Philosophers and psychologists alike have thought about the nature and process of self-consciousness for many years. And it’s not only these two categories of people who think about this stuff. All humans, to some degree, are conscious of their ‘self’ and ask what it is? If the self is the window into being, then it is the starting point for the investigation of ‘what it means to be’, ‘what is the meaning of being?’.
We all must get some purchase on this difficult question if we are to be successful in leading a happy life or living satisfyingly. Sartre has famously articulated the self as the radically free horizon of experiencing. Likewise, Kierkegaard said, “the self is a relation which relates itself to its own self, or it is that in the relation that the relation relates itself to its own self; the self is not the relation but that the relation relates itself to its own self.”
Easy for him to say, am I right? It seems that which is closest to us is also the most alien, the hardest to understand. But why am I writing about this? [Here’s your tie-in with the novel we are considering in class.]
Not only am I going to ask you to think of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road as an edge case for moral realism, I am also going to have you consider it as myth or origin story for humans.
Shh. Stop yelling. I heard you the first time. Yes, I see your point that this is most easily seen as eschatology. I’m impressed with your vocabulary, but sit down for a second. I’m not just quoting some mediocre 90’s rock band here (“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”) but bonus points if you knew the song without consulting the google.
I want us to consider whether or not McCarthy wants his readers to take the maturation of the boy as universally applicable. But in order to consider this in depth, I would like to introduce one of the most famous (among philosophers,
so not really famous) self-consciousness origin stories in the Western intellectual tradition: Hegel’s “Lord-Bondsman Dialectic”. When you see the parallels you’ll tell me that this was needlessly complicated and difficult it will all become clear and worthwhile.
Here’s the wikipedia page for Herrschaft und Knechtschaft, which is known to posterity as the “Master-Slave Dialectic” in what I consider to be the world’s worst translational hatchet-job.
And finally, here’s a nice outline of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, which retells the Lord-Bondsman Dialectic (Hegel’s myth) and as well as the rest of the larger work.