Some western theories of the self
Where do we come from? What makes us who we are?
The Fated Self – Greeks and Romans
Our destinies are decided by the Fates, we are the playthings of
the gods.
The Faithful Self – Christian Middle Ages-present
The self is a soul created by God and defined by its obedience to
the Lord and its expiation of Original Sin.
Four modern humanist conceptions
The Rational Self – Descartes
The self is a rational thinking mind, separate from and having
control over the body.
Philosophy
The Conflicted Self – Freud
The self is a complicated interplay between the ego, id, and
superego and the conscious and unconscious elements of the
psyche, drives, repressed thoughts and feelings, and reason.
Psychology
The Conditioned Self – Skinner
The self is a complex collection of learned responses to
environmental stimuli.
Science, Sociology
The Self as a Work of Art – Nietzsche
Each individual is an experimental work of art, and life itself is a
work of art – dare to be yourself fully.
Philosophy, Humanities, the Arts
René Descartes
The Rational Self
French philosopher, scientist
and mathematician
(1596 –1650)
The first modern philosopher
Rejects the authority of ancient
philosophers and the Church
Tries to apply a more scientific
method to philosophy.
The place to start is by questioning
everything you think you know.
Ancient philosophy : Authority
The Bible
Aristotle
Modern Western philosophy
Generally rejects authority to focus on

Empiricism
Observing reality and testing it – scientific method

Rationalism
Logical and careful deep thinking, avoiding
emotional biases and preconceptions based on
previous authority.
Empiricism
Straight from the horse’s mouth.
Rationalism
Think twice. Then think some more.
Radical Doubt
Question or be suspicious
of the certainty of
everything, in order to
find what you know you
can trust to be true.
Descartes decides he can
doubt

Religious and philoshophical traditions and
authorities

The evidence of the senses (so he is not an
empiricist)

The “laws” of logic and mathematics (there could
be an evil demon bending our minds to believe that
2+2=4 when in fact 2+2=22
Radical Doubt

What do I know to be true for sure?

Eliminate all beliefs that cannot be known with
certainty (authorities, sense perceptions, logic and
math)

You can doubt everything except the one single
fact that you are doubting.
Cogito, ergo sum.
Actually, he wrote it in French: “Je pense, donc je
suis.”
Usual translation: “I think, therefore I am.”
Less snappy, but more to the point:
“I’m thinking, so [at least] I [must] exist.”
Discourse on the Method, IV
Mind-Body Dualism
Descartes believed
we are made up of
two different
components: the
mind and the body.
There are many antecedents for
such dualism in philosophy and
religion.
Descartes located the self in the mind.
The mind is what makes me me. The mind is
the self.
The mind is superior to the body, because
 You know there is a mind but the body could be an illusion
 You can imagine a mind without a body, but not a body
without a mind
 The body can mislead you (sense perceptions)
 The body can be cut up into parts; if you remove one part (cut
off an arm) you won’t stop being you; you can’t cut up the
mind that way; the mind is indivisible
“The Pilot of the Vessel”
The Rational Self
Reason and logic establish who we are, more than
the emotions, experience, outer authority, or our
physical being.
 The self is a mind, whose identity and actions are
determined by the exercise of its powers of
reason.
 The mind is the centre of the self; the body is
separate and lesser. The mind is “the pilot of the
vessel” (body=vehicle; mind=driver)

Sigmund Freud
The Conflicted Self
Austrian psychiatrist
(1856 - 1939)
Descartes based
his view of the
self on his own
mind.
Freud based his
theories of the self
on his analysis of
mentally disturbed
psychiatric patients.
The Discovery of the
Unconscious
Freud expanded the theory of the
self to include all the places where
the conscious mind (Descartes’s self)
loses or relinquishes control:
dreams
 daydreams
 art
 jokes
 slips of the tongue
 neurotic and hysterical symptoms

Animal and infantile aspects
Freud acknowledges that we are not just conscious
and rational adult minds - the body and its most
primitive emotional and physical impulses are also
part of the self:
 aggression
 desire
 hunger
 the need for a mother and father, for nurturing,
for guidance, for love
 fear
Repression
The unconscious mechanism
whereby unacceptable impulses
or memories are kept hidden
from awareness.
A basic defense reflex of
the mind to ward off
anxiety or conflicts that
are too difficult to
resolve, and to push out
of consciousness
impulses that are socially
unacceptable.
The Freudian Slip
The Freudian Slip
The Freudian Slip
The Return of the Repressed
The more we keep something hidden from
consciousness, the more power it actually has in
our psychological life - the more we remain
unconsciously preoccupied with it.
The hidden thing makes itself felt in other ways: in
dreams, in slips, in jokes, in symptoms, in culture.
Freud’s Model of the Self
 id
 ego
 superego
reality
conscious
ego
verbal, rational
pre-conscious
non-verbal, vague
id
unconscious
out of our
awareness
The id is an essentially unconscious
part of the mind that expresses our
most primitives drives, needs,
aggression and fears. It wants to
maximize pleasure and minimize pain.
reality
conscious
ego
verbal, rational
pre-conscious
non-verbal, vague
id
unconscious
out of our
awareness
The superego is a partly conscious
and partly unconscious part that tells
us how to behave and who we should
be. It comes from our internalization of
authority figures and role models.
reality
conscious
ego
verbal, rational
pre-conscious
non-verbal, vague
id
unconscious
out of our
awareness
The ego is a mostly conscious part
that tries to manage demands from
the superego, the id, and reality. When
we are consciously thinking and
communicating, that is mostly the ego.
reality
conscious
ego
verbal, rational
pre-conscious
non-verbal, vague
id
unconscious
out of our
awareness
Be sure you understand
DESCARTES
 Modern vs Ancient
Western Philosophy
 Rationalism and
Empiricism
 Radical Doubt
 Cogito ergo sum
 Mind/body dualism
FREUD
 Repression
 Return of the
Repressed
 Conscious, preconscious,
unconscious
 Id, superego, ego