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When we left back frames of reference like being an aristocrat, or religion and nation, or what kind of consumer and of what brands we are, what is left?

How do we self-identify in the XXI century? Do contemporary philosophers treat topic about how the present day human defines himself?

Note: not completely sure if philosophers deal with such topics, but would like to know some concrete names of authors if possible.

  • You stop too early. You think modern humans are different from past ones. Self-identification goes far beyond what you mentioned. There is also body, mood, desire. Short answer is THINKING. All humans on top of any world view you can imagine are defined with their THINKING, not their actions (which are mere tip of the ICEBERG of thinking) but their inner/outer thoughts. – Asphir Dom Dec 13 '13 at 22:37
  • @AsphirDom: yes, they are different, at least when it comes down to a social frames of reference. Many social structure of today didn't exist in the past. – Quora Feans Dec 15 '13 at 1:54
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Alasdair MacIntyre talks about some of the present-day options in After Virtue. His main contrast is between people with a narrative or telos which they are trying to live out, and people with no such 'organizing principle' for their lives. Without a narrative, MacIntyre claims we're left with Sartre's analysis: "life is composed of discrete actions which lead nowhere" (214). Life has no cohesiveness and therefore little identity, without a narrative to tie it together, to make actions intelligible.

This democratized self which has no necessary social content and no necessary social identity can then be anything, can assume any role or take any point of view, because it is in and for itself nothing. This relationship of the modem self to its acts and its roles has been conceptualized by its acutest and most perceptive theorists in what at first sight appear to be two quite different and incompatible ways. Sartre—I speak now only of the Sartre of the thirties and forties—has depicted the self as entirely distinct from any particular social role which it may happen to assume; Erving Goffman by contrast has liquidated the self into its role-playing, arguing that the self is no more than ‘a peg’ on which the clothes of the role are hung (Goffman 1959, p. 253). For Sartre the central error is to identify the self with its roles, a mistake which carries the burden of moral bad faith as well as of intellectual confusion; for Goffman the central error is to suppose that there is a substantial self over and beyond the complex presentations of role-playing, a mistake committed by those who wish to keep part of the human world ‘safe from sociology. Yet the two apparently contrasting views have much more in common that a first statement would lead one to suspect. In Goffman's anecdotal descriptions of the social world there is still discernible that ghostly ‘I’, the psychological peg to whom Goffman denies substantial selfhood, flitting evanescently from one solidly role-structured situation to another; and for Sartre the selfs self-discovery is characterized as the discovery that the self is ‘nothing’, is not a substance but a set of perpetually open possibilities. Thus at a deep level a certain agreement underlies Sartre's and Goffman's surface disagreements; and they agree in nothing more than in this, that both see the self as entirely set over against the social world. For Goffman, for whom the social world is everything, the self is therefore nothing at all, it occupies no social space. For Sartre, whatever social space it occupies it does so only accidentally, and therefore he too sees the self as in no way an actuality. (32)

[...] whatever criteria or principles or evaluative allegiances the emotivist self may profess, they are to be construed as expressions of attitudes, preferences and choices which are themselves not governed by criterion, principle, or value, since they underlie and are prior to all allegiance to criterion, principle, or value. But from this it follows that the emotivist self can have no rational history in its transitions from one state of moral commitment to another. Inner conflicts are for it necessarily au fond the confrontation of one contingent arbitrariness by another. It is a self with no given continuities, save those of the body which is its bearer and of the memory which to the best of its ability gathers in its past. And we know from the outcome of the discussions of personal identity by Locke, Berkeley, Butler and Hume that neither of these separately or together are adequate to specify that identity and continuity of which actual selves are so certain.
[...]
The self is now thought of as lacking any necessary social identity, because the kind of social identity that it once enjoyed is no longer available; the self is now thought of as criterionless, because the kind of telos in terms of which it once judged and acted is no longer thought to be credible. (33)

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This is one of the chief topics of the existentialists: I would recommend Kierkegaard, Fanon, Sartre, Camus & DeBeauvoir. In general, the existentialist answer is that we are the choices that we make.

(It's a topic I have a particular interest in myself, but I'm pretty sure self-citation is frowned upon here!)

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