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The No-Self Thesis: counterarguments from abnormal psychology


The no-self thesis is said to originate in David Hume’s1 “bundle theory of self,” questioning the human self as a mere bundle of fleeting perceptions without ontological reality. In contemporary discourse, the self is sandwiched between top-down and bottomup reductionisms: those with biological and cognitive arguments that reduce the self to a lower, ontological level, on the one hand, and those who hold cultural-linguistic constructionist positions, on the other hand, reducing the self to a higher level. In both cases, self reductionism is a prelude to complete self elimination. On these conceptions, what we call “self” may be nothing other than an unintended by-product of brain processes. Nevertheless, a cursory literature review suggests that the self firmly remains indispensable to almost every contemporary field of inquiry. Research and publications on the topic of the self have increased significantly in recent years across a number of disciplines. This paper aims to offer insights into the question of the self and its realities from the perspective of Abnormal Psychology. Although conventional Psychiatry is not directly invested in exploring the concept of “self” per se, the elaborate symptomatology and in-depth treatment of disorders in practice is indispensably linked to patients’ sense of self. In fact, a wide range of psychological and psychiatric disorders nowadays are increasingly being formally re-defined in terms of the “self”. Above and beyond to what has come to be known as the “new disorders of the self”, relevance of the self applies to classic categories of dissociation, autism, schizophrenia, personality disorders, and more. The pathological alternatives to a healthy sense of self are abound, and no effective psychotherapeutic intervention can be imagined without the concept of self.


self, abnormal psychology, depersonalization, personality disorders, dissociation, schizophrenia