How do human beings experience themselves? I "have" my emotions, passions or feelings, my ideas, thoughts or reasons, my memories or dreams; I "make" decisions and choices: but what is this "I" which does the "having" and the "making"? Sometimes philosophers make this question explicit in their work. But often they don't, and poets hardly ever do. If we read some of the greatest works of poetry and philosophy in the Western world, the Iliad, Antigone, the Divine Comedy, Coriolanus, the Confessions, the Meditations, the Republic, Mark's Gospel, the Epistle to the Romans, the Prince, we usually find Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, Rousseau, Augustine, Plato or Machiavelli simply working with a conception of the "self". For many of them this "I" is something like a nucleus, an inner point out of which decisions and reasoning just issue forth: the feelings, memories etc. are all "outside" it, like a kind of envelope. And other people have equivalent centres of self. But for other writers there is no nucleus of this kind; all the passions, ideas, memories and reasons together, even the decisions and choices, just are the self. I am my emotions, ideas and decisions. To an extent I also am other selves; they and their passions and ideas are not always so distinct from me and mine. This book explores a dozen or more of these great works to see which writer thinks which, and why this might be important.

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