Joshua Knobe wonders at our personal mythologies of the true self. His work experimental philosophy shows that very often our judgment of the “true self” in another person is whatever version of that person best aligns with our own values. Philosophers and the laity alike have trouble with identifying real core desires:
If we look to the philosophical tradition, we find a relatively straightforward answer to this question. This answer, endorsed by numerous different philosophers in different ways, says that what is most distinctive and essential to a human being is the capacity for rational reflection. A person might find herself having various urges, whims or fleeting emotions, but these are not who she most fundamentally is. If you want to know who she truly is, you would have to look to the moments when she stops to reflect and think about her deepest values. Take the person fighting an addiction to heroin. She might have a continual craving for another fix, but if she just gives in to this craving, it would be absurd to say that she is thereby “being true to herself” or “expressing the person she really is.” On the contrary, she is betraying herself and giving up what she values most. This sort of approach gives us a straightforward answer in a case like [anti-gay Christian activist and homosexual] Mark Pierpont’s. It says that his sexual desires are not the real him. If he loses control and gives in to these desires, he will be betraying his true self.
But when I mention this view to people outside the world of philosophy, they often seem stunned that anyone could ever believe it. They are immediately drawn to the very opposite view. The true self, they suggest, lies precisely in our suppressed urges and unacknowledged emotions, while our ability to reflect is just a hindrance that gets in the way of this true self’s expression. To find a moment when a person’s true self comes out, they think, one needs to look at the times when people are so drunk or overcome by passion that they are unable to suppress what is deep within them. This view, too, yields a straightforward verdict in a case like Pierpont’s. It says that his sexual desires are what is most fundamental to him, and to the extent that he is restraining them, he is not revealing the person he really is.
Butler and Haraway don’t even bat an electronic eyelash at the problem.
Bioethics is controversial.
No one endorses the ideas or concepts explored here, not even me.
You will develop a strong opinion about something you find here. I want to hear it. Philosophy is a conversation.
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