Who Am “I”?
explore definitions of the concept of “self” (sometimes called “identity,” informally called “me” or “I” as pronouns). Your goal is to explore, articulate, explain,
and argue for your own definition of that term. You want to define this word for yourself in a way that seems reasonable and critical and to explain and defend that
definition thoughtfully and persuasively to someone who, like Socrates, may intelligently disagree with you.
The structure of your essay will be fluid and flexible, meaning that rather than require you do one thing first, another second, etc., I want you to structure your
essay in a way that seems most logical and clear to you.
However, there are few requirements that I want to see covered in your essay:
• Summarize how Descartes defines “I” or “self” in the second Meditation. Don’t just quote his answer; paraphrase WHY he defines the “self” that way. Devote at least
one well-developed paragraph to covering his answer. Quote the text. Be sure to also respond to this definition—to what extent do you agree or disagree with his ideas?
Explain and support your response.
• Also summarize how Locke characterizes the “self.” To what extend do Descartes and Locke agree or disagree? Capture Locke’s reasons and ideas in a separate paragraph
from the Descartes paragraph, and also respond to Locke’s ideas with your own reasons and ideas.
• Consider common definitions or idea for the “self” in order to counter them and rule them out. Much like how Socrates counters definitions of “piety” and Descartes
counters his old views, explain how and why some things people think their “selves” are, are in fact wrong or illogical or questionable, in your opinion. (See the list
provided in class.) Eliminating some definitions for the self will help narrow down your eventual definition.
• Define what YOU think the word “self” means. Use as many or as few sources as you want to, just so long as you clearly define this concept and explain WHY you define
it that way. This is the most important part of your paper; spend as long as you need to describe, explain, and defend this definition.
• Explore the implications of your definition of “I.” That is, if “self” is defined your way, how would that affect our perceptions of ourselves or how we treat
ourselves? How would it affect our knowledge of ourselves and of the world outside our “selves”?
• If at any moment you wish to argue that something is UNKNOWN, in your opinion, you may do so, including the definition of “I” itself. However, show WHY you think it
is unknown exactly and explore the implications of that lack of knowledge. Be critical in your confusion, in other words. Don’t just say “I don’t know” and walk away.
• Consider what Socrates might say about your definition, someone critical or skeptical. Anticipate their objections, or better yet, find a source from someone who
seems to disagree with your definition. Present these possible objections, and either counter them thoughtfully or concede and compromise with whatever claim you
There is no set length for this paper; write thoughtfully and naturally. However, due to the nature of this difficult subject, there’s a good chance this will be a
longer, more involved exploration. Neither “pad” your paper with more ideas than you really believe nor shorten your pain because you think I want that. Just write
what you have naturally and let it become the length it NEEDS to be to get your discussion down thoughtfully, which is probably longer than shorter.
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