The self is an individual person as the object of his or her own reflective consciousness
Consciousness is a term that refers to the relationship between the mind and the world with which it interacts. It has been defined as: subjectivity, awareness, the ability to experience or to feel, wakefulness, having a sense of selfhood, and the executive control system of the mind...

. The self has been studied extensively by philosophers and psychologists and is central to many world religions.


The philosophy of self seeks to describe essential qualities that constitute a person's uniqueness or essential being. There have been various approaches to defining these qualities. The self can be considered that being which is the source of consciousness; the agent
Moral agency
Moral agency is a person's ability to make moral judgments and take action that comport with morality.A Moral agent is "a being who is capable of acting with reference to right and wrong"-Development and analysis:...

Moral responsibility
Moral responsibility usually refers to the idea that a person has moral obligations in certain situations. Disobeying moral obligations, then, becomes grounds for justified punishment. Deciding what justifies punishment, if anything, is a principle concern of ethics.People who have moral...

 for an individual's thoughts and actions; and/or the substantial
Substance theory
Substance theory, or substance attribute theory, is an ontological theory about objecthood, positing that a substance is distinct from its properties. A thing-in-itself is a property-bearer that must be distinguished from the properties it bears....

 nature of a person which endures and unifies consciousness over time.


The psychology of self is the study of either the cognitive and affective representation of one's identity or the subject of experience. The earliest formulation of the self in modern psychology form the distinction between the self as I, the subjective knower, and the self as Me, the object that is known. Current views of the self in psychology position the self as playing an integral part in human motivation, cognition, affect, and social identity
Social identity
A social identity is the portion of an individual's self-concept derived from perceived membership in a relevant social group. As originally formulated by Henri Tajfel and John Turner in the 1970s and 80s, social identity theory introduced the concept of a social identity as a way in which to...

. Self following from John Locke
John Locke
John Locke FRS , widely known as the Father of Liberalism, was an English philosopher and physician regarded as one of the most influential of Enlightenment thinkers. Considered one of the first of the British empiricists, following the tradition of Francis Bacon, he is equally important to social...

 has been seen as a product of episodic memory
Episodic memory
Episodic memory is the memory of autobiographical events that can be explicitly stated. Semantic and episodic memory together make up the category of declarative memory, which is one of the two major divisions in memory...

 but research upon those with amnesia
Amnesia is a condition in which one's memory is lost. The causes of amnesia have traditionally been divided into categories. Memory appears to be stored in several parts of the limbic system of the brain, and any condition that interferes with the function of this system can cause amnesia...

 find they have a coherent sense of self based upon preserved conceptual autobiographical knowledge. It is increasingly possible to correlate cognitive and affective experience of self with neural processes. A goal of this ongoing research is to provide grounding and insight into the elements of which the complex multiply situated selves of human identity are composed. The 'Disorders of the Self' have also been extensively studied by psychiatrists.


Religious views on the self vary widely. The self is a complex and core subject in many forms of spirituality
Spirituality can refer to an ultimate or an alleged immaterial reality; an inner path enabling a person to discover the essence of his/her being; or the “deepest values and meanings by which people live.” Spiritual practices, including meditation, prayer and contemplation, are intended to develop...

. Two types of self are commonly considered - the self that is the ego
Ego (spirituality)
In spirituality, and especially nondual, mystical and eastern meditative traditions, individual existence is often described as a kind of illusion. This "sense of doership" or sense of individual existence is that part which believes it is the human being, and believes it must fight for itself in...

, also called the learned, superficial self of mind and body, an egoic creation, and the Self which is sometimes called the "True Self", the "Observing Self", or the "Witness".

Human beings have a self—that is, they are able to look back on themselves as both subjects and objects in the universe. Ultimately, this brings questions about who we are and the nature of our own importance. Traditions such as Buddhism
Buddhism is a religion and philosophy encompassing a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices, largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as the Buddha . The Buddha lived and taught in the northeastern Indian subcontinent some time between the 6th and 4th...

 see the apparent self
Atman (Buddhism)
The word Ātman or Atta refers to a self. Occasionally the terms "soul" or "ego" are also used. The words ātman and atta derive from the Indo-European root *ēt-men and are cognate with the Old English æthm and German Atem....

 (our identification as souls, minds, bodies and egos) as a "grasping-after" self—i.e., inasmuch as one has a "self," one has it only through a deluded attempt to shore it up. Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

 makes a distinction between the true self and the false self, and sees the false self negatively, distorted through sin
In religion, sin is the violation or deviation of an eternal divine law or standard. The term sin may also refer to the state of having committed such a violation. Christians believe the moral code of conduct is decreed by God In religion, sin (also called peccancy) is the violation or deviation...

: 'The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?' (Jeremiah
Jeremiah Hebrew:יִרְמְיָה , Modern Hebrew:Yirməyāhū, IPA: jirməˈjaːhu, Tiberian:Yirmĭyahu, Greek:Ἰερεμίας), meaning "Yahweh exalts", or called the "Weeping prophet" was one of the main prophets of the Hebrew Bible...


According to Marcia
Marcia Aurelia Ceionia Demetrias, better known as Marcia, was the mistress and one of the assassins of 2nd century AD Roman Emperor Commodus from 182–93...

, identity comes from both political and religious views. He also identified exploration and commitment as interactive parts of identity formation, which includes religious identity. Erik Erikson
Erik Erikson
Erik Erikson was a Danish-German-American developmental psychologist and psychoanalyst known for his theory on social development of human beings. He may be most famous for coining the phrase identity crisis. His son, Kai T...

 compared faith with doubt and found that healthy adults take heed to their spiritual side.

One description of spirituality is the self's search for "ultimate meaning" through an independent comprehension of the sacred. Spiritual identity appears when the symbolic religious and spiritual of a culture is found by individuals in the setting of their own life. There can be different types of spiritual self because it is determined on one's life and experiences. Another definition of spiritual identity is " a persistent sense of self that addresses ultimate questions about the nature, purpose, and meaning of life, resulting in behaviors that are consonant with the individual’s core values."

Further reading

  • Thomas M. Brinthaupt, Richard P. Lipka, The Self: definitional and methodological issues
  • Jean Dalby Clift
    Jean Dalby Clift
    Jean Dalby Clift, an Episcopal priest and pastoral counselor in private practice, is the author of several books in the fields of psychology and spirituality. "Dr...

    , Core Images of the Self: A Symbolic Approach to Healing and Wholeness
  • Anthony Elliott, Concepts of the Self
  • Anthony Giddens
    Anthony Giddens
    Anthony Giddens, Baron Giddens is a British sociologist who is known for his theory of structuration and his holistic view of modern societies. He is considered to be one of the most prominent modern contributors in the field of sociology, the author of at least 34 books, published in at least 29...

    , Modernity and self-identity: self and society in the late modern age
  • Robert Kegan, The evolving self: problem and process in human development
  • Clark Moustakas
    Clark Moustakas
    Dr. Moustakas is an American psychologist and one of the leading experts on humanistic and clinical psychology. He helped establish the Association for Humanistic Psychology and the Journal for Humanistic Psychology. He is the author of numerous books and articles on humanistic psychology,...

    , The self: explorations in personal growth
  • Richard Sorabji
    Richard Sorabji
    Richard Rustom Kharsedji Sorabji CBE, FBA is a British historian of ancient Western philosophy and Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at King's College London. He has written his own 'Intellectual Autobiography' in his Festschrift: R. Salles ed., Metaphysics, Soul and Ethics in Ancient Thought , 1-36...

    , Self: ancient and modern insights about individuality, life, and death
  • Charles Taylor, Sources of the self: the making of the modern identity
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