The aspirations of this project are best captured by a question: how does one understand oneself? To answer this question, I task myself with an investigation into the nature of what it means to be a self. In broad strokes, my argument follows: I first claim that being a self requires that a thing have the capacity to understand itself as someone amongst others in the world. To understand oneself then, I suggest, is the result of ascribing structure, order, and meaning to one's past experiences, thereby transmuting each into a discrete and intelligible narrative event. Understanding oneself thus amounts to engaging in structured reflection upon one's past experiences, or intentionally representing past experiences as discrete and narrativally structured events. But individuals are not static creatures—they are rather constantly adapting to new experiences. I consequently suggest that individuals are apt to engage in the re-interpretation of past experiences—to be a self is therefore the result of engaging in a self-interpretive process, structured with a beginning, middle, and end, wherein the end changes relative to the point in time of the individual's reflection. This represents an ever-shifting teleologically based understanding of what it is to be a self. Selfhood thus constitutes a fluid and ongoing process, apt to change with each re-interpretation upon the introduction of new experiences. In this manner, each new point of reflection signals a new narrative ending point. Throughout the course of this project, I use Stephen Dedalus in James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man as a case study to illustrate and test my proposed theory of a narratival account selfhood—the textually recorded changes of Stephen's self-growth, I suggest, illuminate how, in the case of Joycean epiphany, recognition of oneself can actively change through re-interpretation of past experiences. As I argue through Stephen's own story, however, there exists the danger of scripting oneself, which wrongly self-determines future actions based on one's past. As selfhood is the product of reflection on the past, I argue against scripting oneself on the grounds that it signals a misapprehension of oneself as a process. Instead, being a self requires that one acknowledges one's self-duty as an autonomous agent; to script oneself is, in contrast, to engage in servility to one's script, thereby ignoring one's self-duty as an autonomous agent.


Thomson, Garrett

Second Advisor

Shostak, Debra


English; Philosophy


Aesthetics | Continental Philosophy | English Language and Literature | Epistemology | Literature in English, British Isles | Metaphysics | Modern Literature | Other Philosophy | Philosophy of Mind


narrativity, James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, modern literature, selfhood, self-understanding, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Jean-Paul Sartre, Paul Ricoeur, Barry Dainton, Lamarque, joycean epiphany

Publication Date


Degree Granted

Bachelor of Arts

Document Type

Senior Independent Study Thesis



© Copyright 2014 Aaron D. Winston