Puzzling Identities

Puzzling Identities


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As a logical concept, identity refers to one and the same thing. So why, Vincent Descombes asks, do we routinely use "identity" to describe the feelings associated with membership in a number of different communities, as when we speak of our ethnic identity and religious identity? And how can we ascribe the same "identity" to more than one individual in a group? In Puzzling Identities, one of the leading figures in French philosophy seeks to bridge the abyss between the logical meaning of identity and the psychological sense of "being oneself."

Bringing together an analytic conception of identity derived from Gottlob Frege with a psychosocial understanding stemming from Erik Erikson, Descombes contrasts a rigorously philosophical notion of identity with ideas of collective identity that have become crucial in contemporary cultural and political discourse. He returns to an argument of ancient Greek philosophy about the impossibility of change for a material individual. Distinguishing between reflexive and expressive views of "being oneself," he shows the connections between subjective identity and one's life and achievements. We form profound attachments to the particular communities by which we define ourselves. At the same time, becoming oneself as a modern individual requires a process of disembedding oneself from one's social milieu. This is how undergoing a crisis of identity while coming of age has become for us a normal stage in human life.

Puzzling Identities demonstrates why a person has more than one answer to the essential question "Who am I?"

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674732148
Publisher: Harvard
Publication date: 02/15/2016
Series: Institute for Human Sciences Vienna Lecture Series , #4
Pages: 224
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Vincent Descombes is Professor at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris.

Stephen Adam Schwartz is a Senior Lecturer in French at University College Dublin.

Table of Contents

Part I "Identity Can be a Complicated Matter"

1 Learning the Language of Identity 3

Identity Questions: A Lexical Puzzle 3

Declaring One's Identity 7

An American Concept 13

The Idea of an Identity Crisis 15

Identity according to Erikson: An Anthropological Notion 20

Identity after Erikson 22

A Question of Language 26

Plural Identity 29

2 Of What Use Is the Concept of Identity? 39

Is There Such a Thing as Identity in This World? 39

The Comedy of Identity 43

The Principle of Individuation 47

The Logic of Proper Names 51

Identity Criteria 55

Is Identity Relative? 58

Part II "Who Am I?"

3 Identity in the Subjective Sense 65

"Who Am I?" 65

An Identity at Once Objective and Subjective 68

How Can Identity Be Subjectified? 71

To Be the Same in One's Own Eyes 74

The Prince and the Cobbler 81

Recovering One's Own Self 84

4 The Disembedded Individual 88

The Right of Subjectivity 88

To Be or Not to Be Oneself? 92

The "Apprenticeship Years" 100

Modern Identity 104

Exercises in Self-Definition 108

Becoming a Modern Individual 113

The Future of Individualism 121

Experssive Identity 129

Part III "Who Are We?"

5 Collective Identities 135

"Who Are We?" 135

A Linguistic Difficulty 136

The Analogy between a Person and a People 143

The Logic of Collective Bodies 146

The Moral Person as Fictive Person 153

The Historical Identity of a City 159

A Sociological Definition of the Nation 162

The Enigma of Collective Individuality 167

6 The "We" as Instituting Power 174

The Individuation of a "We" 174

The Composition of a "We" 181

The Instituting Power 191

Envoi 195

Works Cited 201

Index 207

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