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Understanding existential self-understanding

Annemarie van Stee defended her thesis on 21 June 2017.

Annemarie van Stee
21 June 2017
Leiden Repository


‘Who am I really?’ When people ask themselves this question, they often find themselves in situations or dilemmas that may be labeled ‘existential’. They need to take an important decision, for example, and reflect on what is of fundamental importance to them. Also without explicit self-reflection, people’s behavior and experiences are influenced by what they care about most. Several philosophers have reflected on this existential aspect of selfhood. These days, cognitive neuroscientists too investigate e.g. love and self-reflection. What contributions to our understanding of the existential aspect of human lives can philosophy and cognitive neuroscience (CNS) make?

Van Stee investigates existing CNS research into love and self-reflection and existing philosophies of existential selfhood, by Harry Frankfurt, Søren Kierkegaard and Charles Taylor, amongst others. She argues that CNS and philosophy are not in opposition with each other, as they address different types of questions. Moreover, CNS may benefit from cooperation with philosophy where reflection on moments of interpretation in its research process is concerned. Van Stee develops conceptual review as a tool to do so. She ends with a philosophical view on existential selfhood and existential self-understanding that improves on existing philosophies and integrates insights from CNS where applicable.

Supervisor: prof. dr. W.B. Drees