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Moral Psychology and Human AgencyPhilosophical Essays on the Science of Ethics$
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Justin D'Arms and Daniel Jacobson

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780198717812

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: December 2014

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198717812.001.0001

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The Episodic Sense of Self

The Episodic Sense of Self

Chapter:
(p.137) 7 The Episodic Sense of Self
Source:
Moral Psychology and Human Agency
Author(s):

Shaun Nichols

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198717812.003.0007

When social psychologists talk about the concept of self, they generally mean a collection of psychological traits. Philosophers have been interested in another conception of self, one that is not defined in terms of psychological traits at all. Some philosophers draw on this thin conception of self to support the view that the self is the soul (Reid, Butler); others suggest that this thin conception of the self is at the basis of an illusion of personal identity (Kant). Although this thin conception of self seems implicated in some of the deepest issues in the philosophy of agency, it has been almost entirely ignored in contemporary cognitive science. This chapter argues that ordinary people exploit both the psychologist’s trait conception and a very thin conception of self. The thin conception of self is delivered by episodic memory. Even after dramatic trait changes, episodically recollecting a past experience still issues a sense of identity with the past person. In addition, episodic recollection of misdeeds can trigger the feeling of guilt even after massive trait changes. While this might be irrational in some sense, it is also, the chapter argues, functionally beneficial.

Keywords:   guilt, memory, moral emotions, personal identity, self

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