The transcendental self

The search for meaning and value

While our concept of self perhaps lacks the ethical connotations of the soul, both embody our search for transcendental values and meaning. The self is not something fixed and static, but something we seek to develop in ourselves and others.

“This me [ce moi] … by which I am what I am”. This was the strange and resonant phrase Descartes used in the seventeenth century to characterise the unique individual subject of conscious experience – what is often called the self.   

Some have sought to question the very idea of the self. In the Buddhist tradition, there is no such thing: there is simply a succession of psychological states that arise and pass away, but no enduring subject.  The philosopher David Hume took a similar line in the eighteenth century, arguing that the idea of an enduring self is a kind of fiction or illusion. But the fact that our experience is constantly changing is no reason to deny that there is

Continue reading

Enjoy unlimited access to the world's leading thinkers.

Start by exploring our subscription options or joining our mailing list today.

Start Free Trial

Already a subscriber? Log in

Join the conversation

Eternal Self 20 June 2020

Our Self is the only thing that we can truly validate. All else is open to interpretation, misinformation, sensory delay, and limited interaction. Our Self is unique with the inability to share with other Selves. Our Self is inevitably and inescapably eternal. If our Self is separate or immaterial, we are thereby eternal. If our Self is the result of a process or molecular construct, those can be replicated and reproduced overtime to reform our Self, again and again, to be thereby eternal. Our Self matures with experience but the lack of memory of prior times that our Self has existed reveals a designed intent to temporarily remove that knowledge from our current state. There is a paradox produced with multiple Selves and therefore all Selves are but one and the same eternal Self.

Hugh Manbeing 15 June 2020

"Each of us has a powerful sense of a “me”, something that makes me what I am, a core self, which may no doubt change and develop over time, but which nevertheless retains its distinctive identity."

Except the aforementioned buddhists plus a whole load of other people who say different, so that's a bit presumptuous.

Roger Cain 15 June 2020

The Buddhist teaching is that although our sense of who we are is of a self-existing being, ( something like the Hindu idea of a self), that presumption is false. That presumption is something like a natural superstition that we are prone to. Actually, everything that is is interrelated with other things. Nothing stands on its own. Our natural superstition is that we are a self-existing, stand-alone being.

I think it was only God and Popeye who were supposed to be self-existing, stand-alone beings. (And of course, they are both fictional characters in stories).

David Hume had pretty much the same realization about our overblown sense of our identity. Allison Gopnik wrote a piece in The New Yorker on speculation that while Hume was on retreat in a monastery he may have had discussions with a cleric who was acquainted with Buddhism. Here is her piece.

The teaching of no-self is only the first stage of the Buddhist teachings. Further on there is much about how we should develop our identity.

Most Western scholars and commentators do not understand Buddhism. It is a profound oversight if one means to speak about human identity. It is obvious that we tend to be confused about the subject and Buddhist Wisdom is, in my judgment, the best account we have; both of our confusion and of the way out of our confusion.

Roger Cain

Pamela Meekings-Stewart 11 June 2020

As a producer of social documentaries for television for many years, I learned that 'Truth is a Slippery Thing' and wrote this in large letters on my wall to constantly remind myself of this slippery idea!