Self-Acquaintance and the Meaning of ‘I’

  • Godfrey Vesey


David Hume begins the section of A Treatise of Human Nature on personal identity with the sentence: ‘There are some philosophers, who imagine we are every moment intimately conscious of what we call our self; that we feel its existence and its continuance in existence; and are certain, beyond the evidence of a demonstration, both of its perfect identity and simplicity’.1 One of the philosophers he may have had in mind is Joseph Butler. In his dissertation, Of Personal Identity, Butler says that ‘by reflecting upon that, which is my self now, and that, which was my self twenty years ago, I discern they are not two, but one and the same self’.2 This presupposes that a person (a) is now conscious of the self he is now; (b) is now conscious of the self he was at some time in the past; and (c) can discern the identity of the self he is now and the self he was at some time in the past. To do the last is presumably, in Hume’s words, to feel his self’s ‘continuance in existence’.


Mental State Human Nature Personal Identity Living Body Perfect Identity 
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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    D. Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature (1739) ed. L. A. Selby-Bigge (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1888) vol. I. ch. iv. sect. 6.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    J. Butler, Of Personal Identity (1736) in J. Butler. The Analogy of Religion (Oxford University Press, 1849) p. 304.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    B. Russell, The Problems of Philosophy (London: William & Norgate, 1912) ch. V.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    J. McT. E. McTaggart, The Nature of Existence (Cambridge University Press, 1927) vol. II, ch. 36.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    J. S. Mill, An Examination of Sir William Hamilton’s Philosophy (London: Longmans, Green & Co, 1865) ch. 12.Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    B. Russell, The Analysis of Mind (London: Allen & Unwin, 1921) ch. 1.Google Scholar
  7. 9.
    E. Mach, Contributions to the Analysis of Sensations (Chicago: Open Court, 1914).Google Scholar
  8. 11.
    P. T. Geach, Mental Acts (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1957) ch. 26.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Godfrey Norman Agmondisham Vesey 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • Godfrey Vesey
    • 1
  1. 1.The Open UniversityUK

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