The human self, being the basis of personal identity, has been variously understood.
Some say the self is the agency that says “I.” This is the conceptual, reflective part of ourselves that apparently remains unchanged from the first time to as long as one can think of the idea of “I.”
In psychological terms this is the ego, not to be confused with egotism or egoism. Theorists subscribing to this view often reject any kind of transcendental, unchanging core to selfhood.
Others suggest that individuals possess multiple selves. Here the self is viewed as “the personality or organization of traits” (J. P. Chaplin, Dictionary of Psychology, Bantam 1985, p. 414), another view that rejects an eternal, unchanging aspect of the self.
From a Western philosophical standpoint the question of self belongs to ontology (the study of being) and phenomenology (the study of experience). Ontology and phenomenology, however, are arguably influenced by cosmology (theories about the character of the universe) and ethics (questions about right and wrong).
The psychologist Freud‘s theory about the self is limited to two main factors–nature (instinctual drives of sex, aggression, love and death) and society (parents, significant others and social institutions). This is because Freud viewed God and any notions of an afterlife as illusions created to satisfy unconscious psychological desires and wishes, and his restricted worldview had a significant effect on his outlook.
Meanwhile Freud’s star pupil, Jung, took psychoanalytic theory a step further by suggesting the possibility of archetypal aspects of the self (i.e. eternal aspects existing beyond yet connected to the everyday world). For Jung, the self, itself, is an archetype of wholeness.
In Biblical Christianity, the true, essential self is not of this world but created to enjoy otherworldly, everlasting heaven:
If any one would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake will save it (Matthew 16:24-25).
Hindus in agreement with Sankara tend understand the true self (atman) as identical with an invisible, underlying aspect of creation (brahman). Once liberated, the self loses all sense of individuality.
Ramanuja‘s school of Visistadvaita presents another Hindu perspective where the true self is said to ultimately retain some sense of individuality as it rests in the godhead.
A branch of New Age believers say we have many slightly different selves coexisting in parallel or multiple universes, all unified by an oversoul existing above, beyond and yet within those multiple realities. A good example of this point of view can be found in the Seth Books by Jane Roberts.
In a witty and regal vein, King William III (William of Orange) was among those who’ve pondered the nature of the self:
As I walk’d by my self
And talk’d to my self,
My self said unto me,
Look to thy self,
Take care of thy self,
For nobody cares for Thee.
I answered my self,
And said to my self,
In the self-same Repartee,
Look to thy self
Or not look to thy self,
The self-same thing will be.
» Alchemy, Anatman, Archetype, Archetypal Image, Atman, Blake (William), Brahman, Buddhism, Collective Unconscious, Conscience, Defense Mechanism, Dennet (Daniel), Ego, Fromm (Erich), Hero, Hinduism, Individuation Process, Karma Transfer, Leibniz (Gottfried, Wilhelm), Maslow (Abraham), Mead (George Herbert), Numinous, Persona, Pollution, Postmodernism
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