Philosophy Paper

Submitted By queenbee2468
Words: 1893
Pages: 8

Daniel C Dennett’s The Origins of Selves In his work, The Origins of Selves, Daniel Dennett endeavors to support his thesis that a self is not one physically detectable source, but a product of the narratives we tell. We have the ability to create our own “selves,” which are represented by our behavior and language.
Dennett uses his own narratives and metaphors to explicate his theory of a “self.” Each individual argument is illustrated in its own section as his thesis is developed and evolved. This reading attempts to modernize the older versions of a “self.” The initial idea of Dennett’s view was sparked during his first trip to London. He walked throughout an underground passage looking for what he believed to be a subway, only to learn that Great Britain has a different definition of “subway” than America does. He embarked on a pursuit for something that would never be found because he was on the wrong path. Dennett compares his experience in London to the search for a self. According to him, you cannot simply define a self by what you understand it to be. You must first look to its origins and proceed from there.
The way Daniel Dennett presents his arguments compliments his message well. His thoughts are strongly based on the claims in which selves are entities that are evolved throughout time and are represented by each individual’s narrative. Each of Dennett’s arguments adds on to each other and evolves into his thesis as the reading goes on. For example, he starts the reading by discussing primitive life and the origins of self. After, he talks about what a developed self looks like and how it can be represented by the stories we tell. At the end, he uses these ideas to go into more depth when he compares it to the President of the United States. Each step of the evolution of his argument consists of stories and metaphors to clarify his points. For example, he tells stories of the different characteristics of ants, lobsters, and spiders. Incorporating these two aspects into his text strengthen his arguments.
Dennett’s first set of premises aims to support his conclusion that selves exist. He uses a quote by the British biologist D’Arcy Thompson that states, “Everything is what it is because it got that way” (255). Dennett claims this quote illustrates the idea that, if selves are anything at all, then they exist. He says that the idea of a self is in existence now, but at one point there were no selves. This is similar to the classification of genders. At one point in time, all of the organisms had neither genders nor sexual reproduction. But, specific conditions caused circumstances to change, and now there are many organisms that have different genders and reproduce sexually. There were a series of processes to get to this point in time, just like there is a series that leads to the development of selves. It seems as though Dennett is using a Cartesian Circle with this argument. He is assuming selves exist when he attempts to prove his conclusion that selves exist. He does mention that his overall paper is an attempt to tell the story of how the self came to exist, but this argument is a bit weak on its own. Yes, it sets the reader up to hear a story how it came to exist, but there are no premises that provide proof of today’s existence of selves.
His next set of premises and conclusion, however, are much stronger than the initial argument. As soon as an organism realizes that it needs to preserve itself, it does not always want to preserve the whole world. With this in mind, it becomes selfish. The idea of becoming selfish is a big step in the evolution of the “self” theory because it constructs the sense of “me against the world” (256). In this case, the organism establishes that there is a difference between it and everything in the external world. Biologists witness this when they examine antibodies. The antibodies of our internal systems must be able to distinguish one’s