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The Self and Its Selves Research Papers

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In William James’ The Self and Its Selves, the author and psychologist defines individual self-identity as something multi-faceted but integrally one. James’ summed up his theory on self-identity as The sum total of all that he CAN call his, not only his body and his psychic powers, but also the following:

  • His clothes and his houseThe Self and Its Selves
  • His wife and children
  • His ancestors and friends
  • His reputation and works
  • His lands and horses
  • His yacht and bank account

James states that we are tied with all these facets of self in such a way that if any of them prosper we feel happy and when any of these facets decrease or are harmed, we feel correspondingly sad or distressed. Following a tendency to categorize, James list out what he calls the constituents of the self as “the Material Self; the Social Self; the Spiritual Self; and the pure ego”. Each of these aspects of self is multi-faceted as well.

According to James’, the Material Self is centered in the body, with “… certain parts of the body more intimately ours than the rest”. Following the body, in a loose hierarchical order, comes clothes, family, home, property, and wealth – particularly wealth that is “… saturated with our labor”.

The Social Self of one’s identity, according to James, “… is the recognition he gets from his mates”. James’ points out that we have an “… innate propensity for getting ourselves noticed, and noticed favorably, by our kind”. Furthermore, according to James, the social self has different identities and behaviors depending upon whom it is that the self is interacting with. An example James’ gives of the social self’s changing identity is when a child is before his parents or teachers compared to the same child’s social self-identity when he is before his peers and friends. That child will put on a different social identity, or role, to suit the given company. James states that the social conventions of fame and respect also impact ones’ social identity. In another example James mentions how a soldier may take on courage in the face of danger whereas if the same man were not in the role of soldier, he might cower and flee. William James defines the Spiritual Self as “… the inner or subjective being, his psychic faculties or disposition, taken concretely…”

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