Title

The Self from Homer to Charlemagne

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date

2010

Department

Classical Studies

Language

English

Publication Title

A Cultural History of the Human Body in Antiquity

Abstract

With his tongue only half in his cheek, the philosopher Galen Strawson begins a recent essay by remarking that "human life is founded on three fundamental (and connected) illusions: the illusion of romantic love, the illusion of free will, and the illusion of the self." With the establishment of Western democratic and capitalist society and its attendant prioritization of the individual person, the idea of the self has been a lively topic for scholars, philosophers, and intellectuals. The last 50 years have been marked by a multidisciplinary discussion focused on the nature and history of the self, a nontechnical term that can stand for the uniqueness of an individual, a psychological or psychophysical structure, or that which constitutes the essence of a human being. Putting aside the difficult problem of whether the self exists, it is not controversial to assume that a sense of self exists in human beings. The articulation of a sense of self that a culture puts forth is the basis by which it sets norms and established ideals for how its members live as individuals and as a community. From Greco-Roman antiquity to the early medieval world, the various intellectual manifestations of a sense of self are grounded on norm that promote human flourishing.

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