The Instigator
Pro (for)
0 Points
The Contender
Con (against)
1 Points

There is no such thing as a self

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 12/30/2014 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 2 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 804 times Debate No: 67645
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (4)
Votes (1)




I will be arguing for the view that there is no such thing as a self. I hope someone will put me right on this as its quite a scary thought. Definition: The self- the subject of one's own experience of phenomena: perception, emotions, thoughts.


I accept, therefore I am.
Debate Round No. 1


P1: All ideas come from impressions.
P2: You never have an impression of yourself.
C: Therefore, the self does not exist

The self's nature is such that it exists throughout our lives unchanging. An impression of the self must continue unchanging through time. There is no such impression and therefore the self does not exist.

There is no unchanging impression. When you reflect/ look inwardly you can never catch yourself without a perception and can never observe anything other than perception. Pain, pleasure, joy etc. succeed each other and never exist all at the same time and therefore these impressions cannot cause the idea of a self.

We only believe we have a self, which continues to exist through time because the fluidity of the transitions between perceptions is such that it tricks us into believing we haven't changed at all. Take the example of a ship which gradually has things break on it and one by one are replaced, one day the rudder, the next the keel, all the planks, one by one, the sail. By the end of the process you end up with a different boat but you don't realise the change because it is so gradual. The same thing happens to give us an idea of the self, as the perceptions change one by one it makes us feel like you are the same you as yesterday.

Therefore surely it is more likely we are just a bundle of thoughts than the traditional self. The mind is just a collection of perceptions which just succeed each other.


I'm not 100% sure on the BoP split for this debate, but I feel Pro's first argument is lacking a compelling argument and contradictory at points. So for this round I will just show why Pro's impression based rejection of self does not follow. If necessary I will establish an argument for the self next round.

Definition: Impression - the effect or influence that something or someone has on a person's thoughts or feelings; an idea or belief that is usually not clear or certain [1].

P1: All ideas come from impressions
This may be true if we accept that everything we come in contact with is an impression, from 1st impressions to 2nd impressions ad infinitum. But if this is the case this is no more than a truism. This also denies the possibility ideas can come from hours of careful thought too.

P2: You never have an impression of yourself.
This is most definitely not true. Being self aware we are always looking inward at how we are perceived by others, how we impress upon others. We are capable of introspection and taking abstract ideas and combining them to get something new. Furthermore we are capable of impressing ourselves, the phrase "wow I didn't know I had it in me" comes to mind.
Therefore Pro's conclusion does not follow.

"When you reflect/ look inwardly you can never catch yourself without a perception and can never observe anything other than perception."
To me this sounds like a concession. The given definition of self is in part based on one's perception. So of course it follows from our own (self) perception we perceive things.

Pro brings up Theseus' Paradox, the changing ship over time. However it is human nature to change over time, physically and mentally, as we age and have new experiences. Just because the self, our own perception of who we are, is not static does not mean that the self does not exist. We can hold pain, joy etc. at the same time, we have memories and can perceive the present, at all the same time.

Finally Pro's 2nd concession: "it is more likely we are just a bundle of thoughts than the traditional self. The mind is just a collection of perceptions which just succeed each other." Again, the given definition of self contains perceptions and thoughts. These encompass the self and Pro has admitted to their existence twice. What is important to understand is that these perceptions, thoughts and emotions that we feel are our own. They are separate from others and the outside world and exist only within us as ourselves. We may be influenced and impressed upon, we may change over time, but remember that boat still exists, just as the self still exists.

Debate Round No. 2


Here is my response, given in an attempt to clean up and strengthen the case a bit.

Response to your rejection of P1
With the complex ideas you suggest you still need someone to do the thinking. It is not inconceivable that an evil demon has done this thinking for us- since this "hours of careful thought" is really just a collection of thoughts being built upon one another. Is it then unrealistic to suggest an evil demon could have had these thoughts and just replayed them to us?

Response to your rejection of P2
At the end of the day, when we are concerned how we impress upon others we only have these concerns as perceptions and therefore it is not inconceivable that these perceptions have been thought up by an evil demon and the same perceptions float randomly through space connected with each other until they come into contact with us (not a self but a stick in the ground as such, a receptor of thoughts, incapable of thinking for itself or having its own set of thoughts. The definition of self was a subject having "one"s own" experience but I do not think this is the case.

I would argue you are not the same self when you change, you are merely extremely similar to what you were, and for simplicity"s sake we do not change what we name you. Many mistake that not changing the name of something with meaning it has not actually changed.

You cannot have prove you have memories when perceiving the present as to know this you would have to be perceiving that memory, and therefore could not perceive the present. It may appear you are perceiving the present as your eyes are open but when you are imagining a memory your eyes want to shut and if you keep them open they feel kind of switched off, trying to block the visual stimulus to the brain so you can fully have a perception of the memory. Just because we have our eyes open does not mean we are perceiving, perception is the thought, which may or may not be brought about by a visual stimulus.

To get at what I mean better I shall change from calling it a bundle of thoughts as I believe the following interpretation is stronger for my argument. As explained above I believe we are merely akin to a stick in the ground with thoughts floating past us. When we believe we are thinking complex thoughts it is just because these thoughts are connected to each other. This could be a result of an evil demon (who I believe could create the thoughts), excreting, if you like, the thoughts into the wind. Each bit of excrement is a collection of ideas hitting us, (the stick) and this makes us believe we are thinking for ourselves. Since this illusion is only created through perceptions that"s all the evil demon needs to give us to trick us.


We're having a debate about the existence of the self and my opponent is making unsubstantiated claims about demon possession. I find this line of reasoning to be a ridiculous attempt at absurdity. First off, do these demons have a sense of self? And secondly how can you tell enough difference between your thoughts and the demons thoughts to definitively say that you and the demon are not one in the same? And in this same line if you"re aware of this demon, wouldn't that require you have an understanding that you and the demon are 2 separate beings, that the self that is you is being corrupted by a non-self entity?

My opponent claims we are metaphorical sticks in the ground, receptors of thought that just happen to be floating by at the time of their manifestation in the mind. I find this to be nonsensical as well. This very debate proves we are not simply thought receptors but we also have the ability to consciously evaluate and respond to others. In our communication we see that we can consciously broadcast our thoughts to impress upon each other. And from where do these thoughts come from? The self; the conscious mind that comprises our perceptions, emotion and thoughts is where we understand ourselves as the subject of our experiences and our interaction with others (the non-self).

In his 3rd paragraph, Pro again brings up the Theseus Paradox, and again I remind him that just because people change over time this does not disprove the existence of the self. People's selves are maintained through an amalgamation of change and experience. These things do not change the 'self' as a cohesive concept; they add to and compliment the already existing self that is you or me. We can and do hold past memories subconsciously and consciously simultaneously with the present. It may be distracting but it's not impossible, the brain is pretty wondrous like that.

Finally for a brief argument on the existence of self:

Rene Descartes had the same thought experiment of doubting reality and self due that of an evil demon, or as he called it an evil genie. But as touched upon in my initial questioning of the demon Descartes and I come to a similar conclusion; the self still exists. Quote: "I can doubt the existence of the external world, and I can doubt the existence of what appears to be my body. But when I try to also doubt the existence of my inner self, my thinking, then I find that I am still there--as a doubting mind. And if I try to doubt the existence of this doubting mind, then I still find the activity of my doubting. And no matter how hard I try to doubt this doubting, I cannot help but find the process of doubting. My doubting is the thing that in the end I cannot doubt. Doubting, however, is thinking, and the existence of thinking implies the existence of a thinker. Hence Descartes' famous conclusion: "I think, therefore I am" [2].

In summary, changing tactics from impression to demon possession does not make a compelling argument. The Theseus' Paradox again does not disprove the notion of the self. And if we are just metaphorical sticks in the ground, then we are sticks with the clear ability to think for ourselves and communicate with others to better understand our context in relation to the self and others. Finally the brilliant thinker Descartes has already put thought into the existence of the self despite demons and has found that even if we doubt the existence of self it is the self that is still doing the doubting, thus the self exists.

Debate Round No. 3


JBphilo forfeited this round.


My opponent has FF'd.

I extend all arguments, Vote Con!
Debate Round No. 4
4 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 4 records.
Posted by Bennett91 2 years ago
I hope JBphilo doesn't FF. people are always FFing on me :(
Posted by Slycat 2 years ago
I would like to think that we as human beings, who long for individualism and autonomous thought BELIEVE that we are ourselves, but the way society operates would contradict this very thing.
Posted by Vajrasattva-LeRoy 2 years ago
A person, a self, a being, is a soul, not a body.
Bodies can, & do, change, but a person, a self, a being, a soul, doesn't.
As I understand it.
There doesn't seem any reason for it to change, since it's nonfinite, unbounded, unlimited.
Anybody disagree?
Posted by Vajrasattva-LeRoy 2 years ago
According to my analysis of Reality, Quantum Physics, etc. ,
the number of Selves in existence is >1 but <2.
I sure hope that helps !
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by Wylted 2 years ago
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Total points awarded:01 
Reasons for voting decision: FF