There have been innumerable attempts to characterize personal identity either in terms of psychological continuity or in terms of the linear and self-referential process of reproduction of one’s self. I will defend the thesis according to which personal identity emerges mainly as a process of transcendence of one’s own “minimal self”. It is precisely by means of this critical distancing from his self, I contend, that the individual learns to see himself under a new perspective as far as to experience his self as a surprise. Amazed at his own self, he lives a reawakening which leads him to a transformation of his way of living. This transcendence of the self cannot take place self-referentially but only through the force of an example provided by another person. Such act neither aims at the annihilation of the individual, nor does it contrast with self-love. It is in conflict merely with what Harry Frankfurt calls “self-indulgence”. The idea of a transcendence of the self is already to be found in Plato, who fostered the overcoming of and purification from amathia (in the sense of a “not knowing but pretending to know”) and from an excessive love of oneself. Indeed, these latter would be the two grave diseases which render formless the soul of a human being, for they stand in the way of the cura sui. The same theme will reappear in Max Scheler’s phenomenological reduction, which endeavours to bracket egocentrism (construed as excessive love of oneself) in order to give a form to the personal identity.
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