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Amy Barnes – The Multiple Exemplar

McGill Philosophy Workshop

Amy Barnes

The Multiple Exemplar

Monday, March 29, at 3pm in Leacock 927.

I will introduce this workshop by describing several psychiatric and anthropological examples of contractions of the boundaries of the self, specifically selecting instances that have been described as “doubling,” “splitting,” or “multiplication” of the person.  Contra Hacking (1994), who is skeptical of such projects, I take it that these cases represent kinds of experience that, correctly understood, ought to participate in shaping our understanding of what it means to be “a self." However, the problem of how to “correctly understand” each of these cases is, indeed, extremely difficult to resolve.   Perhaps, as some have suggested (see Lifton’s Nazi Doctors), multiplicity is ubiquitous:  perhaps it is a capacity of all selves, or even a “counternorm” that coexists with, or rivals, the current Western psychiatric norm of the “integrated self.”   Or, conversely, perhaps we should we treat instances of division or multiplicity as exceptions to genuine “self-experience”:  perhaps these cases are ‘useful’ primarily because they can reveal – by what they are not – the true status of what it means to be a (singular, integrated) ‘self.’

I will argue that taking “multiplicity” either straightforwardly as an “example of” or as a pathological “exception to” genuine self-experience will, in either case, tend to promote a too-hasty identification of the boundaries of the self with the stasis and cohesiveness of personality and narrative memory.  Gesturing toward a solution, I will suggest how the kinds of “egos” delimited by Husserl in Ideas II may help us to show the distinctions and interrelations between these phenomena of self-experience in a way that resists this kind of reductionist problem and enables an expansive engagement with "non-unified" selves.  However, note that this will truly be a “workshop”:  I will, primarily, be telling stories, making conjectures, and soliciting input in my attempt to wrestle with the issues to be presented here rather than coming to any kind of resolution.

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