The Humanities Institute

Founded in 1986, the Humanities Institute presents a thematic program each semester on a topic related to the humanities. As part of Scripps’ tradition of interdisciplinary education, this program includes lectures, conferences, exhibitions, performances, and film series bringing prominent and younger cutting-edge scholars to campus.

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Latest Program: Concepts of Self

Who do you think you are? In spring 2015, the Humanities Institute presents a series of events, lectures, and workshops examining one of the most important and interesting topics: me. Or, rather: the concept of self.

We will peer through a multidisciplinary, multimedia, multicultural kaleidoscope in order to observe this concept in theory, fiction, religion, politics, film, other media, and in its “natural habitat” within. We can think of the self as an animal, an immaterial spirit, a neural system, a center of an internal narrative, and an autonomous moral agent. Selves have also been conceived in terms of cognitive functions, something ultimately gendered, a unit or determinant of economic value, and a construction out of socio-political relations, power struggles, and culture. Or is the self just a stream of consciousness, something mediated and even created by technology, or a vehicle for reincarnation? Is it some sort of fiction or illusion, a sick delusion whose ultimate function is to facilitate suffering?

Join us as we examine concepts of self and ask where they come from, how they relate or fit together, what purpose they serve (and for whom), and what broader implications they might have.

Calendar of Events

The full calendar of public events for this semester is available here.

Coming Soon

Faculty Seminar: Michael Spezio

April 30, 2015
12:30-2:00 p.m.

Vita Nova Hall
Room 104

A Self for Others: Models of the Self for Benevolent and Beneficent Action

The cognitive science of moral action seeks accounts of moral cognition – and their conceptual and valuational structures – that explain stable or unstable, reasoned or unreasoned, moral commitments in the real world. To be successful, cognitive science requires experimental approaches that are relevant to the lives and choices of people who demonstrate stable moral commitment in real life. Further, cognitive science should be able to develop models analogous to the theories from other scholarly inquiries into moral cognition, such as moral philosophy and theology. We applied cognitive valuational modeling and Bayesian model comparison to analyze choices in groups of people who 1) demonstrate real-world stable and reasoned action for others in long-term commitments of compassionate care; 2) demonstrate stable and reasoned action in the laboratory over 2-3 years and across context; and 3) a large group of young adults. We compared 4 different models, intended to correspond with being insensitive to context (Model 1), with ethical utilitarianism (Model 2), with an ethics of nondual self (Model 3), and with an ethics of relationally nondual self  (Model 4). In all 3 studies, greater action for others associated with having a joint representation of values for self and others while still differentiating between the two (Model 4). Our findings show that action for others is facilitated by having a “self for others”: a representation of value for self that is tied to value for others without losing the distinction between the two.


Michael Spezio
Chair, Department of Psychology
Chair, Institutional Review Board
Associate Professor of Psychology & Neuroscience
Scripps College

Visiting Associate Scientist, Psychology & Neuroscience
Division of Humanities & Social Sciences
California Institute of Technology

Visiting Researcher
University of Hamburg Medical Center, Hamburg, Germany

Limited seating for this event. Please RSVP to