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The Unity of the Self.

The Unity of the Self. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1991. xii + 424 pp. $35.00--This book consists of eleven essays together with an introduction and preface. The essays are grouped into five parts: "Content," "Qualia," "Identity and Consciousness," "Rationality and Responsibility," and "Moral Theory." Six of the essays have been published previously, all but two of these within the past five years.

The introduction claims that the essays can be viewed as stages in the development of a coherent view of the nature of unity of the self, and in an argument for the importance of such a view for addressing major philosophical issues. The essays do, indeed, cover an impressive range of important topics in philosophy of mind, metaphysics, moral psychology, and ethics; and they do argue effectively for a tighter connection among these issues than is usually recognized. White claims that adequate accounts of self-consciousness, personal identity, and free will must have normative elements, and that adequate accounts of moral responsibility, self-deception, rights, and values must have elements making reference to the metaphysics of the self.

Chapters 1-4 and 6 present a spirited defense of orthodox functionalism against recent critics. White argues that functionalism can provide adequate accounts of intentional content, qualia, and consciousness. The only serious competitor to functionalism, according to White, is the subjective or transcendental dualism suggested by the writings of Nagel. White argues that, ironically, this view cannot give an adequate account of privileged access.

Functionalism alone is not capable of providing an account of self and person; but this is because an adequate account of self and person must make reference to normative and external features. For example, consciousness must be distinguished from self-conciousness. Subsystems of a person may satisfy a functional account of consciousness, but only the entire person is self-conscious. This is because only the entire person has the appropriate patterns of self-concern. In chapter 5 White argues that adequate resolution of the puzzles concerning personal identity requires accepting metapsychological relativism. This view maintains that personal facts supervene in part on facts about the attitudes of others and on conventions of the person's society. The remaining chapters are devoted to developing an account of the internal normative and conative features that play an essential role in accounts of the self and person.

Crucial here is the concept of an Ideal Reflective Equilibrium. Roughly, this is the maximally coherent set of all of a person's non-instrumental desires. Any desires that do not cohere well enough with the other desires are eliminated, any desires that would improve coherence are added, and the weights among desires are adjusted so as to maximize total coherence. Any desires that are in the set have an internal justification in terms of their coherence with other desires in the set. An important subset of these is the set of unconditional desires. These are desires that a person now wants to be satisfied in the future even if the person should no longer have that desire. This set comprises the conative core of the person, and it contains the values with which the person identifies and represents his commitments.

This theoretical apparatus is used to distinguish between responsible parties and compulsives and psychopaths. Roughly, responsible parties are those whose Ideal Reflective Equilibriums contain the resources for their being self-critical with respect to the actions at issue. This is used to explain the phenomenon of self-deception (chap. 7), moral responsibility (chap. 8), and irrational actions (chap. 9). In chapters 10 and 11 the apparatus of Ideal Reflective Equilibrium and conative core is applied to provide criticisms of Rawls's theory of justice and of consequentialist theories of ethics respectively.

Each of White's essays begins by mapping out the position to be developed. Nearly every controversial claim is supported by careful argument, often by several arguments. The accounts developed are bold, and they advance the discussion of the issues. White's arguments and positions deserve attention from all who are interested in these important topics.
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Author:Costa, Michael J.
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 1, 1992
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