9. Thin, Thinner, Thinnest: Defining the Minimal Self
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9  Thin, Thinner, Thinnest: Defining the Minimal Self My initial work on the relationship between experience, self, and self-consciousness dates back to the late nineties (Zahavi 1999, 2000a), where I started defending the view that all three notions are interconnected and that a theory of consciousness that wishes to take the subjective dimension of our experiential life seriously also needs to operate with a minimal notion of self. Further elaboration of this early work led to the book Subjectivity and Selfhood (2005). During the decade that followed, I continued to refine the position and also started to respond to various criticisms that the view encountered (Zahavi 2007, 2009, 2011a, 2011b, 2012), eventually bringing these different efforts together in the book Self and Other, which was published in 2014. The criticisms and suggested revisions offered by Matthew Ratcliffe as well as Anna Ciaunica and Aikaterini Fotopoulou in their contributions to the present volume can to some extent be seen as representing a new phase in the discussion, not only because they engage with the recent arguments of Self and Other, but also because their criticism differs from the criticism offered in the past by, for instance, advocates of a no-self view, narrativists, or phenomenal externalists. Rather than denying the existence of the minimal self, their concern is with its proper characterization and interpersonal constitution . I appreciate their revisionary ideas, and I am grateful to the editors for having urged me to offer a response, thereby giving me the opportunity to clarify a few aspects of my own view. 1  Ratcliffe In his chapter “Selfhood, Schizophrenia, and the Interpersonal Regulation of Experience,” Ratcliffe does not set out to deny or dismiss the existence of the “minimal self,” nor does he want to denigrate its significance. In fact, he readily agrees that the minimal self is integral to experience and inextricable from the very structure of experience, and that it is more fundamental than richer conceptions of self, including narrative accounts. No, his main aim, as stated in his introduction, is to argue that the minimal self has “to be reconceptualized in interpersonal terms,” and that the “most basic sense of self is … developmentally dependent Dan Zahavi 194 D. Zahavi on … other people,” for which reason the minimal self cannot really be distinguished from the interpersonal self.1 What is Ratcliffe’s central argument? He asks whether minimal selfhood involves a sense of being the locus of a specific type of experience, or whether an awareness of simply being the locus of some (unspecified) experience might suffice, and he defends the former option. In his view, one has to be prereflectively aware of experiencing x in a certain specific way, say, perceptually or imaginatively or in recollection, and so on, to qualify as a minimal self. Why is that? As Ratcliffe argues, without a proper demarcation between perceiving and remembering or perceiving and imagining, our sense of our own temporal and spatial location would break down. But without a sense of one’s spatiotemporal location, it is not obvious that one could continue to experience oneself as a singular, coherent locus of experience. The final move in the argument is then to insist that the ability to make the required discriminations is interpersonally constituted. That is, “the sense of being in one kind of intentional state rather than another depends on a certain way of experiencing and relating to others, both developmentally and constitutively” (sec. 1). Ratcliffe is certainly right when he claims that “interpersonal processes can enrich, diminish , or transform the nature of what one perceives, remembers, or imagines” (sec. 2). I also think it is correct that a fuller appreciation of the distinction between different intentional acts has ramifications for our self-understanding, and that this appreciation is facilitated (and perhaps even enabled) by interpersonal interaction. Perhaps he is even right—though I am somewhat less persuaded by this—that “modalities of intentionality depend on certain kinds of interpersonal relation for their development and sustenance” (sec. 5). However, I would insist that all of this is irrelevant to the matter at hand. A crucial element in my defense of minimal selfhood has been reflections on the first-personal character of phenomenal consciousness. Roughly speaking, the idea is that subjectivity is a built-in feature of experiential life. Experiential episodes are neither unconscious nor anonymous; rather, they necessarily come with first-personal givenness or perspectival ownership. The what-it-is-likeness of experience is essentially a what-it-is-likefor...


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