In philosophy, the self is an individual's own being, knowledge, and values, and the relationship between these attributes.

The first-person perspective distinguishes selfhood from personal identity. Whereas "identity" is (literally) sameness[1] and may involve categorization and labeling,[2] selfhood implies a first-person perspective and suggests potential uniqueness. Conversely, "person" is used as a third-person reference. Personal identity can be impaired in late-stage Alzheimer's disease and in other neurodegenerative diseases. Finally, the self is distinguishable from "others". Including the distinction between sameness and otherness, the self versus other is a research topic in contemporary philosophy[3] and contemporary phenomenology (see also psychological phenomenology), psychology, psychiatry, neurology, and neuroscience.

Although subjective experience is central to selfhood, the privacy of this experience is only one of many problems in the philosophy of self and scientific study of consciousness.


Main article: Psychology of self

The psychology of self is the study of either the cognitive and affective representation of one's identity or the subject of experience. The earliest formulation of the self in modern psychology forms the distinction between two elements I and me. The self as I, is the subjective knower. While, the self as Me, is the subject that is known.[4] Current views of the self in psychology positions the self as playing an integral part in human motivation, cognition, affect, and social identity.[5] Self, following the ideas of John Locke, has been seen as a product of episodic memory[6] but research on people with amnesia reveals that they have a coherent sense of self based on preserved conceptual autobiographical knowledge.[7] Hence, it is possible to correlate cognitive and affective experience of self with neural processes. A goal of this ongoing research is to provide grounding insight into the elements of which the complex multiple situated selves of human identity are composed.

What the Freudian tradition has subjectively called, "sense of self" is for Jungian analytic psychology, where one's identity is lodged in the persona or ego and is subject to change in maturation. Carl Jung distinguished, "The self is not only the center but also the whole circumference which embraces both conscious and unconscious; it is the center of this totality...".[8] The Self in Jungian psychology is "the archetype of wholeness and the regulating center of the psyche ... a transpersonal power that transcends the ego."[9][10] As a Jungian archetype, it cannot be seen directly, but by ongoing individuating maturation and analytic observation, can be experienced objectively by its cohesive wholeness-making factor.[11]

Meanwhile, self psychology is a set of psychotherapeutic principles and techniques established by the Austrian-born American psychoanalyst Heinz Kohut upon the foundation of the psychoanalytic method developed by Freud, and is specifically focused on the subjectivity of experience, which, according to self psychology, is mediated by a psychological structure called the self.[12] Examples of psychiatric conditions where such "sameness" may become broken include depersonalization, which sometimes occurs in schizophrenia, where the self appears different from the subject.


See also: Self-disorder and Depersonalization

The 'Disorders of the Self' have also been extensively studied by psychiatrists.[13]

For example, facial and pattern recognition take large amounts of brain processing capacity but pareidolia cannot explain many constructs of self for cases of disorder, such as schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder. One's sense of self can also be changed upon becoming part of a stigmatized group. According to Cox, Abramson, Devine, and Hollon (2012), if an individual has prejudice against a certain group, like the elderly and then later becomes part of this group. This prejudice can be turned inward causing depression.[14]

The philosophy of a disordered self, such as in schizophrenia, is described in terms of what the psychiatrist understands are actual events in terms of neuron excitation but are delusions nonetheless, and the schizo-affective or a schizophrenic person also believes are actual events in terms of essential being. PET scans have shown that auditory stimulation is processed in certain areas of the brain, and imagined similar events are processed in adjacent areas, but hallucinations are processed in the same areas as actual stimulation. In such cases, external influences may be the source of consciousness and the person may or may not be responsible for "sharing" in the mind's process, or the events which occur, such as visions and auditory stimuli, may persist and be repeated often over hours, days, months or years—and the afflicted person may believe themselves to be in a state of rapture or possession.


Main article: Neural basis of self

Two areas of the brain that are important in retrieving self-knowledge are the medial prefrontal cortex and the medial posterior parietal cortex.[15] The posterior cingulate cortex, the anterior cingulate cortex, and medial prefrontal cortex are thought to combine to provide humans with the ability to self-reflect. The insular cortex is also thought to be involved in the process of self-reference.[16]


Culture consists of explicit and implicit patterns of historically derived and selected ideas and their embodiment in institutions, cognitive and social practices, and artifacts. Cultural systems may, on the one hand, be considered as products of action, and on the other, as conditioning elements of further action.[17] The way individuals construct themselves may be different due to their culture.[18]

Hazel Rose Markus and Shinobu Kitayama's theory of the interdependent self hypothesizes that representations of the self in human cultures fall on a continuum from independent to interdependent. The independent self is supposed to be egoistic, unique, separated from the various contexts, critical in judgment, and prone to self-expression. The interdependent self is supposed to be altruistic, similar with the others, flexible according to contexts, conformist, and unlikely to express opinions that would disturb the harmony of his or her group of belonging.[19] However, this theory has been criticized by other sociologists, including David Matsumoto[20] for being based on popular stereotypes and myths about different cultures rather than on rigorous scientific research. A 2016 study[21] of 10,203 participants from 55 cultural groups also failed to find a correlation between the postulating series of causal links between culture and self-construals, finding instead that correlations between traits varied both across cultures did not correlate with Markus & Kitayama's identifications of "independent" or "interdependent" self.[22]


Main article: Philosophy of self

The philosophy of self seeks to describe essential qualities that constitute a person's uniqueness or a person's essential being. There have been various approaches to defining these qualities. The self can be considered as the source of consciousness, the agent responsible for an individual's thoughts and actions, or the substantial nature of a person which endures and unifies consciousness over time.

The self has a particular prominence in the thought of René Descartes (1596-1650).[23] In addition to the writings of Emmanuel Levinas (1906-1995) on "otherness", the distinction between "you" and "me" has been further elaborated in Martin Buber's 1923 philosophical work Ich und Du.


Main article: Religious views on the self

Religious views on the Self vary widely. The Self is a complex and core subject in many forms of spirituality. Two types of Self are commonly considered—the Self that is the ego, also called the learned, superficial Self of mind and body, egoic creation, and the Self which is sometimes called the "True Self", the "Observing Self", or the "Witness".[24] In Hinduism, the Ātman (Self), despite being experienced as an individual, is actually a representation of the unified transcendent reality, Brahman.[25] Our experience of reality doesn't match the nature of Brahman due to māyā.

One description of spirituality is the Self's search for "ultimate meaning" through an independent comprehension of the sacred. Another definition of spiritual identity is: "A persistent sense of Self that addresses ultimate questions about the nature, purpose, and meaning of life, resulting in behaviors that are consonant with the individual’s core values. Spiritual identity appears when the symbolic religious and spiritual value of a culture is found by individuals in the setting of their own life. There can be different types of spiritual Self because it is determined by one's life and experiences."[26]

Human beings have a Self—that is, they are able to look back on themselves as both subjects and objects in the universe. Ultimately, this brings questions about who we are and the nature of our own importance.[27] Traditions such as in Buddhism see the attachment to Self is an illusion that serves as the main cause of suffering and unhappiness.[28]

See also


  1. ^ Shoemaker, D. (Dec 15, 2015) "Personal Identity and Ethics", section "Contemporary Accounts of Personal Identity", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2016 Edition), ed. Edward N. Zalta - "[...] how can identity - sameness - be based on a relation (consciousness) that changes from moment to moment?"
  2. ^ Cragun, Ryan; Cragun, Deborah (2006). "Social Identity Theory". Introduction to Sociology (1 ed.). Blacksleet River. p. 71. ISBN 9781449977474. Retrieved 22 February 2020. We often put others (and ourselves) into categories. Labeling someone as a Muslim, a Turk, or soccer player are ways of saying other things about these people.
  3. ^ "Otherness: Essays & Studies 4.1".
  4. ^ James, W. (1891). The Principles of Psychology, Vol. 1. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. (Original work published 1890)
  5. ^ Sedikides, C. & Spencer, S.J. (Eds.) (2007). The Self. New York: Psychology Press
  6. ^ Conway, MA; Pleydell-Pearce, CW (April 2000). "The construction of autobiographical memories in the self-memory system". Psychol Rev. 107 (2): 261–88. CiteSeerX doi:10.1037/0033-295X.107.2.261. PMID 10789197.
  7. ^ Rathbone, CJ; Moulin, CJ; Conway, MA (October 2009). "Autobiographical memory and amnesia: using conceptual knowledge to ground the self". Neurocase. 15 (5): 405–18. doi:10.1080/13554790902849164. PMID 19382038. S2CID 205774482.
  8. ^ Jung, Carl. CW 12, ¶44
  9. ^ Jung, Carl. (1951) CW 9ii, The Self. Princeton University Press.
  10. ^ Sharp, Daryl (1991). Jung Lexicon: A Primer of Terms & Concepts. Inner City Books. p. 119
  11. ^ Jung, Emma & von Franz, Marie-Louise. (1998). The Grail Legend, Princeton University Press. p. 98.
  12. ^ Wolf, E. S. (2002). Treating the self: Elements of clinical self-psychology. Guilford Press.
  13. ^ Berrios G.E. & Marková I.S. (2003) The self in psychiatry: a conceptual history. In Kircher T & David A. (eds) The Self in Neurosciences and Psychiatry. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, pp. 9–39
  14. ^ Cox, William T. L.; Abramson, Lyn Y.; Devine, Patricia G.; Hollon, Steven D. (2012). "Stereotypes, Prejudice, and Depression: The Integrated Perspective". Perspectives on Psychological Science. 7 (5): 427–49. doi:10.1177/1745691612455204. PMID 26168502. S2CID 1512121.
  15. ^ Pfeifer, J. H., Lieberman, M. D., & Dapretto, M. (2007). "I know you are but what am I?!": Neural bases of self and social knowledge retrieval in children and adults. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 19(8), 1323-1337.
  16. ^ Modinos G, Renken R, Ormel J, Aleman A. Self-reflection and the psychosis-prone brain: an fMRI study. Neuropsychology [serial online]. May 2011;25(3):295-305. Available from: MEDLINE with Full Text, Ipswich, MA. Accessed November 7, 2011.
  17. ^ Kroeber & Kluckholn, 1963, p. 357
  18. ^ Kanagawa, Chie; Cross, Susan E.; Markus, Hazel Rose (2001). ""Who Am I?": The Cultural Psychology of the Conceptual Self". Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 27 (1): 90–103. doi:10.1177/0146167201271008. S2CID 145634514.
  19. ^ Markus, Hazel R.; Kitayama, Shinobu (April 1991). "Culture and the self: Implications for cognition, emotion, and motivation". Psychological Review. 98 (2): 224–253. doi:10.1037/0033-295x.98.2.224. ISSN 1939-1471. S2CID 13606371.
  20. ^ Matsumoto, David (December 1999). "Culture and self: An empirical assessment of Markus and Kitayama's theory of independent and interdependent self-construals". Asian Journal of Social Psychology. 2 (3): 289–310. doi:10.1111/1467-839x.00042. ISSN 1367-2223.
  21. ^ Vignoles, Vivian L.; et al. (2016). "Beyond the 'East–West' Dichotomy: Global Variation in Cultural Models of Selfhood" (PDF). Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. 145 (8): 966–1000. doi:10.1037/xge0000175. hdl:11693/36711. PMID 27359126. S2CID 296518.
  22. ^ Vignoles, Vivian L.; Smith, Peter B.; Becker, Maja; Easterbrook, Matthew J. (2018-06-21). "In Search of a Pan-European Culture: European Values, Beliefs, and Models of Selfhood in Global Perspective" (PDF). Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology. 49 (6): 868–887. doi:10.1177/0022022117738751. ISSN 0022-0221. S2CID 149371650.
  23. ^ Lesley Cohen Spear (1979). Descartes and Merleau-Ponty on the Self and Self-knowledge. University of Chicago, Department of Philosophy. Retrieved 1 November 2023.
  24. ^ Hall, Manly P. (1942). Self Unfoldment by Disciplines of Realization. Los Angeles, CA: The Philosophical Research Society, Inc. p. 115 "On rare occasions, we glimpse for an instant the tremendous implication of the Self, and we become aware that the personality is indeed merely a shadow of the real."
  25. ^ Barnett, Lincoln; et al. (1957), Welles, Sam (ed.), The World's Great Religions (1st ed.), New York: Time Incorporated
  26. ^ Kiesling, Chris; Montgomery, Marylin; Sorell, Gwendolyn; Colwell, Ronald. "Identity and Spirituality: A Psychosocial Exploration of the Sense of Spiritual Self"
  27. ^ Charon, Joel M. Ten Questions: A Sociological Perspective. 5th edition. Thomson & Wadsworth. p. 260
  28. ^ "The concept "Self" and "person" in Buddhism and in western psychology". NY: Columbia University Press. 2001. Archived from the original on 2017-09-04. Retrieved 12 February 2001.

Further reading