The Self, Its Substance, and Its Structure: A Selective History

  • Majid Davoody BeniEmail author
Part of the New Directions in Philosophy and Cognitive Science book series (NDPCS)


This chapter outlines some important stages in the history of the evolution of the philosophical conception of the self. It overviews the philosophical theories of Aristotle, Descartes, Hume, and Kant about notions of the mind, perception, cognition, and the self. In this chapter, I also introduce some important ideas of the book, for example, substantivalism about the self and structuralism. I show that the theories of Aristotle and Descartes line up with substantivalism, whereas views of Hume and Kant border on what is called a structural realist theory of the self in this book. The chapter also alludes to some scientific breakthroughs in psychology in the two last centuries and argues that the development of cognitive sciences occasions a break from the orthodox substantivalism about the self. I suggest that to give structure to the confusing pluralism that is caused by the divergence from substantivalism in scientific psychology, we may advocate a form of structural realism.


Aristotle Descartes Hume Kant Substance Structure Form Self Mind Person 


  1. Aristotle. (1963). Aristotle: Categories and De Interpretatione. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Aristotle. (2016). De Anima (C. J. Shields, Trans. & Ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Bechtel, W., Abrahamsen, A., & Graham, G. (1998). The Life of Cognitive Science. In W. Bechtel & G. Graham (Eds.), A Companion to Cognitive Science (pp. 1–104). Cornwall: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Scholar
  4. Bechtel, W., Abrahamsen, A., & Graham, G. (2001). Cognitive Science: History. In International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences. Scholar
  5. Beni, M. D. (2018). The Reward of Unification: A Realist Reading of the Predictive Processing Theory. New Ideas in Psychology, 48, 21–26. Scholar
  6. Beni, M. D. (2019). Cognitive Structural Realism: A Radical Solution to the Problem of Scientific Representation. Cham: Springer Nature.Google Scholar
  7. Brett, N. (1990). Hume’s Causal Account of the Self. Man and Nature, 9, 23. Scholar
  8. Bruner, J. S. (1956). A Study of Thinking. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  9. Descartes, R. (2008a). A Discourse on the Method of Correctly Conducting One’s Reason and Seeking Truth in the Sciences (I. Maclean, Ed.). Oxford University Press. Retrieved from
  10. Descartes, R. (2008b). Meditations on First Philosophy: With Selections from the Objections and Replies (M. Moriarty, Ed.). Oxford University Press. Retrieved from
  11. Di Paolo, E. A. (2014). The Worldly Constituents of Perceptual Presence. Frontiers in Psychology, 5(450).
  12. Fisher, S. (2005). Pierre Gassendi’s Philosophy and Science. Brill. Scholar
  13. Friston, K. J. (2010). The Free-Energy Principle: A Unified Brain Theory? Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 11(2), 127–138. Scholar
  14. Graham, D. W. (2010). The Texts of Early Greek Philosophy: The Complete Fragments and Selected Testimonies of the Major Presocratics. Retrieved from
  15. Hebb, D. O. (1949). The Organization of Behavior: A Neuropsychological Theory. New York: John Wiley and Sons. Retrieved from
  16. Helmholtz, H. (1962). Helmholtz’s Treatise on Physiological Optics. New York: Dover Publications. Retrieved from
  17. Hume, D. (2000). A Treatise of Human Nature (D. F. Norton & M. J. Norton, Eds.). Oxford University Press. Retrieved from
  18. James, W. (1890). The Principles of Psychology. New York: Holt. Retrieved from
  19. Kant, I. (1998). Critique of Pure Reason (P. Guyer & A. W. Wood, Eds.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  20. Kantor, J. R. (1968). Behaviorism in the History of Psychology. The Psychological Record, 18(2), 151–166. Scholar
  21. McCulloch, W. S., & Pitts, W. (1943). A Logical Calculus of the Ideas Immanent in Nervous Activity. The Bulletin of Mathematical Biophysics, 5(4), 115–133. Scholar
  22. Melnick, A. (2010). Kant’s Theory of the Self. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  23. Miller, G. A. (1956). The Magical Number Seven Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information. Psychological Review, 63(2), 81–97. Retrieved from Scholar
  24. Miller, G. A. (2003). The Cognitive Revolution: A Historical Perspective. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 7(3), 141–144. Retrieved from Scholar
  25. Oppenheim, P., & Putnam, H. (1958). Unity of Science as a Working Hypothesis. In H. Feigl, M. Scriven, & G. Maxwell (Eds.), Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science (Vol. II, pp. 3–36). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  26. Pezzulo, G., Barsalou, L. W., Cangelosi, A., Fischer, M. H., McRae, K., & Spivey, M. J. (2011). The Mechanics of Embodiment: A Dialog on Embodiment and Computational Modeling. Frontiers in Psychology, 2(5).
  27. Piccinini, G. (2007). Computing Mechanisms∗. Philosophy of Science, 74(4), 501–526. Scholar
  28. Piccinini, G. (2015). Physical Computation: A Mechanistic Account. Oxford University Press.
  29. Piccinini, G., & Scarantino, A. (2011). Information Processing, Computation, and Cognition. Journal of Biological Physics, 37(1), 1–38. Scholar
  30. Polansky, R. M. (2010). Aristotle’s De Anima: A Critical Commentary. Cambridge University Press. Retrieved from
  31. Ramstead, M. J. D., Badcock, P. B., & Friston, K. J. (2017). Answering Schrödinger’s Question: A Free-Energy Formulation. Physics of Life Reviews. Scholar
  32. Rumelhart, D. E., & McClelland, J. L. (1986). Parallel Distributed Processing: Explorations in the Microstructure of Cognition. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  33. Shapiro, L. (2012). Cartesian Selves. In K. Detlefsen (Ed.), Descartes’ Meditations (pp. 226–242). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Scholar
  34. Skinner, B. F. (1953). Science and Human Behavior. New York: Macmillan. Retrieved from
  35. Strawson, P. F. (1959). Individuals: An Essay in Descriptive Metaphysics. London: Methuen.Google Scholar
  36. Turing, A. (1936). On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungs problem. Proceedings of the London Mathematical Society, 42(3), 230–265.Google Scholar
  37. Turing, A. (1950). Computing Machinery and Intelligence. Mind, 59(236), 433–460. Scholar
  38. Varela, F. J., Thompson, E., & Rosch, E. (1991). The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Watson, J. B. (1997). Behaviorism. Routledge. Retrieved from
  40. Williams, B. (1978). Descartes: The Project of Pure Enquiry. Routledge. Retrieved from
  41. Wundt, W. (1980). Outlines of Psychology (pp. 179–195). Boston: Springer. Scholar
  42. Zoeller, G. (1993). Review Essay: Main Developments in Recent Scholarship on the Critique of Pure Reason. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 53(2), 445. Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of History, Philosophy, and Religious StudiesNazarbayev UniversityNur-Sultan cityKazakhstan
  2. 2.The Amirkabir University of TechnologyTehranIran

Personalised recommendations