University of Oulu

Lähteenmäki, V. (2021). Descartes on subjects and selves. In P. Kitcher (Ed.), The Self: A history (pp. 99-117). Oxford University Press.

Descartes on subjects and selves

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Author: Lähteenmäki, Vili
Format: article
Version: accepted version
Access: embargoed
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Language: English
Published: Oxford University Press, 2021
Publish Date: 2023-09-01


Descartes makes a double commitment about selves. While he argues that the ‘I’ is nothing but a thinking thing he also identifies it with the union of the mind and body. This chapter explores this tension by analyzing Descartes’ account of our experience of ourselves and argues that in the background of Descartes’ usage of ‘I’ in reference to both the mind and the union is an idea of a subject of experience taking herself in one or the other way. When a subject refers to herself with ‘I’, the ‘I’ always picks out a subject of experience regardless of whether the subject understands what it, metaphysically, picks out. Body-dependent features partaking in what one takes oneself to be are a matter of representation. However, embodied self-presence is on a par with purely intellectual self-presence, because the latter is likewise a matter of representation. This means that thoughts are constitutive of selfhood not because they ontologically belong to the thinking substance as its modifications, but rather in virtue of conveying content that affects what we take ourselves to be.

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Series: Oxford philosophical concepts
ISBN: 978-0-19-008728-9
ISBN Print: 978-0-19-008726-5 978-0-19-008725-8
Pages: 99 - 117
DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190087265.003.0005
Host publication: The self : a history
Host publication editor: Kitcher, Patricia
Type of Publication: A3 Book chapter
Field of Science: 611 Philosophy
Copyright information: Copyright © Oxford University Press 2021. Reproduced by permission of Oxford University Press.