I'm sharing some final excepts from Jay Garfield's book, Losing Ourselves: Learning to Live Without a Self, because I liked what he had to say near the end of his book so much.
What the world needs now is what the world has always needed: a recognition by people that we are interdependent, not independent. A belief in selves fosters a feeling of independence. A recognition that we are persons, not selves, fosters a feeling of interdependence.
Here's how Garfield puts it.
But there is a dark side to narrative as well. For one thing, as we saw in chapter 3, we are not the sole authors of the stories in which we participate, and some of these tales may be deeply destructive. For another, it is all too easy to take the characters in the narratives we coauthor to exist independently of the stories.
And just as we shouldn't ever think that Hamlet has any reality outside of the play, we shouldn't ever think that we as persons have any reality outside of the narratives in which we participate.
In one sense, we are as fictional as Shakespeare's creations: we are constituted as characters through the telling of a story; we are absolutely real within the bounds of that story; we are created, not discovered; and we have no reality at all outside of the context of the stories in which we figure.
This is why we are persons, and not selves.
But we are real persons, and not imaginary persons. Therefore, in another sense, we are different from Hamlet and his cohort, and that difference is every bit as important as the similarity. Shakespeare's fiction is local, optional, and its roles need not be instantiated; the fiction in which we play our parts is global and mandatory.
...As we saw earlier, nobody believes that we just discover money; we create it. And we do so by interpreting various bits of paper, metal, and states of computing machinery as having monetary value. In virtue of that interpretation, those values become real.
Money, that is, gets its very existence as well as its value through our collective acts of interpretation, not through any preexisting reality on which we stumbled. It is fictional.
But this does not mean that there is no truth of the matter regarding whether a particular piece of paper is a dollar note, or what my bank balance is. There is fact within that fiction; the creation of the fiction, and its globality, mandatoriness, and use constitute its truth.
And the fact that in the United States we simply decided to drive on the right does not make it any less a fact that that is the correct side on which to drive; instead, that is what makes it a fact in the first place. That is, while the whole system is created, once created it in turn creates a context in which particular statements can be true or false in virtue of the interpretations already assigned to others.
That is how it is with us, when considered not as hominids, but as persons.
...For these reasons, there can be no "problem of other minds" any more than there can be a "problem of other dollars." To be a mind is not to house inner particulars that have their character independent of how we understand them, and that we somehow discover; it is to interpret and to be interpreted; to address and to be addressed; to participate in the complex human conversation, and to share a world with others like us.
So to know that others have minds is not to know that they have mysterious inner worlds, and to know that we have minds is to know that we are like others. We each know immediately that we are minds not through introspection, but through participation. We know that others are minds not through inference and not through clairvoyance, but through co-participation.
To allow ourselves to be addressed by, or to address, another is to take her to be a person, to have a mind; it is at the same time to take ourselves to be persons.
This phenomenon of address requires neither reflexive self-consciousness, nor qualitative experience, nor interiority, nor autonomy, nor any of the other properties associated with selves. It only requires us to recognize each other as members of the same community, sharing the same world.
But what is it to recognize ourselves and others to be members of a community of persons? It is, we shall see, to see one another as valuable, as objects of care and respect. And the deepest reason to forego the myth of the self for the recognition of the reality of the person is that it is persons, not selves, that merit respect and care.
...We care about one another, take one another's desires and welfares seriously, respect one another's rights, and treat one another with consideration -- in short, we value one another -- to the degree that we embrace one another in a moral and social community.
That is, moral valuation depends on seeing one another as together in a shared world.
This does not require that we agree about everything, or that our projects are the same. We can respect and honor those with whom we share little in the way of beliefs, values, or way of life. But this kind of moral respect and recognition does require that we see one another as potential fellows in a larger sense: as playing analogous roles in the human world, and so as potential addressees or addressors -- more simply, as conversation partners.
And conversation requires both a broadly shared background of concerns and presuppositions, and distinct vantage points or perspectives discernible against that shared background. As we have seen, it also presupposes that each party takes the other as one who can take seriously what the other says, and who has something to tell the other.
...When we recognize each other in this sense -- a kind of recognition absolutely fundamental to our collective lives -- we recognize our interdependence, not our independence; our roles and commitments, not our subjectivity; our participation in a shared world, not our spectatorship of a world of which we are independent.
In short, this kind of moral and political recognition is the recognition of persons, not of selves.
...This attitude of universal care is the foundation of genuine moral concern. When we adopt this attitude, we do not see ourselves and others as isolated, independent selves who happen to find one another in proximity in a featureless abstract landscape, and then have to figure out whether and how to relate to each other.
Instead, we see one another as persons who share a world pregnant with meaning -- meaning that we collectively create, and which in turn shapes our lives. In seeing one another in this way, we come to appreciate the way we co-constitute each other, and the ways in which we are responsive and responsible to one another.
Selves could never facilitate our moral or collective lives; they could only get in the way.
That is why Dogen writes that "To study the self is to forget the self; to forget the self is to cast off body and mind; to cast off body and mind is to be affirmed by all things." This affirmation is, and can only be, the affirmation of our shared personhood.