Two Ways of Looking at Your Life

Some decades ago, it occurred to me that my life was like a novel, one in which I was the conspicuously flawed protagonist. A few years ago, I came across a book by the distinguished philosopher Galen Strawson with the intriguing title, Things That Bother Me. It turned out that one of the things that bothers Strawson is that many people think of their lives as a narrative — just what I’d been doing!

Strawson says that this is not a good way to look at your life. He gives reasons I won’t get into here and concludes that it’s best to think of your life as non-narrative and of your self as being transient — as not having continuity. Thus, Strawon says that he has “no sense of my life as a narrative. . . Nor do I have any great or special interest in my past. . . Nor do I have a great deal of concern for my future.” The reason for this seems to be that although Strawson knows that he is the same human being throughout his life, what happened a ways back in the past is something that happened to an earlier self, and that even though that earlier self was the same human being known as Strawson, what is meaningful is the person he is now. I could see the merit in this. I was unhappy with my earlier self. Like Strawson, I decided to disassociate myself from him (it?). I decided that it’s my present self that’s important. You can’t change the past, but you can change the present. I concentrate on trying to be the best new self I can be every day.