The “Troublesome Problem” of the Self and the Modular Theory of the Self

Social Sciences in China (Chinese Edition)

No.10, 2020


The “Troublesome Problem” of the Self and the Modular Theory of the Self



Gao Xinmin


The international academic community’s debate on the self and the non-self, and in particular, the discussion arising out of the theory of the fragmented self, not only puts the classic question of the existence of the self under the spotlight, but also raises further troublesome questions, such as how can it be possible to produce a self with inter-temporal identity out of a material body not possessing identity. If we want to make a thorough and effective study of these problems, we must start from the sense of self rather than presuppositions about the self. In exploring the ontology and identity of the self, the metaphysical problems must be solved first. The concept of identity is normative; it can refer to specific identity including difference, discontinuity and variability. Based on this, one can reasonably argue that the self has a continuous life identity. What ‘self’ seeks to express is a special mode of being that goes beyond existing ontology and has a unique position in the deep psychological structure of human beings. This can be called a ‘minimum’ reality. This mode is interdependent with yet distinguished from the psychological and physical modes; it can be regarded as a special module with a central and dominant position among one’s large number of modules. Since it cannot be attributed to either the mind or the body, we should examine the relationships among the three as well as their relationship with human beings when reconstructing an overall conceptual schema of human beings.