Great Connections Podcasts

Episode 4: The Concept of Self

How much of who you are is really under your control?  What are your limits? How much of you is determined by biology, by the world around you? What makes you YOU?

These questions have been debated for millennia. And the popularity of personality tests show that we still enjoy and have difficulty gaining insight to ourselves. Marsha and Liz range over wide number of ideas and philosophies about the self to find out what it is.


Episode resources: 

Here are some links to topics we reference in this episode:


Definitions of “Self”

“Self” from Dictionary of Philosophy edited by Dagobert D. Runes, 1960. 

1. Ego, subject, I, me, as opposed to the object or to the totality of objects; may be distinguished from ‘not-me,’ as in W. James’ statement (Principles of Psychology, I, 289) ‘One great splitting of the whole universe into two halves is made by each of us, and for each of us almost all of the interest attaches to one of the halves; but we all draw the line of division between them in a different place. When I say that we all call the two halves by the same names, and that those names are ‘me’ and ‘not-me’ respectively, it will at once be seen what I mean.’

2. The quality of uniqueness and persistence through changes (Lat.ipse), by virtue of which any person calls himself I and leading to the distinction among selves, as implied in such words as myself, yourself, himself, etc. (By transfer, this applies to the uniqueness of anything, as in ‘itself’).

3. The metaphysical principle of unity underlying subjective experience, which may be conceived as dependent upon the given organism or as distinct in nature; sometimes identified with the soul.

Some philosophers doubted or even denied the existence of the self. Thus, Hume pointed out (Treatise of Human Nature, I, pr. 4) that, apart from the bundle of successive perceptions, nothing justifying  the concept of self can be discerned by introspection.

The meaning of self, with its metaphysical, linguistic and psychological distinctions, has become so ambiguous that it may be useful to distinguish between:

  1. The self as applied to the bearer of subjective experience, or the physical or somatic (G.S. Hall, The American Journal of Psychology, 189701898) self; and

The self as applied to the contents of that experience, or the psychological self, which is ‘an organization of experiences in a dynamic whole.’ (W. Pillsbury, Attention, 217)