Friday, February 8, 2013

Self Discovery and Transformation

Somewhat inspired by this article on the self in self-help, I'm crafting a freshman seminar tentatively entitled
"Self: Discovery and Transformation." I want to include philosophical, literary, and some "pop" readings.  I'm thinking I'll structure it around: discovery of the self, the self in action, the embedded self, and transforming the self. I have a list of readings that is way too long as it is:

·        St. Augustine, Confessions
·        Descartes, Rene, Selections from the Meditations
·        Hume, David, Selections from An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding
·        Perry,   A Dialogue On Personal Identity And Immortality
·        Frankfurt, Harry, “Freedom of the Will and the Concept of  a Person”
·        Velleman, David, “So It Goes”
·        Taylor, Charles, “Responsibility for Self”
·        DuBois, W.E., Selections from The Souls of Black Folk
·        Malcolm X, The Autobiography of Malcolm X
·        Beauvoir, Simone, Selections from The Second Sex
·        Walpola, Rahula, Selections from What the Buddha Taught
·        Dennett, Daniel “Self as the Narrative Center of Gravity
·        Nietzsche, Selections
·        Nehamas, Selections from Nietzsche: Life as Literature
·        Sartre, Jean-Paul, Nausea
·        Gilbert, Margaret, Eat Pray Love

I would appreciate any other additions/suggestions/thoughts about this reading list. It should be accessible to first semester first-year college students and the class is linked to a composition section, so the focus will be on college writing. 


  1. J. Velleman builds off of Dennett's fictionalism in a neat way. See "The Self as Narrator" in Self to Self: Selected Essays.

    Well, actually, the whole of Self to Self is pretty neat.

  2. I'm using an article in a class I'm teaching on good and evil, dealing with the transformation of the self. I think it might fit well with what you are doing, as it is accessible and I think offers a lot for discussion:

    James Gould, "Becoming Good: The role of spiritual practice," Philosophical Practice 1 (2005): 135-147.

  3. Sections from Plato's Republic seem to be well received by first years.

    From a more 'pop' perspective, I'd go with a movie like Fight Club. If film wasn't an option, perhaps Conrad's Heart of Darkness.

  4. I see a variety of selections here from various cultures, can I suggest the Tao Te Ching.

  5. Maybe Marya Schechtman's "The Constitution of Selves", the 2nd part of it on her narrative self-constitution view. Not totally easy, but pretty clear and inspiring.

  6. Rorty's book on Irony, especially his bit on overcoming the anxiety of influence and the sublimation of blind-impresses.

  7. Charles Guignon's little book "On Being Authentic" (Routledge) may contain some useful stuff. I used to use it in a course called 'Search for Authenticity' (now defunct). Probably useful mostly as optional background reading. But as I recall he makes some interesting connections between philosophical and psychological traditions and current 'pop' self-help themes as well.

    1. Guignon's book is superb as an analysis of the concept of authenticity, but I'm trying to recall what use it is as a guide for self-improvement..

  8. Recommend- Galen Strawson's essay, which I'm sure will fascinate,
    "Against Narrativity" and his chat with "Philosophy Bites" podcast
    (got me thinkin' about "the self" and all this narrative business)

  9. I think John Stuart Mill's Autobiography would probably be one of the best texts you could use in a course like this.

  10. You mention you might use literature: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen shows how individuals can discover their own faults, learn and change.


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