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The Paideia Archive: Twentieth World Congress of Philosophy

Volume 15, 1998

Persons and Personal Identity

Simon Glynn
Pages 13-19

Identity, Perception, Action and Choice in Contemporary and Traditional “No-Self” Theories

The ego is traditionally held to be synonymous with individual identity and autonomy, while the mind is widely held to be a necessary basis of cognition and volition, with responsibility following accordingly. However Buddhist epistemology, existential phenomenology and poststructuralism all hold the notion of an independent, subsisting, self-identical subject to be an illusion. This not only raises problems for our understanding of cognition (if the self is an illusion, then who does the perceiving and who is deluded) and volition (who initiates acts), as well as for the notion of responsibility (in the absence of an independently subsisting subject there appears to be no autonomous agent). For Buddhism, no-self theory raises serious problems for the doctrine of reincarnation (in the absence of a self, who is responsible for failing to overcome desires and attachments; furthermore, who gets reincarnated?). Arguing for such "no-self" theories, the paper attempts to demonstrate how such difficulties can nevertheless be resolved.

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