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The Self and Social Relations

Whittingham, Matthew (2014) The Self and Social Relations. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent,.

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The central subject of this thesis is the nature of the self. I argue against an atomistic conception which takes the human self to exist self-sufficiently and prior to social relations, and in favour of a holistic conception which takes the self to be constitutively dependent on social relations. I defend this view against criticisms that a holistic account undermines the need for what I call 'critical distance' between subjects and their communities. This involves answering the charges that such constitutive dependence: 1) removes the possibility for individuals to determine themselves freely apart from the communities in which they engage; and 2) deprives us of an external standard with which to engage critically with those constitutive communities. I argue that the above criticisms are encouraged by reliance on a certain epistemological picture. This picture involves a foundationalist construal of knowledge that ultimately depends on a notion of an immediately given epistemic content that can serve to give us an absolute conception of an objective reality with which we can do away with partial or relative conceptions of ourselves and the world we inhabit. It is this that leads the critic to demand a standard external to communities, which in turn encourages a notion of the self and freedom that can ultimately be grounded apart from the "distortions" of social practice. I directly attack the notion of an immediately given epistemic content through a series of transcendental arguments, showing that the condition of possibility for our forming any conception of ourselves or the world is participation in social forms of life. I further argue that properly human identities are essentially shaped by the self-conceptions these forms of life make available to us. Since freedom can no longer depend on radical detachment, I offer a new account of freedom as a social achievement, based on a notion of rational progress which allows us to develop ourselves and our social world critically, drawing only on those standards available within our practices. With the notion of an immediately given epistemic content undermined, I have shown not only that freedom and rational progress are consistent with a holistic account, but that in fact they depend on such a holistic account.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Sayers, Sean
Uncontrolled keywords: Self Identity atomism holism social practice epistemology anti-foundationalism foundationalism given immediacy freedom self-knowledge Wittgenstein Hegel Charles Taylor
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
Divisions: Faculties > Humanities > School of European Culture and Languages
Faculties > Humanities > School of European Culture and Languages > Philosophy
Depositing User: Users 1 not found.
Date Deposited: 27 Feb 2015 12:12 UTC
Last Modified: 29 May 2019 14:17 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
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