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Self: Ancient and Modern Insights about Individuality, Life, and Death Hardcover – October 15, 2006

ISBN-13: 978-0226768250 ISBN-10: 0226768252 Edition: 1st

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Editorial Reviews


“Richard Sorabji’s books typically display a remarkable combination of virtues: meticulous scholarship, amazing historical range, philosophical insight and precision, and a vivid sense of the issues that a nonphilosophical reader will find interesting and engaging. Self may be his best, displaying all those virtues at a very high level. Sorabji has mastered not only the obvious texts of Plato, Aristotle, and Hellenistic philosophy, but also later texts that many philosophers ignore. Sorabji has a missionary enthusiasm for these texts, and writes about them with the sort of élan that will captivate readers.”

(Martha Nussbaum 2006-05-17)

“Richard Sorabji has accomplished what Vico envisioned and what Foucault, Taylor, and other philosophical anthropologists have variously attempted—namely, to provide a road map to the self. While others have explored the archaeology of the self with highly-selective demonstration excavations, Sorabji has taken up this same project with an astonishing breadth of systematic scholarship encompassing much of literate human history, ranging from the ancient Greco-Roman invention of the persona, Hindu and Buddhist explorations of personal identity to Christian, Islamic, and contemporary variants of the question, ‘what is it to be myself.’ With astonishing erudition and deep thinking, this is a rare work that captures the mystery of philosophy, its wondrously multi-faceted ineffability, as each of us looks into the mirror of the soul and wonders who we are exactly.”

(David Glidden, University of California, Riverside 2006-05-17)

“This is an extraordinarily rich, learned, thoughtful and personal study of a fascinating subject. While exploring a remarkably wide range of subjects—embracing Eastern religion as well as classical Antiquity, the classical tradition and modern Western philosophy—the book maintains a clear focus on a specific set of issues and concepts. Overall, a distinctive vision of the complex, many-layered subject of the self emerges, as well as an exceptionally informative and perceptive review of philosophical perspectives.”

(Christopher Gill, University of Exeter 2006-05-17)

"There has never been a book remotely like this one in its profusion of ancient references on ideas about human identity and selfhood and the sheer quantity of information it provides. . . . Readers unfamiliar with the subject also need to know that Sorabji breaks new ground in giving special attention to philosophers such as Epictetus and other Stoics, Plotinus and later Neoplatonists, and the ancient commentators on Aristotle (on the last of whom he is the world's leading authority)."
(Anthony A. Long Times Literary Supplement)

"A very rich and suggestive study; though personal in approach and shaped by Sorabji's combination of intellectual curiosity and humanity, it is also incisive in presentation and highly informative."
(Christopher Gill Phronesis)

"Sorabji brings to life and makes compelling complex philosophical debates that have been pursued for millennia. There is something for everyone in this magnificent study, and it represents a precious resource for those interested not only in questions of self, but more generally in the evolution of human thought."
(Marya Schlechtman Review of Metaphysics)

"The range of Self is breathtaking. Sorabji displays a mastery of Greek, Roman, Medieval, early Christian, Islamic, Modern, Buddhist, and Hindu sources, as well as the work of contemporary philosophers in fields as diverse as ethics, metaphysics, ancient philosophy, and philosophy of language. . . . Self is an important book, and deserves to be read by all interested in its subject matter, whether they are philosophers, classicists, or psychologists."
(James Stacey Taylor Metapsychology)

From the Inside Flap

Over the centuries, the idea of the self has both fascinated and confounded philosophers. From the ancient Greeks, who problematized issues of identity and self-awareness, to Locke and Hume, who popularized minimalist views of the self, to the efforts of postmodernists in our time to decenter the human subject altogether, the idea that there is something called a self has always been in steady decline. But for Richard Sorabji, this negation of the self is dispiriting. In Self, he sets out to recover the rich variety of positive accounts of the self from Antiquity right up to the present, while offering his own inspiring view of what precisely the self might be.

Drawing on Eastern religion, classical Antiquity, and Western philosophy, Sorabji proceeds to tackle a number of thematic debates that have preoccupied philosophers over the ages, including the concept of the self, its sameness and mutability, the idea of the resurrection of the body and spirit, and the fear of death. According to Sorabji, the self is not an undetectable soul or ego, but an embodied individual whose existence is plain to see. It is also neither a linguistic creation nor a psychological fiction, but something that owns both a consciousness and a body.

            Ultimately, Sorabji argues, the demise of a positive idea of the self stems from much older and more pervasive problems of identity than we realize. Through an astute reading of this tradition, he helps us come to terms with our uneasiness about the subject in an account that will be at the forefront of philosophical debates for years to come.



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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 446 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; 1 edition (October 15, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226768252
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226768250
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #966,188 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By California Bill on August 18, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
In this book Richard Sorabji has written a review of philosophical ideas of the self. He includes ideas from the Ancient World and commentaries on them from the present day. Some Ancient Christian and Buddhist and Hindu ideas are included.

The original texts can be unwieldy, but Sorabji deftly navigates the literature, and presents the concepts in a clear way.

For a treatment of how modern brain science can help explain the nature of the self, see "Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain" by Antonio Damasio.

The book succeeds because its topic is of tremendous interest to everyone. You are the topic, and Sorabj deeply investigates you and elaborates the parts that make you you.
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By RDG on March 13, 2015
Format: Kindle Edition
The content of the book itself, like all of Sorabji's works, deserve 5+ stars. The rating is brought down by the poor format of the Kindle edition.

The primary problem is the handling of footnotes. Each footnote is a hyperlink, which jumps to a page at the end of the book. But there is no link there to take you back to your spot in the text. On the Kindle, that's not a big deal, you just hit the "back" button. But on the Fire, there is no easy way to get back to where you were; when reading on my Fire, I had to (try and) remember to drop a bookmark before jumping to a note.

That would be manageable; but what eventually made me return the kindle book was when I discovered that some footnotes had not been formatted as hyperlinks in the text, so there was really no way to get to the footnote text at all! That's a serious problem for an academic book; I'll get the print edition instead.

This isn't really so hard, but publishers have to sort this out, particularly for academic texts. If your text has footnotes, FORMAT THEM PROPERLY. By which I mean, that when you read the text on the Kindle, it pops up a mini-window with footnote text (which, on the Fire, is interpreted as a jump to the correct note, which always has a return link on it). A press like Chicago should be able to manage this!
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