Tuesday, April 02, 2024

Strawson on the storied self

Galen Strawson is the philosopher son of another famous philosopher P.F Strawson. He has held academic positions at several universities, including the University of Oxford, the University of Reading and currently at the University of Texas at Austin.

His book The Evident Connexion (2011) expands upon Hume's notion of personal identity, although he has wider interests in free will and determinism and panpsychism.

Personal identity

Strawson is well-known for his argument against the narrative self and for his defense of ‘episodic’ selves, those who do not see their lives as a story or narrative. He also engages with the concept of panpsychism, the idea that consciousness is a fundamental aspect of all things, and has critiqued materialist views of consciousness.

In Selves (2009) he argues strongly against the orthodox idea of the self as a continuously existing entity. This challenges mainstream positions on personal identity and the nature of consciousness, as he is critical of what he calls the ‘Narrative’ view of the self, which claims that people see themselves or their lives as a narrative or story and that this is essential to a well-lived life and a sense of self. He counters this with what he calls the ‘Episodic’ view, where individuals do not see their lives as a coherent narrative and do not have any strong sense of an ongoing self. It is not necessary to see oneself in narrative terms, to have a rich and fully human existence, indeed this may limit your exploration of ways of living and beliefs.

The self, for Strawson, is a complex process, not an entity and needs to be understood as a series of connected mental events and states, but without any persistent, underlying essence that remains the same over time.

As for consciousness, despite being a physicalist even on mental states, he is also a panpsychist, seeing consciousness as a fundamental feature of the universe, present even at the atomic level. This view is very different from traditional views of consciousness as emerging solely from complex interactions within the human brain. What he does add is the idea of self-intimacy, that sense of immediate, experiential, internal knowledge one has.

Critique and discussion

His panpsychism has been criticised as being speculative and bring in a form of dualism into his position. His denial of the storied-self has also been seen as diminishing personal responsibility and a personal sense of meaning in life. Yet his negation of the storied self in favour of a more open sense of personal identity opens up possibilities for seeing life not as limited by internal storytelling but freed from its fictions and constraints.


Strawson’s work encourages us to reexamine our assumptions about our continuous identity over time, the importance of narrative in our lives, and the nature of consciousness itself. His arguments have significant implications for various areas of philosophy, including metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics.


Strawson, G. (2011). The Evident Connexion: Hume on Personal Identity. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Strawson, G. (2009). Selves: An Essay in Revisionary Metaphysics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


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