Call for Papers

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“The Self: Object of Beliefs and Passions. Hume and Contemporary Readings”

Thursday 17th — Friday 19th January 2019

Paris Nanterre University(France)

At the end of the first book of his Treatise of Human Nature (1739), Hume wrote, « when I enter most intimately into what I call myself, I always stumble on some particular perception or other, of heat or cold, light or shade, love or hatred, pain or pleasure. I never can catch myself at any time without a perception, and never can observe any thing but the perception ». This remark has since been much discussed, and continues today to fuel the debate around the concept of self.

Since T. Reid, the idea that there is no such thing as a « substantial » self and the arguments underlying it, have been subjected to intense scrutiny and criticisms. Reid (1785) considered the doctrine incompatible with the mere possibility of free will, or thought itself, as both presupposes a thinking being that can acknowledge itself as itself. T. Penelhum (1955) or W. Fang (1984) question the strict opposition between difference and identity that is at the basis of the Humean indictment against the substantialist notion of self.

The debate around Hume’s doctrine is also an exegetical one. Hume, as we tend to forget, developed further in the Treatise (in Book II, on the Passions) a positive theory of the self, which seems to contradict the sceptical approach of Book I. This positive dimension of the Humean thesis has been the subject of divergent interpretations, both in terms of determining how to understand it in itself (as evidenced for example by the dispute between JI Biro (1979) and JL McIntyre (1979) or more recently in the readings of F. Brahami (2001), G. Strawson (2011) or E. Le Jallé (2014)) as to its relation to the negative thesis of the first book (see WL Robinson 1974, M. Malherbe 2001, A. Carlson 2009).

Finally, the excerpt from the Treatise has become, if not the master formula, at least one of the leading slogans of what is now called the “no self theory”, according to which nothing like the self exists, a doctrine variously defended by philosophers like D. Parfit (1984), DC Dennett (1986), or T. Metzinger (2003). In many ways the opposition between realism and antirealism, on the issue of the self, structures the contemporary debates in contemporary philosophy of mind. It is central for issues such as personal identity (Do we persist over time, and under which conditions? What determines the number of people at a given time? What kind of things are we?), self-knowledge (Are there different forms of self-knowledge? and if so, what are they, and should one be preferred over another? What types of first-person knowledge are immune to error through misidentification? ), or unity of the mind (to what extent is it legitimate to believe in the unity of mental contents? What is the cause of this unity? What is self-consciousness? and how does it relate to consciousness in general ?).

This conference has therefore two main objectives

1 / A first day will be devoted to the discussion of Hume’s thesis in exegetical terms, in order to better understand it not only in the context of the first book, but also within the general economy of the work.

2 / In a second day, we will try to grasp the role and forms that the Humean heritage takes in contemporary debates on the self, but also how a fresh look at Hume’s text could open up new avenues within these discussions.


Submission Guidelines:

Abstracts can be submitted in English or French and should include a title and not exceed 1500 words. Abstracts must be anonymized and sent to the organizers ( by 1 November 2018. Replies will be sent on 15 November 2018.


            The Organizers:

Alexandre Charrier (Paris Nanterre University)

Claire Etchegaray (Paris Nanterre University)

Philippe Hamou (Paris Nanterre University)

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