Re: [xmca] ego, self, etc.

From: Andy Blunden <ablunden who-is-at>
Date: Mon Jan 28 2008 - 22:30:05 PST

Isn't this a huge and indescribably muddy territory, Steve? It would be
interesting to hear the range of views we have on xmca about the usage of
these terms. Can I just give you a one-liner on each perhaps and let's see
where it goes:

"SUBJECT" as you mention I have tracked in but the most common
relevant usage today is that dating from Kant, in which the subject is
"nothing real", but that which is the subject of all the predicates
attributable to a person; it is both that which knows and that which wills
- being a nothing it is not possible to differentiate between the two I
think. Hegel rejected this idea of the subject as a "nothing" behind
cultural-historical determination (though he also occasionally uses it just
to confuse things) and his notion is the origin of the idea of "collective
subject" when one talks of parties and classes as agents, but I will not
try to go into it here. Hegel's subject is a kind of "node" in social
consciousness, cutting completely across the idea of society as a sum of

"EGO" I believe is the Latin word for "I" and in German philosophy, e.g.,
Fichte, the word was "Ich" but translated into English using the Latin word
instead to make it sound better, I suppose. For Fichte and Hegel the Ego
was "pure activity." The Young Hegelians developed the idea of the Ego as
SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS a lot and I think it became associated with extreme
libertarianism. Freud then so far as I know gave it the most dominant
contemporary meaning as a certain neurological formation which is
understood within psychoanalysis:- EGO, ID and SUPER-EGO.

"SELF" is surely the most neutral and vague of all these words as it can be
applied to any process. Since it always plays the role of an OBJECT in a
construction in which the Subject or Ego acts, it can be likened to Mead's
ME, in his construction of the SELF as I/ME?

"IDENTITY" seems to have two shades of meaning and is highly contested. For
postmodern theorists, deconstructionists and so on, I think "Identity" is
like an Althusserian subject position, it is something imposed upon an
actor from outside (a slot into which you are inserted), by "society" or
the action of the structure, and in general these people understand it in
terms of binary, abstract categories: woman, gay, working class, etc., etc.
On the other hand, even this interpretation does not seem to me to close
off the idea that an identity or "subject position" is voluntarily adopted
by an actor, even if only under determinate social conditions. The other
shade of meaning is what people sometimes call identity as a "verb",
especially that process whereby a self-consciousness identifies itself as
an actor continuously throughout a lifetime as "the same" actor. This same
idea applies well to "extended" concepts of Mind as well, e.g., the idea of
the nation (or state, or class) as being an actor in history over an
extended period of time, and an individual "identifying" herself with that
extended Identity.

"PSYCHE" I have tried to retain as a word for "CONSCIOUSNESS" limited to
the INDIVIDUAL moment of consciousness. Like Kant's SUBJECT, the Psyche is
not anything real, it is just a concept in its individuality. One could say
it is a "STATE OF MIND" if it were conceivable to talk of the "MIND" as
something which has a certain "state" or even had "contents" as in the
ideas which are in our mind, or psyche. (I would not accept any of these
approaches as scientific or consistent.) Nevertheless, "EXTENDED MIND"
notwithstanding it is inescapable that there is something individual and
private about consciousness, and that I call PSYCHE. It is not a "brain
state" though, do not misunderstand me.

As to "SOUL", while it is quite possible to use the word in a poetic way,
to me "Soul" connotes something separable from the body, but of course many
have used the concept in a non-religious way. For Hegel, "soul" meant the
feeling self, "awareness" what a human beings has before or underneath any
conception or communicative relation. There is also "SPIRIT", which I
insist on continuing to use, as in Zeitgeist (Spirit of the Times) or
"Spiritual" meaning needs over and above material needs.

I use "COGITO" to designate a knowing consciousness, the implied subject in
"I know" as an aspect of Mind which is not necessarily human, but is
essential to humanness - the "subject" of Kant's epistemology, suitably
extended for Hegel and Marx.

There is likewise "AGENT" which for Althusser is a mere carrier of
something, as in "The mosquito is the agent for the spread of malaria" but
I take it to be in the sense of moral responsibility for an action, as when
one signs a form on behalf of an invalid as their "agent", acting on their
behalf. Acting of a natural process has to be distinguished from action by
a subject who has moral responsibility. So "the market" is a process
without a subject and cannot bear moral responsibility, but one could argue
that capital always has a personification and therefore the capitalist
class bears moral responsibility, insofar as there is a corporate
consciousness acting for it.

Marx uses the term "PERSONAGE" in "The 18th Brumaire" to indicate the
players on the stage of history.

What do other people think are the key concepts here?


At 12:36 AM 29/01/2008 -0500, you wrote:
>Andy, (and anyone else interested) if I may take advantage of the
>momentary lull in xmca messages (or is my email malfunctioning?) ...
>and see if you would be willing to weigh in with some more of your
>interesting perspectives on human subjectivity. You have studied the
>colorful history of the term "subject" - I looked at an article you
>wrote on this that you had mentioned a while back. Lots to learn
>there (perhaps you could summarize that study?). I am particularly
>interested in your thoughts on some of the other words often used to
>refer to individual selfhood and significant aspects thereof. I am
>thinking in particular about the words "ego" and "self." You have
>adopted the term "identity," a term I would also like to understand
>better. Other terms also might be worthwhile taking a look at, such
>as "psyche" and "soul." And of course, there are other such words and
>terms - not to mention, of course, the many variations of these
>concepts in other languages. From the Hegelian-Marxian-CHAT
>perspective that you are developing, perhaps using the tripartite
>criteria you introduced in your paper, how might these words and their
>evolving meanings be better understood?
>- Steve
>xmca mailing list

  Andy Blunden : tel (H) +61 3 9380 9435,
mobile 0409 358 651

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Received on Mon Jan 28 22:31 PST 2008

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