.
Next week, the thoughtful and prolific author, Rom Harre, plans to come to PMTH for a visit. In the meantime, until Rom Harre visits us, many PMTH subscribers will be busy studying some of his papers and books, pondering some of the theories he provides, and discussing and hashing them out among ourselves.
This much anticipated visit is a cybervisit. Actually, the person Harre will be sitting in his office at Oxford while some of us PMTH subscribers will provide him with questions that we post among ourselves using email. If everything goes as planned, Harre will respond by posting quick replies.
If you want to follow along and look over our shoulder, I suggest you
try to acquire through your book store or library this book:
And, in lieu of that particular book, try to find something by him. This is an author with well over 30 books, and many articles and chapters. Surely you can find something.
But I will also try to assist your study by sharing with you some of
my own understanding of Harre's ideas based on my recent readings, and
I will also tell you what we at PMTH have been saying to each other as
we discuss Rom Harre and ponder our questions about his work. That,
no doubt, will provide the focus of our activity here at PMTH until the
Last month Sharon Robins and I had an intense conversation on the way in which the internet deconstructs the metaphysic of presence. The metaphysic of presence is Derrida's term for the belief that the here and now is the real while history, that is, what used to be, is no longer real. It is now just a fictional copy of what once was real.
Derrida argues that the western world not only believes in the metaphysic of presence, but it is captured by it. So much a prisoner of this metaphysic, the avaerage westerner can scarcely understand the metaphysic that dominated the world for centuries, the metaphysic of history. Even today, in many cultures, the metaphysic of history dominates any hint of trust in the here and now.
But people who believe in the metaphysic of history reject the reality of the here and now and see the present as some unfolding of the dreams of ancient gods or ancestors. In the metaphysic of history, we in the here and now are only the fictional playthings of an other-worldly reality.
All of this translates, according to Derrida, "a belief in the reality of the spoken" over "the reality of the written." The written, he says, is what can explain things to us, or talk to us, even when the author of the written is no longer present. Those dominated by a metaphysic of presence do not trust such speech. For a long time now, since Plato at least, we have not believed in the reality of the the written. But, as of late, people of our culture are learning to do so.
So Sharon Robins and I talked about this. And we noted that the internet may be the medium that deconstructs this division between the present and the past, between speech and the written. In the past, the written was much more permanent, not fleeting like speech.
But the internet, and Email, seems to be an intermediate case, half
way between the metaphysic of presence and the metaphysic of history.
Commenting causes such a deconstruction, Robins said, "Yes, that strikes
me as a most profound insight...think the Internet confounds dichotomies
of presence in entirely new ways." And, how does it do the
work of this deconstruction? Robins added, that it gave us "[T]his
perpetual `re-writing' process [that]is only possible because my letter
I think so, too.
This month we continued to discuss Wittgenstein's concept of a "grammatical fiction." You will recall from the last PMTH News that the term "grammatical fiction" only appears once in Wittgenstein's key text, the Philosophical Investigations. Still, I think, it is a central concept and so we continued to talk about it. It was especially central to us since Rom Harre said, specifically, that the 'self' is a grammatical fiction (pp. 88, 158, 168).
Here is where Wittgenstein talked about "grammatical fictions."
The particular grammatical fiction he mentions here, as Wittgenstein makes clear in the surrounding text, is that if we are to say something like "I thought X was true" it is a fiction that there must have been an introspectively discernable, or even unconscious, mental event that is being "thought." The word "thought" in "I thought X was true" might well be an assumption or simply have no mental correlate at all, as in the case of "I thought he was married." (To read more about grammatical fictions in the April 2001 issue of PMTH NEWS, click here and read the two articles on "Is Wittgenstein a Behaviorist?". .)
The problem is not that we talk about thoughts when there are no mental
events, but that, as Jerry Shaffer said, "someone
might take it more literally." Quoting Wittgenstein, Shaffer added
Can you see from this account of "grammatical fiction" that a self might just be one? The word self seems to point to something that, when you look, doesn't seem to be there. It is sort of like the word "it" that occurs in statements like "What time is it?" and in "It is raining now." The concept of a "grammatical fiction" reminds us that just because we talk as though something is there, doesn't mean that something is.
I believe Harre is telling us that "selves" are like that "it."
He says that people who call themselves "multiple personalities," suffer
from a pathological form of a grammatical fiction (p.158) -- but that it
is healthy to have a singular self that is a grammatical fiction. (p.88).
One of the questions that interested us on PMTH this last month was
whether Harre was, in some sense, a realist. Shaffer
suggested that he was a realist, but I pointed to a passage in which Harre
spoke of the social construction of selves. Shaffer responded:
So, I see that there are other questions we might ask Rom Harre. But, first, what is "realism?" It's more complex than you might think. Actually Rom Harre has a book called "Varieties of Realism" but I have been unable to find a copy.
So, I asked Jerry Shaffer to supply us with some thoughtful analysis
of the concept, and Shaffer, a philosopher, did just that. Just page
A traditional question in philosophy is concerned with what is real, what really exists. Opinions differ from the view that nothing is real to the view that everything is real, and all sorts of views in between..
The word, "Realism," is widely used in contemporary philosophy to refer to the idea that something or other exists independently of human experience or activity. There are different varieties of Realism depending upon the something or other at issue.
For example, there is Mathematical Realism, the view that numbers exist independently of human minds. A Mathematical Realist holds that 2 +2 would equal 4 whether or not any humans ever lived, (and also that 2 +2 equaled 4 before there were humans and that 2 + 2 will equal 4 long after the last human dies).
A Mathematical Realist holds that 2 +2 would equal 4 whether or not any humans ever lived, was the case before there were humans and will be the case long after the last human dies. What the mathematician does, on this view, is to discover these independent truths. In contrast to Mathematical Realism is the view that mathematics is a human construction based on human conceptions and human definitions.
To take another kind of Realist, an Esthetic Realist believes that beauty is an observer-independent quality, so that, for example, a particular mountain might be beautiful even if no observer had ever existed. And, a Moral Realist believes that values, duties, rights, the good, and moral truths exist independently of human minds.
One important kind of Realism is Physical Realism. The Physical Realist holds that physical objects exist independently of human minds, that long before there were humans there was a physical world and that there will be a physical world long after the last human perishes.
A contrasting position was held the eighteenth century philosopher, Bishop Berkeley. He held that physical objects exist only in our minds. This view is called "Idealism." On the other hand, when it comes to minds, Berkeley was a Realist. Minds exist as such. Berkeley was also a Theistic Realist, holding that God exists independently of what any human thinks. On this issue, Freud would differ, for he was a Theistic Idealist, holding that God was simply a projection of human minds. Freud, of course, was a Physical Realist.
Plato was a Realist about what he called the Forms, which are kinds of things. Examples of Forms are Man, Horse, Knife, Justice, the Good, He thought that, for example, Man exists independently of human thought. He also thought that Man exists independently of any instances, that is, of any men. His disciple, Aristotle, agreed with Plato that the Forms exist independently of human thought, but Aristotle held that Forms could only exist in objects, so that there could not be a Form of Man unless there were men.
In opposition to Plato and Aristotle is a school of thought called "Nominalism", which denies the existence of Forms altogether. Nominalists hold that we simply group together things we take to be similar and give them the same name ("nomen" is the Latin for "name").
To relate this issue to Wittgenstein, given
his general anti-philosophical position, I think he would deny having an
opinion on this matter. However, in so far as his concepts of language
games and forms of life presuppose the existence of language users who
play the games and living humans who have forms of life, I would say he
is Physical Realist.
Tom Strong has provided us with a
book review that provides a little contrast with the current study we are
making of Rom Harre's work. Strong is reviewing a book by Jim Holstein
and Jay Gubrium that carries the intriguing title:
Strong says the book is about whether we can maintain a narrative sense of self as we respond in our postmodern world.
These two well known social constructionists are helping us reconstrue aging, arguing, as they do, that much of our negative image of aging is born of the negative stereotypes common to the culture at large. They explain how research can be done in ways that will assist this process in their focal commentary. Then they describe research, give news reports, book alerts, web resources, reader commentary, upcoming events, and tell you how to contribute to the newsletter.
Check it out!
Would you like to tell someone about PMTH NEWS? Just fill out the form below and click on the "send" button. The invitation that goes out will include a special link that your friend can click on to arrive at this site.
PMTH is a closed community for professional therapists, as well as scholars,professors
and graduate students with specialities related to therapy. We keep our
list reserved this way in order to have a special place for people who
are concerned with doing good therapy to discuss their personal issues
about therapy in some depth. We go to other lists to discuss things
with people who don't fit this profile. If you want to invite one
of us to a list you're on, there is a way to do that. Or, if you
fit the profile for membership to PMTH, you can consider joining us.
Whichever you want, you can write me, by clicking
Free counters provided by Honesty.com.