“The unrealizables”. Rethinking personal identity as socially situated

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This paper starts from the assumption that learning to be human entails an adequate understanding of personal identity. Contemporary philosophical theories either focus upon psychological continuity, or consider the self as animalistic and understand the human body as the ground for a metaphysical notion of personal identity. Embodied aspects, such as gender, race, age, sexual orientation, and (dis)ability, are not considered, even though in the social context they for a large part constitute our identity.
This paper will think through the meaning of taking into account these embodied, social aspects of personal identity. Starting from the phenomenological notions of identity of Paul Ricoeur (1990) and Marya Schechtman (1996, 2014), I first show the relevance of the notion of narrative identity in this respect. With the help of Jean-Paul Sartre's notion of “the unrealizables” (1966: 527), I then argue that gender, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, and (dis)ability are categories that are ascribed to us in a way that we cannot escape. We need to take a position towards them, even though we cannot realize them. To conclude, I suggest a notion of personal identity in which these categories are taken into account.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 2018
EventWorld Congress Philosophy: Learning to be human - Beijing University, Beijing, China
Duration: 13 Aug 201820 Aug 2018


ConferenceWorld Congress Philosophy: Learning to be human
Internet address


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