Joshua Knobe writes a piece for The Stone, a forum for contemporary philosopers in The New York Times Opinionator. The issue posed is:
...which aspect of a person counts as that person’s true self?Knobe describes an 'experimental philosophy' experiment done with another colleague that presented a series of question to liberals and conservatives and found a systematic connection between people’s own values and their judgments about the true self. Conservative participants were more inclined to say that a person’s true self had emerged on conservative items, while liberals were more inclined to say that the person’s true self had emerged on liberal items.
Many believe that the true self lies precisely in our suppressed urges and unacknowledged emotions...If we look to the philosophical tradition, we find a relatively straightforward answer to this question. This answer, endorsed by numerous different philosophers in different ways, says that what is most distinctive and essential to a human being is the capacity for rational reflection. A person might find herself having various urges, whims or fleeting emotions, but these are not who she most fundamentally is. If you want to know who she truly is, you would have to look to the moments when she stops to reflect and think about her deepest values.
...people outside the world of philosophy...are immediately drawn to the very opposite view. The true self, they suggest, lies precisely in our suppressed urges and unacknowledged emotions, while our ability to reflect is just a hindrance that gets in the way of this true self’s expression.
Knobe has an appointment at Yale in both Cognitive Science and in Philosophy. He is a co-editor, with Shaun Nichols, of the volume “Experimental Philosophy.” Given his cognitive science appointment, I am struck that he doesn't bring up the question of whether "The True Self" is a viable concept at all, given what we now know about how our brains clearly construct not one, but a multitude of selves, all of which are essentially confabulations tested by their utility (see the sundry web lectures I list in the left column of this blog).