Can the self disintegrate? Personal identity, psychopathology, and disunities of consciousness

E. Jonathan Lowe

in Dementia

Published on behalf of Oxford University Press

Published in print December 2005 | ISBN: 9780198566151
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191754418 | DOI:

Series: International Perspectives in Philosophy & Psychiatry

Can the self disintegrate? Personal identity, psychopathology, and disunities of consciousness

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We intuitively conceive of ourselves as strongly unified beings, at least from a psychological point of view. This idea sometimes finds philosophical expression in the doctrine of the unity of consciousness, taken as implying that conscious thoughts and feelings of the same person must be recognizable by that person as being uniquely their own thoughts and feelings and, as such, unmistakable for the thoughts or feelings of anyone else. However, a number of philosophers and psychologists have suggested that this intuitive view of ourselves is undermined by evidence arising from cases of dementia and other degenerative or pathological mental conditions. In this chapter, I mean to pursue the question as to how far we can or should take the concept of a unified self to break down in such cases and what implications, if any, such cases have for our ordinary conception of personal identity and human individuality. What such cases have in common is that they all exhibit various kinds and degrees of alienation of thought or feeling of a clearly delusional character. However, while I shall be considering some clinically well-documented psychopathological conditions in due course, I want to begin with a purely fictional example drawn from nineteenth-century English literature—partly because it is simple and vivid but also because it has frequently been cited by philosophers of mind on account of its implicit challenge to widely held conceptions of the nature of mental states.

Chapter.  7537 words. 

Subjects: Psychiatry

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