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Republic of the Philippines Surigao del
Sur State University Tagbina, Surigao
del Sur 8308 Email address:
sdssutc2010@yahoo.com Website:
For Internal Purposes
Module in
Understanding the
Self (GE-US)
NAME: _____________________________
PROGRAM/YEAR LEVEL: _____________________________
INSTRUCTOR: _____________________________
SEMESTER: _____________________________
SCHOOL YEAR: _____________________________
Introduction This module is designed to enhance self-understanding known as KNOW
THY SELF. Each lesson concludes with Discover/Evaluate/Assess/Reflect sections.
The Discover section reviews the key concepts and principles discussed in each lesson.
The Evaluate section measures the students’ degree of learning through exercises such
as multiple choice, fill-in-the-blanks, true or false tests, and essay questions that gauge
their understanding of the key concepts. The Assess section includes experiential
exercises and activities such as self-assessment tests designed to help students
identify their abilities, attributes, strengths, and weakness. The Reflect section helps
students develop self-knowledge and self-awareness. By taking time to introspect on
the important aspects of the self and identify, the students gain a deeper understanding
and insights of one’s self. The students are encouraged to have a personal journal
which is useful in developing self-reflection and insights.
This module is intended for adolescence that yearns for self-understanding and wants to
deepen their self-knowledge and self-awareness, who want to feel comfortable with their
bodies, desire for human relationships, prepare for life-long commitment with the abilities
and capacities for growth and success, and want to be healthy. Self-understanding is
possible for every adolescent. Understanding oneself can lead to a better quality of life.
Consequently, this helps you to instill the value of respect, responsiveness, awareness
and dedication known as the hope of our next generation. These values should be
integrated within the self as to signify their love to one another.
LESSON 1: Philosophical Perspective of the
Learning Outcomes/Objectives At the end of
the lesson, you should be able to:
a. demonstrate understanding of the range of representations and
conceptualizations of the self from various perspectives; b. compare and
contrast how the concept of self has been represented across
disciplines and perspectives; and c. examine the different influences,
factors, and forces that contribute to the
development of self.
By doing the activity above, what have you learned from yourself? Do you
really understand yourself? Why do we need to understand ourselves? To
clarify all these questions, take a moment of reading the following:
The Philosophical View of
Socrates: Know yourself
For Socrates the self is synonymous with the soul. He believes that every human
possesses an immortal soul that survives the physical body. Socrates was the first to
focus on the full power of reason on the human self: who we are, who we should be,
and who we will become. Socrates suggests that reality consists of two dichotomous
realms: physical and ideal realms. The physical realm is changeable, transient, and
imperfect. The ideal realm is unchanging, eternal, and immortal. The physical world in
which man lives belongs to the physical realm. For Socrates, the body belongs to the
physical realm. On the other hand, the unchanging, eternal, perfect realm includes the
intellectual essences of the universe, concept such as truth, goodness, and beauty. The
soul belongs to the ideal realm.
Find the following songs on the internet and reflect yourself on the song’s lyrics. Then,
answer the questions that follow.
“Sino Ako” by Jamie Rivera
“Who am I” by Casting Crowns
1. Who are you? 2. How would you describe yourself? 3. Do you love yourself?
Why or why not? 4. What are you most grateful for this life? 5. What are the
biggest and most important things you have learned in life so
Socrates explains that the essence of the self – the soul – is the immortal entity. The soul
strives for wisdom and perfection, and reason is the soul’s tool to achieve this exalted
state. But then as long as the soul is tied to the body, the quest for wisdom is inhibited by
the imperfection of the physical realm, where it wanders and is confused. Socrates thus
suggests that man must live an examined life and a life of purpose and value. For him,
an unexamined life is not worth living. The individual person can have a meaningful and
happy life only if he becomes virtuous and knows the value of himself that can be
achieved through incessant soul-searching. He must begin at the source of all knowledge
and significance – the self. The Socratic Method, the so-called introspection, is a method
of carefully examining one’s thoughts and emotions – to gain self-knowledge.
Plato: The Self is an Immortal Soul
Another ancient Greek philosopher, Plato, elaborates on Socrates’
concept of the soul. Like Socrates, Plato believes that the self is
synonymous with the soul. His philosophy can be explained as a
process of self-knowledge and purification of the soul. Specifically,
he introduces the idea of three-part soul/self: reason, physical
appetite, and spirit or passion. Reason is the divine essence that
enable us to think deeply, make wise choices, and achieve a true
understanding of eternal truths. The physical appetite includes our
basic biological needs such as hunger, thirst, and sexual desire.
The spirit or passion includes basic emotions such as love, anger, ambition,
aggressiveness, and empathy. These three elements of our selves are in a dynamic
relationship with one another, sometimes in conflict. When conflict occurs, Plato believes
it is the responsibility of Reason to sort things out and exert control, restoring a
harmonious relationship among the three elements of our selves. Further, Plato believes
that genuine happiness can only be achieved by people who consistently make sure that
their Reason is in control of their Spirits and Appetites. This harmonious integration under
the control of Reason is the essence of Plato’s concept of justice. As such, if man lives in
accordance to his nature, he is giving justice to his existence.
Having described his vision of the soul/self, Plato goes on to elaborate his ideas about
soul. In his Theory of Forms, he introduces the concepts of two worlds: the world of forms
(non-physical ideas) and the world of sense (reality). While the world of forms is real and
permanent, the world of sense is temporary and only a replica of the ideal world where
the concept of the soul belongs. Since the soul is regarded as something permanent, man
should give more importance to it than the physical body which resides in the world of
Aristotle: The Soul is the Essence of the
Another Greek philosopher, Aristotle, believes that the soul is
merely a set of defining features and does not consider the body
and soul as separate entities. He suggests that anything with life
has soul. Aristotle holds that the soul is the essence of all living
things. Thus, the soul is the essence of self. However, humans
differ from other living things because of their capacity for rational
thinking. His discussion about the self centers on the kinds of soul
possessed by man. Thus, he introduces the three kinds of soul:
vegetative, sentient, and rational. The vegetative soul includes
the physical body that can grow. Sentient soul includes sensual desires, feelings, and
emotions. Rational soul is what makes man human. It includes the intellect that allows
man to know and understand things.
Thus, Aristotle suggests that the rational nature of the self is to lead a good, flourishing,
and fulfilling life (self-actualization). The pursuit of happiness is a search for a good life
that includes doing virtuous actions. In saying this, he posits that part of the rational soul
is characterized by moral virtues such as justice and courage.
St. Augustine: The Self Has an Immortal
The African philosopher, Augustine, is regarded as saint in the Catholic Church. He
integrates the ideas of Plato and teachings of Christianity. Augustine believes that the
physical body is radically different from and inferior to its inhabitant, the immortal soul.
As his thinking matured, he developed a more unified perspective on the body and soul.
He ultimately came to view the body as “spouse” of the soul. Both attached to one
another by a “natural appetite.” He believes that the body is united with the soul, so that
man may be entire and complete. Nevertheless, as a religious philosopher, he
contemplates on the nature of man with emphasis on the soul as an important element
of man. He believe that the soul is what governs and define man.
In his work, Confessions, Augustine describes that humankind is created in the image
and likeness of God. Everything created by God who is all good is good. Therefore, the
human person, being a creation of God is always geared towards the good. Augustine is
convinced that the self is known only through knowing God. Accordingly, self-knowledge
is a consequence of knowledge of God. Augustine espouses the significance of reflection,
as well as the importance of prayers and confessions to arrive at a justification for the
existence of God. For him, “knowledge can only come by seeing the truth that dwells
within us.” The truth of which Augustine speaks refers to the truth of knowing God. God
is transcendent and the self seeks to be united with God through faith and reason. In his
mission to discover the truth on the existence of God, Augustine develops the
fundamental concept of the human person, and thus provides the philosophical principle,
“I am doubting, therefore I am.”
René Descartes: “I think, therefore I am”
French philosopher Rene Descartes is the father of modern
philosophy. He has brought an entirely new perspective to
philosophy and the self. He wants to penetrate the nature of
reasoning process and understand its relationship to the human
self. The Latin phrase Cogito ergo sum – “I think therefore I am”
is the keystone of Descartes’ concept of self. For him, the act of
thinking about the self – of being self-conscious – is in itself proof
that there is a self. He is confident that no rational person will
doubt his or her own existence as a conscious, thinking entity –
while we are aware of thinking about ourselves.
For Descartes, this is the essence of the human self – a thinking entity that doubts,
understands, analyses, questions, and reasons.
He contends further that if man reflects thoughtfully, he will realize that there are two
dimensions of the human self: the self as a thinking entity and the self as a physical body.
In particular, he introduces the idea of the thinking self (or soul) as non-material, immortal,
conscious being, and independent of the physical laws of the universe. In contrast, the
physical body is a material, mortal, non-thinking entity, fully governed by the physical laws
of nature. In other words, the soul and the body are independent of one another, and each
can exist and function without the other. The essential self – the self as a thinking entity
– is distinct from the self as physical body. Simply out, the thinking self can exist
independently of the physical body.
John Locke: Personal
For English philosopher John Locke, the human mind at birth is tabula rasa or a blank
slate. He feels that the self, or personal identity, is constructed primarily from sense
experiences – or more specifically, what people see, hear, smell, taste, and feel. These
experiences shape and mold the self throughout a person’s life. For Locke, conscious
awareness and memory of previous experiences are the keys to understanding the self.
Locke believes that the essence of the self is its conscious awareness of itself as a
thinking, reasoning, and reflecting identity. He contends that consciousness
accompanies thinking and makes possible the concept people have of a self. Selfconsciousness is necessary to have a coherent personal (self) identity or knowledge of
the self as a person. Consciousness is what makes identity of a person similar in
different situations.
At this point, Locke is proposing that people could use the power of reason to gain
knowledge and consequently use this knowledge to understand experiences. Knowledge
is based on careful observation of experiences. Reason plays an important role in helping
to figure out the significance of sense experience and to reach intelligent conclusions.
Thus, using the power of reason and introspection enables one to understand and
achieve accurate conclusions about the self (or personal identity).
David Hume: The Self is the Bundle Theory of Mind
Scottish philosopher David Hume suggests that if people carefully examine their sense
experience through the process of introspection, they will discover that that there is no
self. According to Hume, that what people experience is just a bundle or collection of
different perceptions. Hume maintains that if people carefully examine the contents of
their experience, they will find that there are only distinct entities: impressions and
ideas. Impressions are the basic sensations of people's experience such as hate, love,
joy, grief, pain, cold, and heat. Impressions are vivid perceptions and are strong and
lively. Ideas, however, our thoughts and images from impressions so they are less likely
and vivid.
Hume further posits is that different sensations are in a constant continuum that is in
variable and not constant. Hume argues is that it cannot be from any of these impressions
that the idea of self is derived and consequently, there is no self. Hume's sceptical claim
on this issue is that people have no experience of a simple and individual impression that
they can call the self where the self is the totality of a person's conscious life.
Subsequently, the idea of personal identity is a result of imagination.
Immanuel Kant: We Construct the Self
For German philosopher Immanuel Kant, it is the self that makes experiencing an
intelligible world possible because it is the self that is actively organizing and
synthesizing all of our thoughts and perceptions. The self, in the form of consciousness,
utilizes conceptual categories which he calls transcendental deduction of categories, to
construct an orderly and objective world that is stable and can be investigated
scientifically, Kant believes that the self is an organizing principle that makes a unified
and intelligible experience possible. It is metaphorically above or behind sense
experience, and it uses the categories of our mind to filter, order, relate, organizes, and
synthesize sensation into a unified whole.
In other words, the self-construct its own reality, actively creating a world that is familiar,
predictable, and most significantly, mine. The self is the product of reason, a regulative
principle, because the self regulates experience because the mind can grasp aspects of
reality which are not limited to the senses. Through rationality, people are able to
understand certain abstract ideas that have no corresponding physical object or sensory
Sigmund Freud: The Self is Multi-layered
Austrian psycho analyst Sigmund Freud is not a
philosopher, but his views on the nature of the self have a
far reaching impact on philosophical thinking, as well as
other disciplines such as psychology and sociology. Freud
holds that self consists of three layers: the conscious self
is governed by the "reality principle". The conscious part
of the self is organized in ways that are rational, practical,
and appropriate to the environment. The conscious self
usually takes into account the realistic demand s of the
situation, the consequences of various actions, and the
overriding need to preserve the equilibrium (balance) of
the entire psychodynamic system of the self.
In contrast, the unconscious part of the self contain s the basic instinctual drives including
sexuality, aggressiveness, and self-destruction; traumatic memory; unfulfilled wishes and
childhood fantasies; and thoughts and feelings that would be considered socially taboo.
The unconscious level is characterized by the most primitive level of human motivation
and human functioning which is governed by the "pleasure principle”.
Freud argues that much all the self is determined by the unconscious. On the other hand,
the preconscious self contains material that is not threatening and is easily brought to
mind. According to Freud, the preconscious part is located between the conscious and
the unconscious parts of the self.
Gilbert Ryle: The Self is the Way People
British philosopher Gilbert Ryle believes that the self is best understood as a pattern of
behaviour, the tendency or disposition of a person to behave in a certain way in certain
circumstances. Ryle's concept of the human self thus provides the philosophical
principles, "I act therefore I am". Ryle considers the mind and body to be intrinsically
linked in complex and intimate ways. In short, the southeast the same as bodily
behaviour. He concludes that the mind is the totality of human dispositions that is known
through the way people behave. Nevertheless, Ryle is convinced that the mind
expresses the entire system of thoughts, emotions, and actions that make up the
human self.
Paul Churchland: The Self is the Brain
Canadian philosopher Paul Churchland advocates the idea of
eliminative materialism or the idea that the self is inseparable
from the brain and physiology of the body. All a person has is the
brain, and so if the brain is gone, there is no self. For Churchland,
the physical brain and not the imaginary mind, gives people the
sense of self. The mind does not really exist because it cannot
be experienced by the senses.
Maurice Merleau-Ponty: The Self is Embodied Subjectivity
French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty argues that all knowledge about this house
is based on the "phenomena" of experience. The "I" it's a single integrated core identity,
a combination of the mental, physical, and emotional structures around a core identity of
the self. He further articulates that when people examine the self at the fundamental
level of direct human experience, people will discover that the mind and body are
unified, not separate. He notes in his book, phenomenology of perception, that
everything that people are aware of is contained within the consciousness.
Consciousness is a dynamic form responsible for actively structuring conscious ideas
and physical behaviour. He is convinced that consciousness, the world, and the human
body are intricately intertwined in perceiving the world. For him, perception is not merely
a consequence of sensory experience; rather, it is a conscious experience. Thus, the
self is Embodied subjectivity.
Name: __________________________________ Course & Year level: __________________
Subject: _________________________________ Instructor: __________________________
Multiple Choice. Encircle the letter that corresponds to your answer.
1. According to him, “an unexamined life is not worth living.”
a. Socrates
b. Plato c.
2. In his theory of Forms, he introduces the concept of the two worlds: the world of
forms (non-physical ideas) and the world sense (reality).
a. Socrates
b. Plato c.
3. He is regarded as the Father of Modern
a. Gilbert Ryle b.
Paul Churchland c.
Rene Descartes
4. He postulates that the human mind at birth is a blank slate or tabula rasa.
a. Augustine b.
Rene Descartes c.
John Locke
5. He introduces the idea of eliminative materialism.
a. Immanuel Kant
b. Gilbert Ryle c.
Paul Churchland
6. He believes that the mind is not the seat of self but behaviour, thus the principle “I
act, therefore, I am”.
a. Gilbert Ryle b.
David Hume c.
Immanuel Kant
7. He believes that the self is the brain.
a. David Hume b. Maurice
Merleau-Ponty c. Paul
8. The cornerstone of Socrates’ philosophy
a. I think, therefore I am b. Know
thyself c. The self is the way people
Name: __________________________________ Course & Year level: __________________
Subject: _________________________________ Instructor: __________________________
Write an essay on the philosophical perspective of the self. Consider the
following questions in your essay:
1. Explain how each philosophy of the self affects yourself-understanding. 2.
Which philosophy relates to your own belief? 3. What is your own philosophy of
self? 4. What is the importance of having a philosophy of the self? 5. Describe
who you are, the meaning of your life, the purpose of your existence,
and how to achieve a happy and successful life. 6. What are your
characteristics that can contribute to your happiness and
LESSON 2: Sociological Perspective of the
Learning Outcomes/Objectives
At the end of the lesson, you should be able
a. recognize what sociology tells about understanding the self and others;
b. discuss how individuals view the self as a product of socialization; and
c. explain George Herbert Mead’s theory of the social self.
Let’s start the lesson by reading the following:
Understanding of the self only arises in relationship, in watching yourself in relationship
to people, ideas, and things; to tree, the earth, and the world around you and within
you. Relationship is the mirror in which the self is revealed. Without self-knowledge
there is no basis for right thought and action.
- JidduKrishnamurti
Sociological perspective of the self assumes that human behavior is influenced by group
life. A particular view of oneself is formed through interactions with other people, groups,
or social institution.
This lesson draws on the principles and concepts of well-known sociologist to foster
student understanding of sociology and how sociology impacts students’ everyday lives,
and provide a pathway to self-understanding of “who you are” and “what you are” in
contemporary society.
For sociologist like Mead and Cooley, the self does not depend on biological
predispositions; rather, it is a product of social interaction. The sense of self emerges as
the individual partakes in the society. While the individual seeks for solid and stable selfidentity in modern society, the postmodern individual tries to avoid fixation and keeps the
options open for self-improvement.
French sociologist Jean Baudrillard posits that in the postmodern society, the self is found
in the prestige symbols of goods consumed by people. The postmodern person has
become an insatiable consumer. Therefore, of people desire to be satisfied with things in
life, they should not be persuaded by the postmodern culture of advertisement and mass
media which suggest false needs.
Sociology as a scientific study of social groups and human relationships generates new
insights into the interconnectedness between the self and other people. Hence,
sociologists offer theories to explain how the self emerges as a product of social
experience. The looking-glass self by Charles Horton Cooley and the theory of the social
self by George Herbert Mead are helpful in understanding how a person views himself or
herself as he or she interacts with the social environment that includes family, school,
peer groups, and mass media.
Sociologist Charles Horton Cooley in 1902 introduces the looking-glass self to highlight
that the people whom a person interacts with become a mirror in which he or she view
himself or herself. Self-identity or self-image is achieved througha threefold event which
begins by convincing an idea of how a person presents himself or herself to others, how
he or she analyses how others perceive him or her, and how he or she creates an image
of himself or herself. Since these perceptions are subjective, a person might have wrong
interpretations of how other people evaluate him or her. It would be critical if he or she
thinks that others judge him or her unfavorably because he could develop a negative selfimage. Another sociologist, George Herbert Mead, support the view that a person
develops a sense of self through social interaction and not the biological preconditions of
that interaction. Mead’s theory of the social self explained that the self has two divisions:
the “I” and the “me”. The “I” is the subjective element and the active side of the self. It
represents the spontaneous and unique traits of the individual. The “me”, on the other
hand, is the objective element of the self that represents the internalized attitudes and
demands of other people and the individual’s awareness of those demands. The full
development of the self is attained when the “I” and the “me” are united. According to
Mead, the self is not present at birth. It develops only with social experience in which
language, gestures, and objects are used to communicate meaningfully. Since there is
meaning in human actions, a person infers people’s intention or direction of action, which
may lead him or her to understand the world from other’s point of view – a process that
Mead labels as role-taking. Then he or she creates his or her own role and anticipates
how others will respond. When he or she performs his or her own particular role, he or
she becomes self-aware. The self continues to change along with his or her social
experience. In other words, no matter how much the world shapes a person, he or she
will always remain creative being, and be able to react to the world around him or her.
Mead details the development of the self in a three-stage process:
1. In preparatory stage (0-3 years old), children imitate the people around them,
especially family members with whom they have daily interaction. But they copy
behaviour without understanding underlying intentions, and so at this stage, they have
no sense of self. During this stage, children are just preparing for role taking.
2. During the play stage (3-5 years old), children start to view themselves in relation
to others as they learn to communicate through language and other symbols. At this
stage, role-taking as something expected of them. The self emerges as children
pretend to take the roles of a specific people or significant others, those individuals
who are important agents of socialization. At this stage, the self is developing.
3. In the game stage (begins in the early school years; about 8-9 years old) children
understand not only their own social position but also those of others around them. At
this stage, children become concerned about and take into account in their behaviour
the generalized others which refer to the attitudes, view point s, demands, and
expectations of the society which include cultural norms and values that serve as
references in evaluating oneself. This time, they can have a more sophisticated look
of people and an ability to respond to numerous members of the social environment.
During this stage, the self is now present.
The Self as a Product of Modern and Postmodern Societies
Gerry Lanuza's (2004) article, "The Constitution of the Self", discusses the relationship
between society and the individual. According to him, in modern societies the attainment
and stability of self-identity are freely chosen. It is no longer restricted by customs and
traditions. While this newfound freedom offers infinite possibilities for self-cultivation,
problems such as alien nation and dehumanization of the self also appear which hinder
the full development of human potentials. Hence, there is a need to discover the
"authentic core" of the self for the individual to freely work towards self-realization.
Whereas the dissolution of traditional values and communities in modern society has led
the individual to construct a solid and stable self-identity, the postmodern individual
welcomes all possibilities for self-improvement. And postmodern societies, self-identity
continuously changes due to the demands of multitude of social contexts, new information
technologies, and globalization.
French sociologist Jean Baudrillard exposes the negative consequences of
postmodernity to individuals in the society. For him, consumption structures the
postmodern society. The postmodern individuals achieve self-identity through prestige
symbols that they consume. Individuals seek for a position in society through the quality
of prestige symbols that they can afford to consume. The cultural practices of advertising
and mass media greatly influence individuals to consume goods not for their primary value
and utility but for the feeling of goodness and power when compared with others. Hence,
the postmodern person has become an insatiable consumer and may never be satisfied
in his or her life. For example, if a person buys an expensive cellular phone not merely as
a useful communication device, but because of its prestige symbol, he or she will desire
to buy a new cell phone when he or she learns that a new and more prestigious model
has come out in the market, or when he or she discovers that other people are using more
expensive mobile phones. Therefore, the self may be in a never-ending search for
prestige in the postmodern society.
Name: __________________________________ Course & Year level: __________________
Subject: _________________________________ Instructor: __________________________
Multiple Choice. Encircle the letter that corresponds to your answer.
1. He introduced the concept “looking-glass self”.
a. George Herbert Mead
b. Charles Horton Cooley
c. Gerry Lanuza d. Jean
2. He proposed the theory of social
a. George Herbert Mead
b. Charles Horton Cooley
c. Gerry Lanuza d. Jean
3. During this stage, there is no self.
a. Game stage b.
Play stage c.
Preparatory stage d.
Role playing
4. During this stage, the self is developing
a. Game stage b.
Play stage c.
Preparatory stage d.
Role playing
5. The attitudes, viewpoints, demands, and expectations of others and the
a. Role taking b. Role
playing c. Generalized
others d. Lookingglass self
True or False. Write T on the blank if the statement is true and write F if it is false.
1. The “I” is the objective element of the self.
2. The “me” represents the spontaneous and unique traits of the
individual. 3. The full development of the self is attained when the “I” and the
“me” are unite. 4. The postmodern individuals achieve self-identity through prestige
symbols that they consume. 5. During the plays stage, individuals have a more
sophisticated look of people and an ability to respond to numerous
look members of the social environment.
Name: __________________________________ Course & Year level: __________________
Subject: _________________________________ Instructor: __________________________
DIRECTIONS: Answer the following questions briefly and concisely.
A. How do you perceive yourself as you interact with other people in the society? How
do you think you formed this perception of yourself? Identify the people, groups, or
social institutions that significantly influenced your understanding of yourself.
LESSON 3: An Anthropological Conceptualization of Self
Learning Outcomes/Objectives At the end of
the lesson, you should be able to:
a. recognize what the field of anthropology can contribute to the understanding of
the self; b. understand how culture and self are complementary
concepts; and c. discuss the cultural construction of the self and
social identity.
Let’s start the lesson by reading the following:
Anthropology is concerned with how cultural and biological processes interact to shape
human experience. Contemporary anthropologists believe that culture and self are
complementary concepts that are to be understood in relation to one another. Compared
with other disciplines, anthropology possesses a holistic and integrated approach in
examining human nature. According to a distinguished anthropology professor, James L.
Peacock (1986), “an anthropology encroaches on the territory of the sciences as well as
the humanities, and transcends the conventional boundaries of both while addressing
questions from the distant past and the pressing present – perhaps with implications for
the future”. This definition of anthropology emphasizes that it is an academic field for
understanding the interconnection and interdependence of biological and cultural aspects
of the human experience at all times and in all places. Employing an anthropological
perspective that is, perceiving holistically, what could be the answer to the question: “Who
am I?” anthropology considers human experience as an interplay of “nature”, referring to
genetic inheritance which sets the individual’s potentials, and “nurture”, referring to the
sociocultural environment. Therefore, it could be understood that both biological and
cultural factors have significant influence on the development of self-awareness among
individuals within society. In addition, the field of anthropology has contributed indirectly
to the understanding of the nature of self through ethnographic investigation (e.g.
sampling method, sentence completion, interviews) which discuss that cultural variations
may affect one’s mental state, language, and behaviour. Perhaps, the most important
contribution of anthropology is providing insights into the nature of self based on
continuous understanding of the basic elements of culture. (Peacock, 1986).
The Cultural Construction of Self and Identity
British anthropologist Edward Tylor define culture as that complex whole which includes
knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, customs, and any other capabilities and habits
acquired by man asa member of society. Anthropologists have emphasized that culture
is not behaviour itself but the shared understanding that guide behaviour and are
expressed in behaviour. Therefore, it is how people make sense of their experiences and
behave according to socially shared ideas, values, and perceptions.
As such, culture has acquired a range of different meanings that require reflection and
analysis because the significance of cultures has enormous implications for everyone's
conception of self. Thus, one may say that culture provides patterns of ways of life.
Culture, being diverse, self and identity may have different meanings and different
Yet, only a small number of anthropologists tackle the concept of self. In effect, self is one
of the most taken for granted products of culture. German anthropologist Martin Sokefeld
(1999) believes that the concept of self is a necessary supplement to the concept of
culture in anthropology and should be regarded as a human universal. Culture and self
thus become complementary concepts that have to be understood in relation to one
In social anthropology, the concept of identity was used mostly in the context of ethnic
identity, pointing out the sameness of the self with others, that is, to a consciousness of
sharing certain characteristics (e.g. language, culture, etc.) Within a group. Identity is
understood as a disposition of basic personality features acquired mostly during
childhood and, once integrated, more or less fixed. This identity therefore makes a human
being a person and an acting individual. Peacock (1986) believes that the individual is
neither are robot nor and entirely independent self-willed little God but a cultural individual
-- existing in freedom but also embodying the cultural mold in which he is cast in his
particular society and historical epoch.
There are two ways in which the concept of self is viewed in different societies:
egocentric and sociocentric.
In the egocentric view, the self is seen as an autonomous and distinct individual. Each
person is defined as a replica of all humanity but capable of acting independently from
others. While in the sociocentric view, the self is contingent on a situation or social
setting. This is a view of the self that is context dependent which emphasizes that there
is no intrinsic self that can process enduring qualities.
For anthropologist Christie Kiefer (Robbins, 2012), The Japanese process as sociocentric
view of the self in which the membership of a person in a particular social group defines
the boundaries of the self. Interdependence between the person and the group is more
valued than independence. For the Japanese, social interaction should be characterized
by restraint. Likewise, Chinese American anthropologies Francis Hsu attributes
sociocentric view of the self to the Chinese. He explains that the Chinese prioritize kin
ties and cooperation. For them, the very essence of interpersonal relations is mutual
dependence. Hence, they do not value self-reliance but put importance to compliance
and subordination of once will to the authority figures in the family. In contrast with the
Japanese and the Chinese, the Americans are egocentric. They believe that they should
be assertive and independent.
From the similarities and differences in characteristics among individuals, people
construct their social identities. The identity toolbox refers to the features of a person's
identity that he or she chooses to emphasize in constructing a social self. Some
characteristics such as kinship, gender, and age are almost universally used to
differentiate people. Other characteristics, such as ethnicity, personal appearance, and
socio-economic status are not always used in every society.
Family membership could be the most significant feature to determine a person's social
identity. Another important identity determinant that is often viewed as essential for the
maintenance of a group identity is language. In other societies, religious affiliation is an
important marker of group identity. In Mindanao, being a Christian or a Muslim is possibly
the most important defining feature of one's social identity.
Personal naming, a universal practice with numerous cross cultural variations,
establishes a child's birth right and social identity a name is an important device to
individualize a person and legitimize him or her as a member of a social group such as
family. Personal name and also scientists are intimate markers of a person which
differentiates him or her from others. A person's name may symbolically represents his
or her cultural self.
Hence, many cultures Mark the naming of a child with a special ceremony. For example,
Aymara Indians do not consider an infant asa true human until a name is given to him or
her. When the child is around 2 years old and ready to speak the Aymara language, a
special ritual is performed to give it a name. This marks the Aymara child's social transition
from a state of nature to culture which also consequently makes him or her fully accepted
into the Aymara community. Different from the Aymara Indians, Icelanders name their
infants soon after birth. The baby receives the paternal given name as its last name. The
boy’s name is added with a suffix sen and the girl’s name with dottir. Whereas patronyms
(surnames based on father's name) are common in Iceland, matronymic traditions prevail
in an Indonesian island of Sumatra where an ethnic group known as Minangkabau lives.
In Minangkabau culture, children inherit their mother’s family name. Another unique
naming is practiced in Arctic Canada where children are named after their deceased
relatives and other people with admirable qualities which they believe will be helpful for
their character formation. Similarly, in the Philippines, it is a common practice of Catholic
parent s to name their children after saints. Perhaps, they think that by bearing a sacred
name, their child will be blessed and protected throughout life.
One’s identity is not inborn. It is something people continuously develop in life. For
instance, rites of passage usually involve ritual activities to prepare individuals for new
roles from one stage of life to another such as birth, puberty, marriage, having children,
and death. Arnold Van Gennep believes that changes in one status and identity are
marked by a three-phased rite of passage: separation, liminality, and incorporation. In
the separation phase, people detach from their former identity to another. For example,
in a wedding, the bride walking down the aisle to be given away by the parent s to the
groom implies the separation from one's family to become part of a new one. In the
liminality phase, a person transitions from one identity to another. For example, the
wedding ceremony itself is the process of transition of the bride and groom from single
hood to married life. Finally, in the incorporation phase, the changes in one status is
officially incorporated. For example, the wedding reception and parties that celebrate the
wedding serve as the markers that officially recognize the bride and grooms change
towards being husband and wife.
Rites of passage help person adjust from one social dimension of his or her life to the
others. However, sometimes individuals disagree on their respective identities. Anthony
Wallace and Raymond Fogelson coined the term "identity struggles" to characterize
interaction in which there is a discrepancy between the identity a person claims to
possess and the identity attributed to that person by others. Moreover, individuals may
also be confused in defining their personal identity when there is a clash between selfidentification and inherited collective identification emerging from the cultural changes
and conflicting norms and values in the postmodern society.
When universal values and moral principles of an individual or group become relatively
determined by politics and ideology, among other external factors, and identity crisis may
occur. Golunovic (2011) suggests that in order to attain self-identification, individuals have
to overcome many obstacles such as traditionally established habits and externally
imposed self-images. On the other hand, the works of cognitive anthropologists suggest
is that in order to maintain a relatively stable and coherent self, members of the
multicultural society have no choice but to internalize divergent cultural models and
should reject or supress identifications that make conflict with other self-presentations.
Katherine Ewing's "illusion of wholeness" exhibits how individual selves throughout the
world continuously reconstitute themselves into new selves in response to internal and
external stimuli. Therefore, the cohesiveness and continuity of self are only illusory. For
the reason that the postmodern man has lost his right and stopped striving to become an
autonomous and active part of the process of self-determination and a particular
identification with one's own community, the most important philosophical task of the
postmodern man today is to “work on yourself" just like in the Socratic message "know
The Self as Embedded in
Clifford Geertz (1973), an American anthropologist, offers a reformulation of the concept
of culture which favours a symbolic interpretative model of culture. He defines culture as
a system of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic forms by means of which people
communicate, perpetuate, and develop their knowledge about and attitude toward life.
Further, he proposes that it is necessary that humans give meanings to their experiences
so that order in the world can be established. He agrees with Max Weber, that "Man is an
animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun", in which those webs are
perceived to be symbolic of culture. This semiotic approach to culture is helpful in getting
inside a conceptual world where human beings live. Thus, the concept of culture has its
impact on the concept of man. In his attempt to illustrate an accurate image of men,
Geertz suggests two important ideas:
(1) culture should not be perceived only as "complexes of concrete behaviour patterns -customs, usages, traditions, habit clusters -- as has, by and large, been the case up to
now, but as a set of control mechanisms -- plans, recipes, rules, instructions -- for the
governing behaviour.
(2) man is precisely the animal most desperately dependent upon such extra genetic,
outside the skin control mechanisms, such cultural programs for ordering his behaviour.
Therefore, man is defined by his genetic potentials shaped into actual accomplishments
which is made possible by culture. Geertz also emphasizes that human nature is
interdependent with culture: "without men, no culture, certainly; but equally, and more
significantly, without culture, no men.
Name: __________________________________ Course & Year level: __________________
Subject: _________________________________ Instructor: __________________________
A. Multiple Choice. Encircle the letter that corresponds to your answer.
It refers to “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, laws,
customs, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of
a. identity toolbox c. society b. social identity d.
According to this view, there is no intrinsic self that can possess enduring
a. androcentric c. sociocentric b. egocentric d.
This refers to the features of a person’s identity that he or she chooses to emphasize in
constructing his or her social self.
a. personal name c. sociocentric b. social identity d.
It is a universal practice with numerous cross-cultural variations and establishes a
child’s birth right and social identity.
a. personal naming c. identity toolbox b. rites of passage
d. incorporation
These are interactions in which there is a discrepancy between the identity a person
claims to possess and the identity attributed to that person by others.
a. illusion of wholeness c. rites of passage b. identity
struggles d. separation
Critical Questions for Discussion
Think of at least cases of college fraternity hazing in the Philippines within the last five
years. What do you think of organizations requiring their neophytes to perform various
demeaning acts and undergo life threatening initiation rites before incorporating them into
the fraternity as full-pledged brothers? Would you consider joining fraternity/ sorority in
your campus? What could be the reason why college students are encouraged to join
fraternities/ sororities? Focus your discussion using Golubovic’s theory of identity crisis.