Bioethics Blogs

Selfhood and ethics: Who am I and why does it matter?

by Keenan Davis

The following post is part of a special series emerging from Contemporary Issues in Neuroethics, a graduate-level course out of Emory University’s Center for Ethics. Keenan is a graduate student in Bioethics, whose work focuses on the use of virtue ethics and natural law to evaluate novel biotechnologies. He will be pursuing a PhD in the Graduate Division of Religion in the fall.

What should I be doing with my life? Many approach this timeless question by considering first another: Who am I? For a wide range thinkers from Plato to Dr. Phil, we can only know what to do with ourselves when we truly know ourselves. Who we are determines and constrains how we ought to behave. For example, because my parents caused me to exist, I should behave towards them with a level of gratitude and love. Perhaps through a cause-and-effect dynamic, as a result of being their son, I should treat them respectfully. We will return to this example at the conclusion of our exploration.

Historically, the question of selfhood was assessed in terms of an afterlife, seeking to resolve what happens to us when we die. If, as Plato claimed, a person is nothing more than his soul, “a thing immortal,” then he will survive physical death. Indeed, perhaps one should look forward to the separation of the soul from material constraints. How we ought to behave then is for the sake of existence after and beyond this world, a position shared by many adherents to Abrahamic religion.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.