Pragmatism and Other Writings

Jamesian theory of self

William James developed a theory of self that was divided into two main categories. The first was the "Me" self, and the second was the "I" self.[48] The "me" self refers to the aspects of someone that come from that person's experiences. James broke the "me" self down into three sections, The Material Self, The Social Self, and The Spiritual Self.[49] For James, the "I" self was classified as the thinking self. James linked this self to the soul of a person, or what we now think of as the mind.[50] The Pure Ego was the name given to the "I" self.[49]

Material self

The material self consists of things that belong to us or that we belong to. Things like family, clothes, our body, and money are some of what makes up our material selves.[48] For James, the core of the material self was the body.[50] Second to the body, a person's clothes were important to the Material Self, as well. James believed that people's clothes were a way that they expressed who they were, or a way to show status, thus contributing to the formation of self.[50] Money and family are also part of the material self. James felt that if we lost a family member, a part of who we are was gone as well. Money was a part of the material self in the same way. If at one point we had a lot of money then lost it, who we are as a person would change, as well.[50]

Social self

Our social selves are who we are in a given social situation. For James, people change how they act depending on the social situation that they are in. James believed that people had as many social selves as they did social situations they participated in.[50] For example, a person may act in a different way at work when compared to how that same person may act when they are out with a group of friends. James also believed that in a given social group, an individual's social self may be divided even further.[50] An example of this would be, in the social context of an individual's work environment, the difference in behavior when that individual is interacting with their boss versus their behavior when interacting with a co-worker.

Spiritual self

For James, the spiritual self was who we are at our core. The spiritual self is more concrete or permanent than the other two selves. The spiritual self is our subjective and most intimate self. Aspects of an individual's spiritual self include things like their personality, core values, and conscience that do not typically change throughout their lifetime. The spiritual self involves introspection, or looking inward to deeper spiritual, moral, or intellectual questions without the influence of objective thoughts.[50] For James, achieving a high level of understanding of who we are at our core, or understanding our spiritual selves is more rewarding than satisfying the needs of the social and material selves.

Pure ego

The pure ego is what James refers to as the "I" self. For James, the pure ego is what provides the thread of continuity between our past, present, and future selves. The pure ego's perception of consistent individual identity arises from a continual stream of consciousness.[51] James believed that the pure ego was similar to what we think of as the soul, or the mind. The pure ego was not a substance and therefore could not be examined by science.[48]

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