Introduction: The Problem of Selves and Persons in Psychology
Most of us have a somewhat inconsistent attitude toward our being selves and persons. On the one hand, we frequently act as if there is nothing that is more real or true about our lives than the seemingly obvious fact that we exist as thinking, feeling individuals. Indeed, so powerful does this idea seem that René Descartes (1960) established an entire philosophical tradition based on it. On the other hand, most of us experience at least occasional difficulties in determining exactly who we are, what we want, and what makes for a meaningful life, and not infrequently describe such difficulties as stemming from problems of knowing our true selves or the kind of person we really are. To complicate matters, what we mean by “self” or “person” is not at all straightforward, and most of us would experience considerable difficulty in giving a clear and consistent definition of these terms. Nonetheless, we mostly believe that it is important to understand and feel good about who and what we are as selves and persons as a prerequisite to doing and living well. And, despite difficulties of definition and accessibility to what we might regard as our true selves or the kind of person we are, the possibility that we might not have selves at all or exist as persons would seem more than passing strange to most of us.