“Self” in James


DJJR Sociology

a course wiki by djjr

James, William. 1890. “The Self And Its Selves” (161-166).

James’ piece elaborates on the constituents, or selves, that create one cohesive “self. What people associate with the terms “I,” “me,” and “mine,” can all in some way or another be associated with an investment of self to some degree or another. James claims that the understanding of Self can be separated into three categories: “1. Its constituents; 2. The feelings and emotions they arouse,—Self-feelings; 3. The actions to which they prompt,—Self-seeking and Self-preservation” (James 1890, 162). The first category, the constituents that constitute Self can then be further divided into sub-categories of “a. The material Self; b. The social Self; c. The spiritual Self; and d. The pure Ego” (James 1890, 162). James then further explicates each of the four aforementioned sub-categories.

The material Self is constituted by: our bodies, clothes, immediate family, and home. It is it to these things, according to James, that we are the most deeply affected by because of our investments of self within these things. The more we invest of ourselves in these objects, the more attached to them we inevitably are to them.

A man’s social Self is configured based upon our interactions with society and the reactions of others that are analyzed in order to contribute to our idea of a social Self. Within this notion of the social Self, there are multiple divergences; which version of Self is present is contingent upon which of a particular social group one finds one’s self in. Seemingly, possessing multiple social Selves and maintaining the right face depending on social situation can be chaotic or harmonious. In attempts to maintain order between different variations of social Self, an individual’s sense of “fame” or “honor” regulates and determines what behaviors are or not moral, reasonable or honorable.

The next constituent is said by James to be the most intimate self, the spiritual Self. James claims that it is the most intimate version of self because the satisfaction experienced when one thinks of one’s “ability to argue and discriminate, of our [one’s] moral sensibility, and conscience, of our indomitable will” (James 1890, 164) is more pure than other sentiments of satisfaction. Then, James describes a number of bodily processes in which becoming introspective can make the acts entirely mindful, conscious processes—furthering our understanding of an intimate, spiritual self.

Finally, James addresses the last and “most puzzling aspect of the self,” (1980, 165) the Pure ego. While different schools of thought have all reached differing conclusions regarding the Ego, James begins to describe it by first addressing the deciphering of a personal identity. The first part of understanding the Ego comes with understanding that it can recognize its own thoughts; the thoughts that belong to one’s own Ego can be recognized and possess a warmth that thoughts possessed by a separate ego does not. This constructed consciousness then works in conjunction with subjective synthesis, a concept that is essential to thinking and is the act of bringing thoughts together (even if only to contrast them and realize the thoughts no longer belong together). In understanding the entirety of the Ego’s functions, however, one must recall that personal identity is perceived sameness and can ultimately be feeling—not fact.

A remark.

Non-human primates and some other animals do possess some kind of social self, meaning that they know their place within their group’s co-operative and subordinating structure, but this competency differs dramatically from the social self of the humans. In James’ terms they do not have spiritual self and ego.