Self-Consciousness vs Identity

In the development being pursued here, reason, self-consciousness, agency, and responsibility all end up being trans-individual and social things. My emotions are strictly mine, but my thoughts, commitments, and actions and their consequences involve more than just me. At the same time, though, as I put it once before, these things that involve more than just me actually say more about who “I” am than my inner state says about “me”. Who we are as ethical beings involves much more than personal identity and what is strictly ours. (See also Ethos, Hexis; Apperception, Identity; Expansive Agency; The Ambiguity of “Self”; Essentially Self-Conscious?; Ego.)

The Ambiguity of "Self"

To put it mildly, “self” is said in many ways. To begin with, is it used as a noun, as an adjective, or as an adverb? As a noun, it may refer to an empirical “me”. As an adjective, it may name an abstract, pure reflexivity. It may also be used to adverbially describe something that has recursive structure that depends on details. I’ve always thought adverbs were the part of speech closest to reality.

The contrast between “self” in something like Hegelian self-consciousness and the “self” figuring in my recent Ego post could not be more extreme. Hegel’s use is definitely adverbial; as I have said several times, self-consciousness is anything but direct consciousness of a (noun) “self”. It has more to do with ethical awareness of limitations, and awareness of others. (See also Individuation.)

Essentially Self-Conscious?

The idea of an essentially self-conscious entity sounds like an oxymoron. Once we even begin to understand what Hegel meant by self-consciousness — that it is anything but automatic immediate “consciousness” of a “self”, but rather the hard-won awareness of real-world limitations, nuances, complications, and ambiguities — there could hardly be anything more absurd than the idea that an entity could just have such awareness essentially.

Luckily, there is another, completely different interpretation, highlighted by Brandom, that does not involve any super powers. An “essentially self-conscious entity” is actually just an entity whose essence depends on the higher-order shape of her commitments, including whatever awareness of limitations, nuances, and what-not that the entity does or does not have.