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million a year, be a wit, a bon vivant, and a lady killer, as well as a philosopher, and a philanthropist, states man, warrior, and African explorer, as well as a ‘tone poet’ and saint. But the thing is simply impossible . . . Such characters may at the outset of life be alike possible to a man. But to make anyone of them actual, the rest must be more or less suppressed. So the seeker of his truest, strongest, deepest self must review the list carefully, and pick out the one on which to stake his salvation. You make yourself who you are by what you “stand by,” by the commitments you strive to realize.
We take this to be a widely shared conception of the self—with one emendation. James is wrong when he suggests that one central commitment defines who you are; instead, as John Gray notes,We are none of us defined by membership in a single community or form of moral life. We are . . . heirs of many distinct, sometimes conflicting, intellectual and moral traditions. . . The complexity and contradictions of our cultural inheritancegive to our identities an aspect of complexity and even of pluralitywhich is. . . essentialto them. . . . [T]he power to conceive of ourselves in different ways, to harbour dissonant projects and perspectives, to inform our thoughts and lives with divergent categories and concepts, is integral to our identity as reflective beings.The self you seek to realize is a multifaceted self. People differ of course both in how much multiplicity they seek and in how assiduously they try to realize that multiplicity, but, subject to those differences, the realization of a multifaceted self is a widespread personal ideal. This conception of the self also underlies liberal political philosophy,52 the tradition in which we place ourselves. The traditional political ideal is that the state should ensure, if not actual self-realization, at least adequate opportunity to realize a multifaceted self.B. Social RolesSocial roles mediate self-realization.53 You could not, for example, be a journalist in a society that does not recognize that role. Try to imagine the opposite. Imagine you live in a society in which magazines, news media, and the like do not exit. You are the lone deviant who does the things that journalists do in other societies. You regularly investigate events, collect and analyze material, and conduct interviews. You do so with the primary intention informing the public on a variety of issues you find important.54 You are still not a journalist in the sense that, for example, Bob Woodward is.55 To be a journalist in that sense is to fulfill a recognized role. Contemporary society recognizes that behavior pattern as a vocation, not as deviant and bizarre, and this means that Woodward can refer to this role to explain his activities to himselfand other others. You cannot do that. You are just deviant.