Is achieving the
self a matter of discovery or creativity? Is there a self hidden from
view to be uncovered? Or do individuals create themselves?
University philosophy professor Robert M. Baird asked these questions
at the outset of his keynote address to the biennial conference of the
Baptist Association of Philosophy Teachers
at Samford University Oct. 9. Philosophy professors from 11
universities and colleges presented papers at the three-day meeting Oct.
“Language reflects both possibilities,” he answered, citing such phrases
as “You need to get in touch with your real self,” and “Life is a
constant process of revising the self.” Such ambiguity
of language suggests that “self-identity is both discovered and
created,” he said.
Baird, a Baylor faculty member since 1968 and widely published in his
field, said “the role others play in our becoming who we are” confirms
the notion that self-identity involves “the two
movements of discovery and creativity.” He added, “understanding
self-identity as involving both movements illuminates the moral
character of the unfolding drama,” that is, that some choices are better
“Become who you are?” he asked. At times, yes, and at times, no, he
answered, because “we may uncover within ourselves incompatible
possibilities, and we may discover possibilities within ourselves
that would be destructive to others.”
What influences the concept of the
kind of person one wants to become? “Our religious tradition, surely.
Our moral upbringing, surely. Or, perhaps more accurately, our
tradition-guided but personally developed intuitions
of what it means to be a responsible human being,” Baird said.
question, ‘Who am I?’ is ‘the paradigmatic moral question,’” he said in
summary. He notes that philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, in his work
Schopenhauer as Educator, expressed admiration for the person who
asks “how have I become what I am. . . ?” but asked the same person why
had they not become “something better?”
is the question also confronting each of us individually as we draft and
redraft our lives in the ongoing struggle to achieve the self,” he