Even if you are on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there.
-- Will Rogers

Kathleen Wallace

The Relational Process Self


This is a work in progress.

My work on the self as a relational process, or what I will call the cumulative network self, grows out of two areas of interest: (1) an interest in metaphysics and issues concerning the composition, identity and persistence of objects and of persons, and (2) an interest in feminist notions of the self as relational.

By a "relational" self or person feminists usually mean a socially constituted self. In my work, I expand the notion of relational to mean that the self is an interrelated network of traits: social and physical, biological, psychological and so on. From my interest in metaphysics, I take the insights of four-dimensionalism or perdurantism, that is, the notion that objects (including persons) are spread out, so to speak, in space and time, and interpret that to mean that the self is a process, that is, a cumulative self.

In the book manuscript that I am completing, The Network Self and Practical Identity, I lay out what I call the cumulative network model of the self and address such issues as identity and persistence. I show how the model differs from psychological and animalist accounts of persons in its treatment of some of the philosophical thought experiments about persons. I also show how the network model can give an account of some characteristic practical functions of selves, such as engaging in first personal self-activity, and being capable of autonomy and responsibility.

I argue that my approach to a relational process self -- or, as I call it, a cumulative network self -- can avoid some of the problems attributed to a view of the self as a "social self," namely that it lacks individuality, agency, and uniqueness. My goal is to present a plausible approach to understanding selves, an approach that is able to connect up with characteristic functions, capacities, and experiences of selves. A self changes, has a history or biography, is capable of agency, autonomy and responsibility, has the capacity for communication and perspective-taking, and for internalizing social and cultural roles and values in ways that do not necessarily undermine autonomy. At the same time, my view will address some of the traditional philosophical puzzles about identity, continuity and persistence.