What is the nature of the self? At the moment there are three major philosophical definitions of the self that are contesting with one another. The first is the foundation of the Western Liberal Tradition, and that is the conception of the self as an autonomous individual self. This self exists apart from anything and everything else. It is a self-contained unit, like an amoeba, and thus like an amoeba it lives in competition with everything in it surroundings. This competition can be expressed in a variety of ways, from friendly to hostile, but ultimately the autonomous individual is dependent upon him/herself, and thus his/her own needs must come first. This autonomous conception of the self has been posited as being the impetus behind the move from a covenant conception of relationships in the Western world (which dominated through the Medieval period) to a contract conception of relationships (which is now dominant). It has also been accused, by Henry Rosemont Jr. and others, as being the basis for many of the problems in western society, from the breakdown of families to the overreaching of financial enterprises.

The second major conception of the self is the social conception of self. This conception of self has been popularized by one side of the New Confucian school of thought and is behind what is known as Role Ethics. In this conception of the self, there is no individual apart from the roles that individual plays in society. Thus, I am fiancee, teacher, son, brother, friend, etc and apart from these things there is no actual me left that could possibly be recognizable. This conception of the self argues that the self can only exist in the context of community, and thus cooperation rather than competition is the natural model of human interaction. Since we are seen as inherently social beings, and in fact there is no I apart from we, what matters to us is extremely important. Thus, this model of the self tends to emphasize the community over the individual. Just as the autonomous conception of the self is blamed for the problems associated with individualism, selfishness, and with an emphasis on procedural justice that sacrifices all concept of social justice, the social self is blamed from problems such as ignoring basic human rights, emphasizing social justice over procedural justice, and forcing people to sacrifice their own good and happiness for the sake of others.

The third major conception of the self is the analogical self. This conception of the self is at least as old as Thomas Aquinas. In this version the self is an individual, and exists as an individual apart from other individuals, but is not autonomous. Instead of being an autonomous, self-deciding or self-creating individual, the individual is dependent upon a higher divine being for his/her form, function, and basic existence. Thus, there could be me without you, but there could be neither me nor you without God. In this conception of the self the individual is an analogy or image of God or of some piece of God (as an image does not necessarily reflect the whole) and thus is dependent upon him. Like any image it may be more or less complete and accurate, but in its essence (or those characteristics without which it could not exist) it is both dependent upon and derivative of God. This conception of the self has been accused of being determinative, and unnecessarily complex (as it supposes a divine being).

So, here is your challenge for today: which of these three conceptions of the self do you think is most accurate? Or do you have some different conception of the self that you think is more accurate? Remember, write a 1000 word story that presents and defends your position.

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