What is private about our identity: against a substantialist approach

15 March 2018

The private v. public dichotomy is taken for granted in much of contemporary philosophical inquiry in ethics, as well as in the philosophy of mind and language. Interestingly enough, however, a lot of debates end up challenging the distinction. Take, for instance, the notion of private sphere, in Wittgenstein and Rorty.

Despite their different perspectives (one epistemological, the other ethical), they raise the same issues, e.g. the role of language and that of community in building our sense of identity; they even use similar metaphors, e.g. the “ornamental knob” in Wittgenstein and Rorty’s “orchids”; and they arrive at the same conclusion, with regard to the private: namely, that it is conditioned and shaped by the public. Does this lead to a somewhat diminished private sphere? Or on the contrary, is our self-identity enriched by its social roots and purpose?