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The Idea of the Self


  • Page extent: 734 pages
  • Size: 247 x 174 mm
  • Weight: 1.13 kg
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 (ISBN-13: 9780521605540 | ISBN-10: 0521605547)

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$35.99 (G)

What is the self? The question has preoccupied people in many times and places, but nowhere more than in the modern West, where it has spawned debates that still resound today. Jerrold Seigel combines theoretical and contextual approaches to explore the ways key figures have understood whether and how far individuals can achieve coherence and consistency in the face of inner tensions and external pressures. Clarifying that recent "post-modernist" accounts belong firmly to the tradition of Western thinking they have sought to supercede, Seigel provides a persuasive alternative to claims that the modern self is typically egocentric or disengaged. Both a Fulbright Fellow and a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow, Jerrold Seigel is currently William R. Keenan Professor of History at NYU. His previous books include The Private Worlds of Marcel Duchamp (University of California Press, 1995) and Bohemian Paris: Culture, Politics and the Boundaries of Bourgeois Life (Viking Penguin, 1986).


Part I. Introductory: 1. Dimensions and contexts of selfhood; 2. Between ancients and moderns; Part II. British modernity: 3. Personal identity and modern selfhood: Locke; 4. Self-centeredness and sociability: Mandeville and Hume; 5. Adam Smith and modern self-fashioning; Part III. Society and Self-Knowledge: France from Old Regime to Restoration: 6. Sensationalism, reflection, and inner freedom: Condillac and Diderot; 7. Wholeness, withdrawal, self-revelation: Rousseau; 8. Reflectivity, sense-experience, and the perils of social life: Maine de Biran and Constant; Part IV. The World and the Self in German Idealism: 9. Autonomy, limitation, and the purposiveness of nature: Kant; 10. Purposiveness and Bildung: Herder, Humboldt, and Goethe; 11. The ego and the world: Fichte, Novalis, Schelling; 12. Universal selfhood: Hegel; Part V. The Past in the Present: 13. Dejection, insight, and self-making: Coleridge and Mill; 14. From cultivated subjectivity to the polarities of self-formation in nineteenth-century France; 15. Society and selfhood reconciled: Janet, Fouill, Bergson; 16. Will, reflection, and self-overcoming: Schopenhauer and Nietzsche; 17. Being and transcendence: Heidegger; 18. Deaths and transfigurations of the self: Foucault and Derrida; 19. Conclusion; Bibliography; Index.


"The Idea of the Self is quite simply the most important and convincing book about Western thinking about the self that I have encountered. The scholarship is both deep and sweeping. Seigel's readings of a wide variety of texts over more than three centuries are cogent and beautifully nuanced, and he is remarkably adept at placing his texts in their relevant national contexts. The result is intellectual history at its very best. The book historicizes its subject in ways that remove the distorting lenses to be found in much recent work. Its overarching argument constitutes a major new departure, providing an explanatory and interpretive framework for the historical study of the concept of the self that all scholars in the field will have to contend with, and that many will find indispensable for their own work. Quite an event."
-Anthony La Vopa, Professor of History at North Carolina State University and author of Fichte: The Self and the Calling of Philosophy, 1762-1799 (2001)

"Seigel's geneaology of the postmodern critique of autonomous selfhood is an overwhelmeing accomplishment, not only in its panoramic scope but also in its intense critical engagement with so many complex texts by so many important thinkers. The text is dense, but also analytical, terse, clear. Seigel has created a theoretical model for assessing conceptions of selfhood in Western thought since 1600 that illuminates the individual texts of the most prominent thinkers and also creates a history, replete with contingency and possibility, that rescues the modern subject from its radical critics."
-John E. Toews, University of Washington

"In its scope, depth, richness and occasional brilliance, it is an astonishing achievement; in its insistence on the historical and structural complexity of ideas of the self, it is a necessary corrective to overschematic histories. It deserves -- and will likely get -- the closest attention."
-Metapsychology Online Review

"Seigel has written an important and invaluable book. He shows genuine acuity in analyzing philosophical views of often daunting intricacy"
-Charles Larmore, The New Republic

"This is a rare book...It is nothing less than an extraordinary portal into experience, emerging ideas, and verbal interaction from the seventeenth century to the present. Though in codex form, this portal also has the capacity to offer lenses of advancing resolution of each thinker from frame to biography to discourse, and current scholarship. But the portal does not overwhelm, it entices."
-Janine C. Hartman, University of Cincinnati, Canadian Journal of History

"The Idea of the Self['s] pages overflow with insightful readings of familiar texts and striking recoveries of marginal ones. It is safe to predict that it will set the agenda for research and debates about the history of the self for many years to come."
-Johnson Kent Wright, Arizona State University, Journal of Modern History

"Challenging as the issues are, Seigel's book is as readable as it is thorough, and as thorough as it is compelling." -Peter J. Leithart, Touchstone

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