Posted by William Nunnelley on 2010-10-11

Is achieving the self a matter of discovery or creativity?  Is there a self hidden from view to be uncovered?  Or do individuals create themselves?

Baylor University philosophy professor Robert M. Baird asked these questions at the outset of his keynote address to the biennial conference of the Baptist Association of Philosophy Teachers at Samford University Oct. 9.  Philosophy professors from 11 universities and colleges presented papers at the three-day meeting Oct. 8-10.

“Language reflects both possibilities,” he answered, citing such phrases as “You need to get in touch with your real self,” and “Life is a constant process of revising the self.”  Such ambiguity of language suggests that “self-identity is both discovered and created,” he said.

Dr. Baird, a Baylor faculty member since 1968 and widely published in his field, said “the role others play in our becoming who we are” confirms the notion that self-identity involves “the two movements of discovery and creativity.”  He added, “understanding self-identity as involving both movements illuminates the moral character of the unfolding drama,” that is, that some choices are better than others.

“Become who you are?” he asked.  At times, yes, and at times, no, he answered, because “we may uncover within ourselves incompatible possibilities, and we may discover possibilities within ourselves that would be destructive to others.”

What influences the concept of the kind of person one wants to become?  “Our religious tradition, surely.  Our moral upbringing, surely.  Or, perhaps more accurately, our tradition-guided but personally developed intuitions of what it means to be a responsible human being,” Baird said.

“The question, ‘Who am I?’ is ‘the paradigmatic moral question,’” he said in summary.  He notes that philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, in his work Schopenhauer as Educator, expressed admiration for the person who asks “how have I become what I am. . . ?” but asked the same person why had they not become “something better?”

“That is the question also confronting each of us individually as we draft and redraft our lives in the ongoing struggle to achieve the self,” he concluded.