Reconsidering the Sources of the Self in the Ancient, Medieval, and Early Modern Periods

Did Aristotle have a conception of the self?
José Luis Bermúdez
Professor of Philosophy and Samuel Rhea Gammon Professor of Liberal Arts
Texas A&M University

In Sources of the Self, Taylor suggests that the ancient Greeks, despite possessing various linguistic devices for reflexive self-reference, did not have a way of making “self” into a noun. This nominalization of the self is, in his view, characteristic of the modern sense of selfhood. As it happens, Aristotle actually does nominalize autos, the intensifier that functions in Greek much as “self” does in English in three passages in Nichomachean Ethics IX where he describes a friend as another self. Taylor cites one of these “another self” passages in a footnote, commenting that “this doesn’t have quite the same force as our present description of human agents as “selves””, but he does not elaborate. This paper considers what force it does have, exploring two senses of self in Aristotle. One is fairly familiar. It is the idea of the “true self” as intellect, connected to the idea that true happiness lies in the activity of contemplation, as described in Nicomachean Ethics X. The second has not, to my knowledge, been remarked upon. It is the idea of a bodily self that I think is explicit in some passages from De Anima and the Metaphysics, and implicit in others.

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