Saturday, January 20, 2018

Happy Birthday to Herbert Fingarette (b. January 20, 1921), emeritus professor of philosophy

Today is the birthday (97 yrs!) of Herbert Fingarette. The late Robert C. Solomon wrote that “Herbert Fingarette has long been one of the most original and provocative philosophers in America.” As a graduate student at UC Santa Barbara, I was a Teaching Assistant (TA) for Fingarette’s introductory course on Asian philosophies (with Mary I. Bockover, now a philosophy professor at Humboldt State University in norther California), the first graduate student from outside the Philosophy Dept. chosen to be a TA (I was downstairs in Religious Studies), owing to a recommendation (solicited by Fingarette) from Ninian Smart (whom I miss dearly), a fact I remain perversely proud of.
Fingarette has penned philosophical works on a wide variety of subjects with remarkable clarity and insight, some of them now “classics” in their respective areas of inquiry (e.g., the books on self-deception, Confucius, and alcoholism). He struck me as uncommonly kind, at least for a professional philosopher. I’ll cite just two instances of this kindness that came quickly to mind (after many years!): offering me a ride into town on more than one occasion upon learning I commuted by bicycle and bus to the university, and answering a late night phone call (as if we were having a convivial conversation in his office at school) about analogical reasoning and correlative thinking I had after reading A.C. Graham’s Disputers of the Tao: Philosophical Argument in Ancient China (Open Court, 1989). Happy birthday Professor Fingarette!
Books by Herbert Fingarette (one title with co-author Ann Fingarette Hasse, his daughter, an attorney):
  • The Self in Transformation: Psychoanalysis, Philosophy and the Life of the Spirit (Basic Books, 1963).
  • Self-Deception (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1969; 2nd ed., University of California Press, 2000).
  • Confucius: The Secular as Sacred (HarperSanFrancisco, 1972).
  • The Meaning of Criminal Insanity (University of California Press, 1972).
  • Heavy Drinking: The Myth of Alcoholism as a Disease (University of California Press, 1988).
  • Death: Philosophical Soundings (Open Court, 1999).
  • Mapping Responsibility: Explorations in Mind, Law, Myth, and Culture (Open Court, 2004).
  • (co-author, Ann Fingarette Hasse) Mental Disabilities and Criminal Responsibility (University of California Press, 1979).
See too: Mary I. Bockover, ed. Rituals, Rules and Responsibility: Essays Dedicated to Herbert Fingarette (Open Court, 1991).
From his Wikipedia entry:
“Herbert Fingarette [b. January 20, 1921 (age 97)] is an American philosopher and emeritus professor of philosophy at the University of California, Santa Barbara. [….] Fingarette’s work deals with issues in philosophy of mind, psychology, ethics, law, and Chinese philosophy.
In his 1969 [Routledge & Kegan Paul; 2nd edition, University of California Press, 2000] monograph Self-Deception, Fingarette presents an account of the titular concept influenced by the work of Jean-Paul Sartre, Sören Kierkegaard and Sigmund Freud, as well as contemporary work in physiology and analytic philosophy. Fingarette argues that traditional accounts of self-deception fall invariably into paradox because these accounts see self-deception in terms of perception or knowledge. Such paradoxes may be resolved, Fingarette claims, by re-framing self-deception as a problem of volition and action. On these new terms, he defines self-deception as an agent’s persistent refusal to ‘spell out’ (explicitly acknowledge) and to avow some aspect of her engagement in the world.
Fingarette’s 1972 monograph Confucius: The Secular as Sacred was described in a peer-reviewed academic journal as ‘one of the most significant philosophical books on the subject to be published in a long time.’
Fingarette has also influentially applied his work in moral psychology to pressing social and legal issues, particularly those surrounding addiction. In his 1988 book Heavy Drinking, Fingarette gainsays the disease theory of alcoholism popularized by groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous.” [embedded hyperlinks courtesy of yours truly]


Blogger Bill Haines said...

Hi Patrick,

Here’s a question about Fingarette. What does he mean by “self” as a freestanding noun? People sometimes use it as an (unhelpful) synonym for “person,” and sometimes use it to name some part or aspect of a person. People sometimes use it to suggest personhood—whatever we all have in common—and sometimes use it to suggest what distinguishes one person from others. I suspect it has no very definite meaning except what the speaker or writer may explicitly assign to it (a task usually neglected). But I could be wrong. I might write a paper about it someday, but I need to do more research. Do you happen to know what Fingarette means by the term, and whether he addresses its definition explicitly somewhere?

1/27/2018 2:07 PM  
Blogger Patrick S. O'Donnell said...

It seems Fingarette uses the term “self” to designate something like, if not the same as, David J. Velleman’s conception, namely, “a reflexive guise under which parts [as capacities, powers, etc.?] of a person are presented to his own mind.” For Fingarette, at least, this opens up the possibility of there being (a façon de parler in a non-trivial sense) multiple “selves,” including “sub-personal” selves as found in Freudian psychology. The analyst endeavors to bring to the analysand’s awareness, as prior modes of (self-) presentation, heretofore unintegrated or fragmented selves in the hope that these can be properly integrated into the analysand’s autobiographical memory in a “responsible” manner. In other words, these “’alien’ psychic entities –our ‘other selves,’” must be acknowledged and accepted such that we take responsibility for their “acts,” “we must see these acts as ours.” Fingarette, somewhat confusingly (for me at any rate) also speaks of a “Self” that is a “transcendental unity” in a “noumenal” sense vis- à-vis phenomenal selves, but is not reified insofar as it represents, in reality, “no-self.” This is perhaps not unrelated to Fingarette’s endeavor to reconcile Confucius’ “affirmative attitude” to a self that is the locus of individual will (a volitional ‘self’) with the idea of being “selfless” or “ego-less” as conceived in several Asian philosophies, including some Indian philosophical worldviews, Buddhism, and Daoism. We might say here that Fingarette aims to demonstrate that Confucius has developed a strategy whereby one can overcome the pragmatic contradiction exemplified in what the psychologist Leslie Farber described as “willing what cannot be willed” (e.g., spontaneity, happiness, sleep, etc.). For details, please see his essay, “The Confucian Perspective: The Self,” in his book, Mapping Responsibility (Open Court, 2004): 97-103, which is a “substantially revised version of “The Self in the Analects,” Philosophy East and West, no. 2 (1979): 129-140. See too his response to Roger T. Ames in Mary I. Bockover, ed. Rules, Rituals and Responsibility: Essays Dedicated to Herbert Fingarette (Open Court, 1991): 194-200.

J. David Velleman, Self to Self: Selected Essays (Cambridge University Press, 2006); Amélie Oksenberg Rorty, Mind in Action: Essays in the Philosophy of Mind (Beacon Press, 1988); P.M.S. Hacker, Human Nature: The Categorial Framework (Blackwell, 2007); Mark Siderits, Evan Thompson, and David Zahavi, eds., Self, No Self? Perspectives from Analytical, Phenomenological, and Indian Traditions (Oxford University Press, 2011); Galen Strawson, Selves (Oxford University Press, 2009); Jon Elster, ed., Multiple Selves (Cambridge University Press, 1986); and Jonardon Ganeri, The Self: Naturalism, Consciousness, and the First-Person Stance (Oxford University Press, 2012).

1/30/2018 10:30 AM  
Blogger Patrick S. O'Donnell said...

This should have introduced the list of titles I posted at the end of my comment:

Finally, should you choose to write on this topic, I would recommend (of course you may have some or all of these already in mind) taking a look at the following:

1/30/2018 11:01 AM  
Blogger Bill Haines said...

Hi Patrick,

This book list has value for me because it is short! And not just because getting access to any one book is a little tricky.


“a reflexive guise under which parts [as capacities, powers, etc.?] of a person are presented to his own mind”

This might suggest that a photocopy of my hand or a list of my skills is a self when I’m looking at it. The account may waffle on the distinction between the guise and the thing, in such a way as to give both the impression that what counts as my self is up to me (as though my self were my idea of me) and the impression that what counts as my self is really a part of me, and not just in the sense that it’s an idea in my mind. That point the account evades seems to be pretty much the only feature of the account. What you add in brackets suggests the following account: a self is some of a person’s powers.

I wonder whether the word ‘reflexive’ is a functional part of the Velleman account, or could instead be dropped without a change in meaning because it is already covered by “his own”?

Since (a) the free-floating noun “self” is hardly a term in general use, as “good” and “know” are, and (b) since intellectuals seem to treat it as though it were, using it in a variety of incompatible ways without showing that they see a problem here for communication, -- I am inclined o think that there is no fact of the matter about what the word means. One can build an idea and make the term a label for it, and there might be value to that; but I suspect that if one thinks it has a meaning that one is trying to discover, one is simply mistaken.

That makes me think obscurities in an account can't be attributed to the difficulty of defining an idea we have. They would instead to be signs of not yet having an idea. That's my suspicion!


I suppose that what philosophers tend to mean by “personal identity” (sameness of person) has little to do with what sociologists or psychologists might mean by a person’s “identity” (mainly, roughly: reference group). The philosophers’ term is about sameness of person—in virtue of what are X and Y the same person (and for what practical purpose). X and Y might be: the person in these shoes today and the person in the same shoes yesterday. Each of X and Y presumably has a self, if we mean something by that term; but again one can ask whether it is the same self. Are they the same person iff they have the same self? Self-concepts—a person’s concept of herself, X’s concept of X—these can differ qualitatively from moment to moment without making a different person. A person can change qualities and remain the same person, but I suppose a concept cannot change qualities and remain the same concept.

2/03/2018 4:13 PM  
Blogger Patrick S. O'Donnell said...

Dear Bill,
As for the two suggested examples—the photocopy and the list—Velleman would probably say the reflexive guise has to do with first-person knowledge of one’s mind in the sense of who she is, a first-person awareness that is in part constitutive of identity and in part about those powers unique to human beings or persons (human animals), those capacities that contribute to a sense of who that person is, or a person’s conception of herself “that constitutes the axis on which he can potentially be centered, or the anchor by which he can potentially be grounded” (this is a further topic of one of the essays). It is at once (simultaneously) subjective and objective, and thus, after Anscombe, and unlike the above examples, it is a “special” kind of knowledge insofar as it is “without observation” (or perception, including so-called ‘inner’ perception), having to do with those forms of intentionality and self-awareness that structure “practical reasoning.” Thus, Velleman selects four contexts (not an exhaustive list) in which this reflexive guise reveals parts or facets of ourselves that constitute the aforementioned self-conception(s): (i) the context of autobiographical memory and anticipation, (ii) the context of autonomous action in which regard ourselves as self-governed or “self-ruled” (a modified Kantian construal thereof), (iii) the context of moral reflection, and (iv) the context of the moral emotions. The notion of reflexive guise is historically tied to uses of the term “self” (these are cited and discussed in Hacker’s first book in the series on human nature in the chapter on ‘the self and the body’), as well as inspired by Locke’s description of a person’s consciousness of his past as making him “self to himself” across spans of time. Please keep in mind that my snippets of the arguments don’t do them justice, so one should read his essays (more than a few of which are connected to each other) in their entirety, as I can (and will!) only give the barest “taste” of them.

As to the philosophers’ notion of personal identity, it is certainly true that it differs from concepts and conceptions in other fields of inquiry. This fact is discussed in the A.O. Rorty Philosophy of Mind title I cited in the latest post, although Velleman himself is not, strictly speaking, addressing simply questions of personal identity, although he believes his arguments having relevance to same.

Thanks again for your thoughtful comments.

2/04/2018 11:12 AM  

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