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Chris Durante
The Structure of Selves: The Nature of Selfhood and the Schizophrenic Experience


It will be proposed that the self is best explained by that which is being referred to as an “autopoietic-narrative emergence” model of selfhood. ‘Autopoietic’ refers to a biological system’s ability to self-organize, and hence its ability to autonomously create boundaries which facilitate the emergence of a self. Narrative refers to the ability to tell stories about oneself, both to oneself and to others, which in turn fashions a particular sense of selfhood for the individual narrator. The proposed model replaces the ‘proper self’ of traditional metaphysics with a more synoptic phenomenological bio-psycho-social account of selfhood. The strength of the proposed theoretical framework is its ability to account for a number of divergent psychological conditions while retaining a single model of the structure of selfhood.

Ultimately, it will be suggested that a uniquely human self is the fluctuating center of a streaming narrative system which emerges from the interactivity of biological and cognitive subsystems and which is fully immersed in a dynamic web of social relationality—all of which imbue it with a ‘real-ness’ despite its abstracted and virtual nature. Moreover, it will be demonstrated that ‘otherness’ plays an integral role in the emergence of a person’s selfhood and in his/her unique process of self-identification, not only on the psycho-social narrative level but on the biological levels as well.

Therefore, in short, the purpose of this essay will be to: 1) examine how the study of schizophrenia can be a useful tool for expanding our knowledge and understanding of the nature of human selfhood; 2) put forth the conceptual foundations of an adequate model of selfhood; and 3) demonstrate how the proposed model of selfhood is able to account for both the ‘normal’ and ‘schizophrenic’ experiences of self.

Chris Durante is currently undertaking a PhD in Ethics in the Faculty of Religious Studies at McGill University.  He holds a BA in philosophy from Fordham University, a MSc in philosophy of mental disorder from King's College London, and a MA in religious studies from Georgia State University.  He has been an adjunct professor at SUNY: Westchester Community College, where he taught world religions, and has held an internship at the Hastings Center for Bioethics, where he worked as a research assistant to a project entitled, "Pharmacologically Treating Behavioral and Emotional Disturbances in Children.”  His research interests include theories of self and identity, philosophical ethics, comparative religious ethics and bioethics.  His current research deals with issues in bioethical methodology in relation to the phenomenon of religious pluralism and explores the relationship between religious identity and moral reasoning.  Given the interdisciplinary nature of his research and academic background, he is active in a variety of fields and has presented his work at conferences held by the International Society for Theoretical Psychology, the Metanexus Institute, the European Association of Centres for Medical Ethics, the Canadian Bioethics Society, the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities, and the Southeastern Commission for the Study of Religion.


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