In Defense of a Narrow Drawing of the Boundaries of the Self

Journal of Value Inquiry 55 (4) (2020)
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In his monograph *Happiness for Humans*, Daniel C. Russell argues that someone’s happiness is constituted by her virtuous engagement in a certain special sort of activity, which he calls *embodied activity*. An embodied activity is one which depends for its identity on things which lie outside of the agent’s control. What this means is that whether or not it is possible for the activity to continue is not completely up to the agent. A motivating example is my activity of living alongside my spouse. Whether or not it is possible for this activity to continue is not entirely within my control, because my spouse might die, or otherwise become unavailable to me. To defend the view that it’s embodied activities which are constitutive of happiness, Russell defends what he calls the *embodied conception* of the self. This is the view that the boundaries of the self whose happiness is at stake include all the constitutive parts of our embodied activities. In response, I provide two arguments. Firstly, I show that while Russell makes a good case for the relevance of embodied *activities* to happiness, he doesn’t establish that we must adopt the embodied conception of the *self* in order to obtain those insights. Secondly, I argue that to draw the boundaries of the self in accordance with the embodied conception involves forming beliefs in a way that is not epistemically responsible. In making this argument I rely on the claim that there is a strong, particular sense in which other people are unknowable to us, a claim which is developed in the fiction of Haruki Murakami.

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Sean Whitton
University of Arizona


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