- What is the notion of responsibility which is bound up with our conception of a person or self? Is there a sense in which the human agent is responsible for himself which is part of our very conception of the self?
- This is certainly a commonly held idea, among 'ordinary men' as well as among philosophers. Just to mention two contemporary specimens of the latter breed: H. Frankfurt has made the point ("Frankfurt (Harry) - Freedom of the Will and the Concept of a Person") that a person is more than just a subject of desires, of choices, even of deliberation; that we attribute to persons the ability to form 'second-order desires': to want to be moved by certain desires, or 'second-order volitions': to want certain first-order desires to be the ones which move them to action.
- If we think of what we are1 as defined by our goals, by what we desire to encompass or maintain, then a person on this view is one who can raise the question: Do I really want to be what I now am? (i.e., have the desires and goals I now have). In other words, beyond the de facto characterization of the subject by his goals, desires, and purposes, a person is a subject who can pose the de jure question: is this the kind of being I ought to be, or really want to be? There is as Frankfurt puts it a 'capacity for reflective self-evaluation. . .manifest in the formation of second-order desires'.
- Or again, we can invoke Heidegger's famous formula, taken up by Sartre: 'das Seiende, dem es in seinem Sein um dieses selbst geht' (Sein Und Zeit, 42). The idea here, at a first approximation, is that the human subject is such that the question arises inescapably, which kind of being he is going to realize. He is not just de facto a certain kind of being, with certain given desires, but it is somehow 'up to' him what kind of being he is going to be.
- In both these views we have the notion that human subjects are capable of evaluating what they are, and to the extent that they can shape themselves on this evaluation, are responsible for what they are in a way that other subjects of action and desire (the higher animals for instance) cannot be said to be. It is this kind of evaluation/responsibility which many believe to be essential to our notion of the self.
Also in "Watson (Gary), Ed. - Free Will: Oxford Readings in Philosophy"
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