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The Tenability of Herman Cohen's Construction of the Self STEVEN S. SCHWARZSCHILD THE PHILOSOPHICAL SEARCH for the self (personal identity, human individuality, per- ~nhood, or whatever else it may be called) has generally been pursued in one of three standard directions: "the self" has either been taken as some kind of somatic term, or as some kind of mental term, or finally as some kind of combination of the previous two: All such enterprises have, however, succeeded inadequately at best; it might even be said that they have failed. All one need do is look at the contemporary philosophical disputes revolving around this question--the mutual refutations and counter-refutations--to draw such a conclusion. 2 Still, the need of a philosophical conception of human selfhood is obviously imperative . It should, therefore, be extremely useful to look at an approach to this problem which differs not merely in one detail or another, but in principle, from the three previously mentioned procedures. Here it is argued that "the self" designates neither a physical nor a mental phenomenon, nor even a psychosomatic one; that all attempts at justifying this notion along such lines are, therefore, foredoomed to failure; and that in fact the self is an idea in the Kantian sense--a concept, a normative or regulative notion. I shall present this argument and critically compare it with other relevant and current views of the matter, chiefly by summarizing three chapters in Hermann Cohen's Ethik des reinen Willens3 that deal directly with the self, together with some correlative texts: z For example, this triple classification coincides essentially with T. Penelhum's use of "memory criterion" and "bodily criterion" and a combination of these two in "Personal Identity," Encyclopaedia o/Philosophy, vol. 6, and that of Charles Landesman in "The New Dualism in the Philosophy of Mind," Review o/Metaphysics, XIX (Dec. 1965), 329-33 I. 2 A. J. Ayer says, talking about Hume (Ayer and R. Winch [eds.], British Empirical Philosophers [London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1952], p. 28): "The idea of self as substance is to be discarded not because it is uncommonly difficult to verify in practice but because it is in principle unverifiable.... Of all the problems of philosophy, this is one of the most difficult. But I think it is soluble, although I do not think that it has yet been solved." Cf. also Dennis Wrong, "Identity: Problem and Catch-words," Dissent, Sept.-Oct. 1968, and the literature there adduced. s Ethik des reinen Willens (Berlin: Cassirer, 1904); subsequent citations to this text in this section are in parentheses. This work is "the second part" of Cohen's "System of Philosophy." The first part is his Logik der reinen Erkenntnis (Berlin: Cassirer, 1902; 2nd ed., 1914). The third is Aesthetik des reinen Ge/uehls (2 vols.; Berlin: Cassirer, 1912). For how his own philosophical construction of the self emerged seamlessly out of his still entirely convincing Kant-exegesis, see particularly "The Reformulation of the Second Edition: The I," Kants Theorie der Er/ahrung (Berlin: Ferdinand Duemmler, 1871), pp. 137-146. This was the fundamental work that put Cohen on the map at the time. On Cohen in general see W. Kinkel, Hermann Cohen: Eine Ein- /uehrung in sein Werk (Stuttgart: Strecker and Schroeder, 1924). For our subject in particular cf. Jacob Gordon, Der Ichbegriff bei Hegel, bei Cohen, und in der Suedwestdeutschen Schule (Berlin : Akademie-Verlag, 1927), and J. Agus, Modern Philosophies o/Judaism (New York: Behr~ man, 1941), esp. pp. 76-82, 96-103, 108-117. [361] 362 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY chapter 4, "The Self-Consciousness of the Pure Will"; chapter 5, "The Law of SelfConsciousness "; and chapter 7, "The Autonomy of Self-Consciousness: (1) SelfLegislation ; (2) Self-Determination; (3) Self-Responsibility; and (4) Self Preservation.TM COHEN Cohen begins by distinguishing, along established Kantian lines, between desire and will (or "pure will"). Desire is caused by and directed toward any empirical object or state of affairs, and such object or state of affairs is, of course, found through cognition (or "thinking"). Thus, for example, when I see an apple and want to eat it, or when I feel hungry and want to sate that...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 361-384
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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