Determinacy and the Self

That we create ourselves over time as the result of the decisions we make is a widely accepted perception of what has come to be understood as selfhood. We become increasingly concrete over time as we age. A natural inference from this is that there is more to the selves of adults than there is to the selves of children.

And yet, there is a sense in which this increasing concretion represents a diminution of the self. Possibilities fall away like bits of marble giving way to the sculptor’s chisel. In an important sense, we become smaller as we take on a determinate shape.

That’s part of the reason, I believe, that nearly everyone is nostalgic for childhood, independently of whether their childhood was particularly happy. The self of the child is an enormous, almost limitless collection of possibilities, a vast expanse of possibilities in which the imagination of the child luxuriates in a way that the imagination of the adult cannot. Adults fantasize, of course, about becoming rich or famous, or about career changes, about becoming an artist, or musician, or dancer, but these possibilities, if they are genuine, are heavy with the weight of improbability that does not weigh down the imaginings of the child.

There is something godlike in the vastness of the self of the child. We become human, all too human as our selves take shape over time.

3 thoughts on “Determinacy and the Self

  1. For some reason, reading these paragraphs made me hopeful of my own adult self. I agree with your thinking and that as a consequence the adult self is, in fact, smaller than that of a child self. Nonetheless, if I accept that my child self had “… a vast expanse of possibilities”, can’t I, as an adult, reach back to grab onto some of those possibilities? Instead of being nostalgic for my childhood, I’d like my child self’s hopes, dreams, and aspirations help redetermine who I am today. Is this possible?
    P.S. I am definitely not a professional philosopher. Just someone moved by this posting.


    1. It is so good to hear from you, Rica. Yes, I think we can reach back into our childhood self and recover some of the hopes and dreams we had back then. I’ve done that with both figure skating and painting. I take skating and painting lessons. I wrote about my experience returning to skating as an adult in an essay called “Time Travel” that is part of a whole book I published called “Sequins and Scandals: Essays on Figure Skating, Culture, and the Philosophy of Sport.” You can get the book on Amazon. If you don’t actually have that much interest in figure skating to justify buying a whole book, though, let me know and I will send you just that one essay. I think you would enjoy it.

      We can’t recover all those lost possibilities, though. Some of the things that we could have become, or could have done, will be forever closed to us. That’s just life. There is a kind of comfort, though, in concretion, in being something definite, in feeling like you have taken your life and made of it what you could. I’m really, really fortunate that way. I have lots of stresses, of course, as well as dreams and ambitions that I will likely never realize. I am pretty happy with my life, though. I feel I have done with it what I was supposed to do with it and that is a really good feeling.


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