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Contact

If you have any questions about the event please contact Lucy Salmon.

E: l.salmon@ucl.ac.uk

T: +44(0)20 7679 3089

Philosophy

Who am I? The self in ancient philosophy 

What is the peculiar entity we refer to as the self? In some ways it is like other things: we can refer to it and talk about it, we think that a self or a subject is a real thing with a specific history when we talk about 'myself' or 'your self', a thing with a self seems distinctive, different from things without a self. In other ways, though, it is very unlike other things: we can observe other things, but we seem unable to directly observe the self. In fact, since the self seems to be the thing that always does the observing, or thinking about things, or that comes to have knowledge about things, it seems to be a tricky thing to think about directly. Ancient philosophers thought that the characteristic features of the self were revealed by what it can do - think, and act - as well as what it can become - a fully developed top rate individual with a particular history. Some philosophers, like Plato, had an 'internal' view of the self: each self is a soul, which is divided into three parts, the rational part, the pleasure loving part, and the tough-guy part. Other philosophers, like Aristotle and some Stoics, suggested a more 'external' view of the self: parents see children as themselves in a way, really good friends look after one another well because they view their friend as another self, and just as we perceive of our bodies as belonging to us and ourselves in a way, so too we view first our families and loved ones as ourselves, then our extended family, our community and so on as all parts of an extended self.