If you’ve read any of Thomas Nagel’s work, then you’re probably familiar with his favorite problem: the problem we face as human beings of reconciling an agent-centered, subjective “view from here” with a centerless and objective “view from nowhere”. This latter perspective, a sort of “God’s eye view”, is possible by virtue of our human capacity to detach ourselves from the peculiar coloring of our own point of view. The clash of these two perspectives is manifest in the areas of ethics, metaphysics, epistemology and the philosophy of death. Nagel gives it a thorough treatment in connection with each of these areas in his well-known book The View From Nowhere. But I want to focus very briefly on the appearance of this problem in connection with the philosophy of self identity.
Only from a detached point of view can we support the theory that bodily continuity, or sameness of the physical body from one moment to the next, is the right condition for ascribing selfhood to that body. And the same holds for theories of psychological continuity; it is from this same centerless perspective that we can observe behavioral and functional manifestations of beliefs, desires, memories, etc and are thus able to regard them as belonging to an ostensibly self-same individual. But psychological and physical continuity, while both may serve as conditions for the ascription of selfhood from a third-person or a centerless perspective, could never either of them figure in an explanation of the sense of self as experienced in the first-person, the view from here. For this a criterion for belongingness to a self and for a self seems needed, and without one, a satisfying answer to one who doubts one’s own existence seems impossible.
I suspect that there are more than a few interesting responses to this problem, and that at least one can be found in Wittgenstein. But because of my still impoverished understanding of his later work, I’m at a loss to find it.
Someone please help lead me out of this fly bottle…