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Title of Paper : What is the ‘Self’?

This essay will analyze the ideas presented in Franz Kafkas “Metamorphosis”, Rene Descartes
“Meditations”, Aldous Huxleys “Brave New World”, and B.F.Skinners “Science and Human Behavior”,
applying each to the understanding of the self, and the theory of determinism as related to the self.
In order to analyze theories concerning the self, we must first look at what constitutes the self, and how it is
defined.  There are several views on what characterizes the self, one stating that it is the act of thinking
which most logically determines the self, while another claims that it is the summation of all the things that
one does during his entire life that constitutes the notion of the self.
Descartes believed that the act of thinking proved his own existence, and that if he ceased to think, he
would then cease to exist.  I understand this argument in that to be able to show that one exists, one must
merely think it to be so.  Arguing to the contrary leads back to the original statement:  If we say that the act
of thinking does not show that we exist, then we must show how we can not exist while at the same time
we are thinking.  This does not follow as a reasonable argument because in order to think, there must be a
thing that is doing the thinking.  That thing which thinks is us, which brings the argument back to the
initial statement.
Another theory as to what characterizes the self touches on the idea that the summation of all the things that
a person does during his entire life is what determines the characteristics of the self.  This is the argument
that appeals more to my ideas on what the self is, but I also believe that a persons physical body also plays
a large part in determining the attributes of the self.  Kafka believes that ones physical makeup does not
play a part in what the self is, only the actions of the person.  I think that a persons physicality largely
influences both the actions as well as the ideas of that person.  For example, if I was a heavy-set man, I am
sure that I would have a completely different outlook on life than I have right now.  I would probably view
physical activity as a task better left to young kids, rather than the source of excitement and tension-reliever
as I now see it.  The physical attributes of a person partly determine how others react to that person, which!
in turn plays a large role in how he acts around others.  This leads to the next step, to examine the self and
find out if it is deterministic.
Let us begin with the hypothesis that the self does not actually have any free choice, and everything that
occurs can be explained by the laws of science.  Theoretically, if a person could gather every single piece
of information about another – everything that has affected him in the slightest possible way since his birth,
including all of the neurological processes occurring inside of him – that persons actions could be
predicted for anytime in his future.  This theory concerning the self is known as determinism, which in its
basic form states that every action a person takes in life has already been slated to happen.  This has created
many problems with those opposed to the theory, who argue that if our lives are already laid out for us,
then how could we say that we are free to choose what to do in life?  Determinists believe that we cannot
truly say that we are free.  I agree with the determinists, with the additional argument that it is wholly
impossible to know eve!
ry single factor affecting a person up until, and including any given time.  “It does not follow that human
behavior is free, but only that it may be beyond the range of a predictive or controlling science.” (Skinner
249)  Skinner is arguing that even though he believes that the self is deterministic, he cannot show that this
is true because of the limitations of our scientific knowledge.  There are so many variables to account for in
this prediction that it is not even comprehensible to be able compile all of them at once, much less analyze
them in a sufficient enough manner as to be able to predict human behavior.
Determinism has consequences that many people cannot handle and cannot accept.  These consequences
deal with responsibility, and those against determinism argue that people cannot be held responsible for
their actions if their actions are determined.  In this case, criminals could not be punished, because it is not
their fault for what they did. Many people cannot deal with the idea that they are not free, that everything
they do is definitely going to happen. What many do not realize is that since it is virtually impossible to
gather all the information necessary to predict ones future, then in practical terms, one is free to choose.
An interesting point of view is presented in Aldous Huxleys Brave New World concerning the idea that
peoples destinies are not predetermined, but society gives ideas to the people at such an early age that
these ideas are second nature to them.  The destiny of every person is determined by the more powerful
members of the society when they are very young.  When a child is created (all babies are created in test
tubes in this age), the leaders of the community force the child into a specific lifestyle by teaching it to fear
certain things like books, which would allow them to digress from their particular rank in society.  When
the child grows up, he will feel as if he is free to do what he wants, such as choosing not to read books, but
he will not have any idea that the reason  why he does not like to read is because his society has trained him
to be so.
How do we know that this is not the case for us in the present day?  In some ways, I believe this is the case,
in that television and media impresses many things upon us without us being consciously aware of the fact.
Sometimes it is more subtle, leading us to believe that tall, thin women are the epitome of beauty, which we
take as our own ideas.  When we think about this, we know that it is something that has been impressed
upon us by the media, because it is such a widespread opinion in our society, but elsewhere in the world,
the views are very different.  Other times, the media is not as subtle, as in the case of advertisements.  By
repeating the same messages over and over again, some people are convinced that they must buy that
certain product, even though they might not have a need for it.
According to Kafka and Descartes, there are several viewpoints on what characterizes the self.  My belief
does not completely coincide with either of them, but matches more closely to Kafkas interpretation of the
self being a summation of a persons actions in life.  Determinism seems to be the most logical explanation
for the nature of the self, and although proponents of free will present some good arguments, the
determinists win my vote.

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