PostmodernTherapies NEWS                 06/01/01
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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).
Rom Harre
The Singular Self


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Postmodern Therapies NEWS
July 1,  2001


The Reification of 
Self 1

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

illusion of a substantive 'inner' being as the perceiver and actor, in addition to the person who looks and sees, listens and hears, thinks and chops wood...
Harre, p.83

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.

Can One Person Ever Be Two?
Lois Shawver

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
yourself? To be freed of that omnipresence?"  Yet, she added, "To imagine it is almost impossible." Brendeen Longoria agreed, saying, "That is a thought that is hard for me to even conceive." 

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 lower body. 
(click here or here for more information on these famous twins.)

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..

Are Postmoderns Nuts?
Lois Shawver

In a draft copy of a new and upcoming book Rom Harre , he said, 

It is of the utmost importance to distance ourselves from the irrationalism and relativism of postmodernism.

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 they said:

What will happen if we don't?
Does he account for the fact that 'discoveries' such as Heisenberg's are threatening to implode 'science' with a relativity from within 'science'

Riet Samuels said:

In this year's April issue of the American Psychologist are comments on the 2000 April article by Jack Martin and Jeff Sugarman entitled 'Between the Modern and the Postmodern.' Apparently, they wanted to find a middleground between the essentialism of classic modernism and the "excessive antirealism, antisubjectivism, and anarchistic relativism of some versions of postmodernity." 

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:

I find realism morally objectionable because I feel that the emotional energy which impassions a strong commitment to realism flows from a need to privilege
certain interpretations or aspects of interpretation
absolutely. This need, I think, generates a lot of the worst cruelty I see in the world around me. 

Jerry Shaffer responded to Robert's moral condemation of non-relativist moralities by saying:

 And many have killed or died for what they thought was
true.  That is terrible, I agree. But these are acts, not beliefs.  It is the acts that are immoral, I believe, not the holding of beliefs as such.

And Roberts replied:

People who are getting ready to turn really vicious are seldom content to say that they are striking out against the intended victim because he or she threatens their continued happiness or succcess.  [The enemy must be thought of as committing] some sin against truth which is true everywhere and always ...before most people can feel good getting really ugly. 

Shaffer came back:

Or maybe your idea is that once I go from "preferable" to "true," I am will do bad things to people who disagree with me, kill them, torture them,
whatever?  Why must that be?

Then, Roberts responded:

 What I believe is that ideas have consequences. What people will do is to a certain
extent shaped by what they believe. 

Next, I said, 

I can't help wondering: Who does Harre read that represents for him "postmodernism?" 

And Riet Samuels said:

Why don't we just ask him on the 17th?

And you can count on us doing that.

What's after Self-1?
Lois Shawver

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.

Nick Drury, Riet Samuels and myself have been discussing whether the individualism that seems fostered by a strong sense of Self-1 is a good thing.

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 was 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.


From Now
Until Rom Harre Visits Us

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:

Harre, R. (1998). The Singular Self: An Introduction to the Psychology of Personhood. London: Sage.

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 big visit.

Deconstruction on the Internet

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
has no phenomenal availability - it is a pattern, not a presence: existing
on my computer and yours only as ghostly, invisible, electromagnetic traces."

I think so, too.

The Self as a 
Grammatical Fiction

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."

307 "Are you not really a behaviourist in disguise? Aren't you at bottom really saying that everything except
human behaviour is a  fiction?"  -If I do speak of a fiction, then it is of a  grammatical fiction.

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 , 

And now we might try to investigate this mechanism --"the yet  uncomprehended process in the yet unexplored mediumˆñ.And now [what was just] an analogy which was to make us understand our  thoughts falls to pieces.

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).

Is Harre a Realist?

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:

OK, he may not be a Realist about selves.  But isn't Harre a realist about trees? (And even if we follow Nick's reading of Harre in saying the the tree is  relationship, isn't it a real relationship?) Or does he think that trees are social constructions?  Does he think that when someone says, "I
see something green," is green a social construction?  Gibson would say that greenness is a property of things and in perception we grasp that the tree is green (Naive Realism about green things).  Wouldn't Harre agree?

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 below.

What is it?
Jerry Shaffer

 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. 

The Narrative Self in 
Lois Shawver

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:

The self we live by: Narrative identity in a postmodern world

Strong says the book is about whether we can maintain a narrative sense of self as we respond in our postmodern world. 

Click here to read the full review.

Postmodern Geriatrics

If you are old, or you feel old, or you hope to get old one day, please glance over the recent Newsletter on aging by Ken and Mary Gergen.  You can reach it by clicking here.

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!

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Lois Shawver

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