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The Problem of the "Self": Philosophical Traditions and the Present

Department: Laboratory for Philosophical Studies
The project has been carried out as part of the HSE Program of Fundamental Studies.

Keywords: Subjectivity, “Self”, ontology, epistemology, phenomenology, transcendentalism, culture, philosophy of culture, interdisciplinary methodology, personality, analytic method, linguistics, semiotics, intersubjectivity, collective identity, realism.

Research Object: The evolution of a concept of the “Self” from antiquity to the present; a set of ontological, epistemological and methodological problems, which are symptomatic for the modern period of this evolution. The problem of the “Self” binds together different interdisciplinary approaches: personality psychology, sociology of personality, a history of the cultural shaping of subjectivity, axiology, physiology, etc. Thereby, the problem of the “Self” is one of the most vivid examples of interdisciplinary studies.

Main Project Goal:
To create methodological and worldview preconditions for integrated (interdisciplinary) studies of the problem of the “Self” in contemporary philosophy. This problem is connected with the study of the processes involved in the formation of these prerequisites in different historically determined cultural contexts and also with an expansion of cooperation between philosophy and the set of disciplines that study human subjectivity (psychology, personality sociology, neurophysiology, linguistics, and artificial intelligence studies, etc). Other project goals include the historical and philosophical reconstruction of the evolution of views on the Subject and forms of its identification from antiquity to the present day; an explication of logical, cultural and sociological "dimensions" of the problem of the “Self”; and the detection of some special methodological and linguistic features of these "dimensions", which are the basis for a multidimensional (synthetic) model and foundation for future research.

Research Tasks: A systematization of philosophical, logico-methodological approaches replacing the "classic" paradigm in which this problem was solved from a position of substantialism, essentialism, and formal self-identity of the “Self”; finding the characteristics of the dynamic process of real self-identity of the “Self” including the system of sociocultural determinations; a logico-analytical examination of the contexts in which this determination occurs; finding philosophical preconditions (as a basis for forming and keeping the most important axiological orientations in studying the problem of the “Self”), due to which an understanding of these determinations is taking place.

Research Methodology: The methodology covers all known methods of the historical-philosophical, logico-analytical, cultural, and historical analysis. Applications of these methods are stipulated by the following hypotheses, which served as starting points for the project's participants:

  • The concept of the “Self” is a multidimensional object that is studied in different disciplinary "projections" (psychological, sociological, anthropological etc.); however, an integral reconstruction of the concept of the “Self” is possible by means of philosophical synthesis;
  • "Interdisciplinary methodology", a general conception for cooperation between philosophical and special scientific methods, is necessary for this kind of study;
  • "The philosophy of the 'Self'" has not come to an end; moreover, "the philosophy of the 'Self'” is one of the main trends in contemporary philosophy;
  • Development of this area is connected with the revision of crucial concepts of contemporary epistemology, ontology, and philosophical methodology.
Research Results:
  • A reconstruction was made of the main trends in formulating and solving the problem of the “Self” in world philosophy, from Plato and Plotinus to the present day;
  • The key points of the European historico-cultural process, in which the substantial conception of the “Self” has been formatted, developed, and fallen into decay, were established; it was shown how conflicting conceptions caused the appearance of non-substantial, pluralistic, and functional "projects" of the “Self”;
  • It was found that the essential feature of contemporary philosophical tradition in studying the “Self” is focusing on the connections between the “Self” and its cultural environment; the philosophical reflection has been changing during cultural crisis: conceptions and projects of the “Self” declare a crisis or try to stop it, which stresses the axiological "commitment" of the philosophy of the “Self”;
  • Connections have been found between the development of philosophical ideas of the “Self” and language forms (on the one hand, these language forms satisfy the requirements for the development of philosophical ideas, but on the other hand, they are capable of changing the nature of the development). In particular, it was shown that the forming of ways to understanding personal pronouns correlates with ontological preconditions of a philosophical approach to the “Self” and also correlates with circumstances of changing ontological preconditions;
  • It was shown that a naïve realistic presentation of the “Self” (both in physicalists and referential forms) is reasonably criticized; however, the “Self” is still the most important symbol, due to which such concepts as "subject of knowledge", "subject of a will", and "subject of experience" play their culture-shaping role;
  • Foundations were developed for an interdisciplinary discourse in the problem field (with the philosophical problem of the “Self” in the center).


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