Self-Knowledge and Self-Identity
Shoemaker (Sydney)
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  1. The identity of persons has generally been felt to be philosophically perplexing in ways in which the identity of other things has not. The main reason for this, according to Mr. Shoemaker, is that much of the knowledge a person has of himself, including knowledge of "self- identity," is not grounded on any sort of bodily or behavioral evidence: "I say that I am S. S., not because I claim to remember doing the things that S. S. did, but because I do remember doing those things."
  2. The nature of self-knowledge and the problem of how it is possible are considered in this book in order to show how philosophers have been led
    1. to accept the Cartesian notion that a person is a nonphysical entity whose psychological states are only contingently related to the states of any physical body and whose identity is logically independent of facts about the physical world and
    2. to reject (a la Hume) the apparent truism that selves are "substances."
  3. The author shows that many theories about the self can be understood as attempts to explain the possibility of self-knowledge. He argues, however, that the accounts of self-knowledge advanced or presupposed by these theories lead to logical absurdities, and in many cases are answers to questions that are misconceived.
  4. Shoemaker suggests that the fundamental mistake underlying the classical theories of self-knowledge is the view that the criteria for the truth of first-person statements (including “psychological” statements and memory reports) must be criteria that are used in the making of these statements. This view leads to the idea that any relationship between psychological states and bodily states, and between personal identity and bodily identity, can only be a contingent one. In so doing it makes it impossible to explain how we can have knowledge of other persons, and it fails to explain the possibility of self-knowledge.
  5. Although this book is in large part an attack on this view, and on the traditional theories that presuppose it, it attempts, using some of the ideas recently developed by Wittgenstein, to answer-those questions about personal identity that can be answered, and to do justice to the genuine insights contained in such conflicting theories as those of Locke and Thomas Reid. While claiming that the primary criterion of personal identity is and must be bodily identity, the author argues that Locke and others have been right in holding that there is at least one "psychological" criterion of personal identity, namely memory.
  6. Of particular significance are Mr. Shoemaker's suggestion that the classical understanding of self-knowledge has proceeded on the model of the understanding of the knowledge of objects and his treatment of the notion of something's "necessarily being usually the case." Originality and remarkable clarity of exposition are sustained throughout this latest book in the Contemporary Philosophy Series.


Cornell University Press, 1963

"Shoemaker (Sydney) - Self-Knowledge and Self-Identity: Preface"

Source: Shoemaker - Self-Knowledge and Self-Identity, Preface

Full Text
  1. The topic of this book is not nearly so lofty as its title may suggest. The term "self-knowledge" is used here, not in the Socratic sense, where it refers to something that few are able to attain, but in such a way that a person can be said to have self-knowledge whenever he knows the truth of a statement in which there is reference to himself.
  2. And the sense in which I use the term "self-identity" is not the sense in which a man with a good memory of his own past history may be said to lack, or to be struggling to achieve, a sense of his own identity. The problem of self-identity, as I have here been concerned with it, is the same as what is sometimes called the problem of personal identity.
  3. I have attempted to show that this problem arises mainly from philosophical views about, and philosophical perplexities about, the nature of self-knowledge, and that its solution consists mainly in the resolution of these perplexities and the correction of mistakes involved in these views.
  4. I have not tried to deal with all the topics that have been discussed by writers on self-identity. I have been concerned only incidentally with the notion of identity per se, and I have not attempted to discuss the possibility of personal survival after death, or the relation of the notion of personal identity to the religious notions of personal immortality and bodily resurrection.
  5. This book grew out of my doctoral dissertation, which was presented to Cornell University in 1958. A paper1 based on it was read at a symposium on self-identity at the meetings of the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association in 1959, and printed, together with Terence Penelhum's contribution2 to the symposium, in the Journal of Philosophy, LVI (October 22,1959). Brief portions of that paper are incorporated into the present work ...
  6. The present version was written mainly during 1960-1961 … at Harvard. … The earliest versions of this work were read by Professor Norman Malcolm, to whom I am extremely grateful for his many valuable criticisms and for his constant encouragement. I am also grateful to other friends and colleagues who have read and criticized portions of the manuscript or discussed with me the ideas in it; special thanks are due Edmund Gettier, Carl Ginet, Norman Kretzmann, and Nelson Pike. Finally, I wish to thank Professor Max Black, editor of this series, for his encouragement and helpful advice …..
    … Sydney Shoemaker Ithaca, New York December 1962

In-Page Footnotes ("Shoemaker (Sydney) - Self-Knowledge and Self-Identity: Preface")

Footnote 1: See "Shoemaker (Sydney) - Personal Identity and Memory".

Footnote 2: See "Penelhum (Terence) - Personal Identity, Memory, and Survival".

"Shoemaker (Sydney) - Self-Knowledge and the Body"

Source: Shoemaker - Self-Knowledge and Self-Identity, Chapter 1

"Shoemaker (Sydney) - Are Selves Substances?"

Source: Shoemaker - Self-Knowledge and Self-Identity, Chapter 2

"Shoemaker (Sydney) - The Self and the Contents of Consciousness"

Source: Shoemaker - Self-Knowledge and Self-Identity, Chapter 3

"Shoemaker (Sydney) - Self-Identity and the Contents of Memory"

Source: Shoemaker - Self-Knowledge and Self-Identity, Chapter 4

"Shoemaker (Sydney) - Mind, Body, and Personal Identity"

Source: Shoemaker - Self-Knowledge and Self-Identity, Chapter 5

"Shoemaker (Sydney) - How is Self-Knowledge Possible?"

Source: Shoemaker - Self-Knowledge and Self-Identity, Chapter 6
COMMENT: Also (selections) in "Rosenthal (David), Ed. - The Nature of Mind"

"Williams (Bernard) - Knowledge and Meaning in the Philosophy of Mind"

Source: Williams - Problems of the Self

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