1-3 of 3 Results

  • Keywords: selfhood x
Clear all


Thomas Habinek

Although the Latin language has no single term equivalent to the English expression “the self,” Latin literature has been understood by scholars to rely upon and engage with various concepts of selfhood or personal identity. Inquiry into the Roman self or selves is a relatively recent phenomenon, with antecedents in social scientists’ longstanding concern with culturally specific models of identity.1 Despite such precedents, classical scholars have generally focused more on the possible resemblance of the Roman self to modern Euro-American concepts than on analyzing Roman notions of individual identity on their own terms.

Perhaps the best-represented type of self in Latin literature is a rhetorical self, that is, an identity projected to the public by means of speaking, writing, and other types of social performance. Elite Romans would have received training in personal image construction as part of their literary and rhetorical education, which was explicitly concerned with the practice of and selection among various possible projections of character.


The history of the self studies continuities and changes in ideas about and experiences of the individual mind through time, attending to questions of individuality, identity, stability, self-possession, and interiority. Traditionally, this subject has often been approached as an intellectual history, analyzing philosophers’ explicit writings about the self. Through the work of people such as René Descartes, John Locke, and Immanuel Kant, scholars have traced a growing sense of individuality and self-possession since the 16th century, and an increasing feeling of inner depth since the 18th century. The focus on intellectual sources of the self has been criticized, however, by scholars who stress the importance of practices and of social differences. They have broadened the scope of the field by looking at cultural sources, such as autobiographical writing, literature, art, rituals, and festivities. Still other historians have criticized the absence of power in many accounts of the history of the self and stress the institutional and political sources of the self, including religious institutions, schools, and legal systems. Throughout these different approaches, debates continue about whether a “modern self” can be traced, and when such a modern self can be situated. While many recent scholars stress the need to examine different cultures of the self at any given time in their own right, others argue that it remains important to trace grand shifts in this history.


Principally, Luther defers from philosophy’s authority to the authority of theology owing to an intense recognition of theology’s ultimate foundation in revelation. Allied to this is a suspicion about philosophy’s intellectual hubris and speculative neglect of the individual coram Deo (“before God”)—the “God” who is only known as revealed pro me (“for me”). As it transpires in modern philosophy’s emergence from its “service” to theology, variations of such concerns come to shape a new philosophical horizon which, for better or ill, come closer to Luther’s own in important and underexamined ways. Under implicit or explicit influence from Luther, key figures in modern European philosophy reconfigure critical new modes of philosophy which can be read to reflect Lutheran concerns about the nature of philosophy and reason itself. This story is related through key figures in modern philosophy (Leibniz, Kant, Hegel, Feuerbach, Kierkegaard, Heidegger), leading from the birth and apotheosis of the modern, through to the critical emergence of the postmodern. Through the critical reception of Luther in these philosophers, it is shown that modern European philosophy regularly deals with Lutheran tensions but often produces visions of the role of reason and selfhood which would have deeply troubled Luther himself. Nonetheless, there are also signs of a recovery of Luther’s suspicions about the possibilities of knowing which also bring into question the parameters of postmodern philosophy itself.