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  For centuries, philosophers and psychologists have puzzled out the nature of the self. In simple terms, it is the ‘aware subject’, the subject of mental activity, the thing that thinks, feels and wills; above all, it is the subject as he or she experiences himself or herself. But this is only the platform for more complex (and more subjective) thought. In the 17th century, Descartes wrote of the self as non-physical and immortal, and said that thinking is essential to it. A century later, Hume denied that there is a subject of mental activity (a thing which feels, sees, thinks and wills, distinct from and something over and above occurrent events of feeling, thinking and willing), and noted that when we introspect, we find various mental items—events of feeling, thinking and willing—but no distinct ‘thing’ that has them.

Writing in the 19th century, Josiah Royce made the psychological distinction between self and non-self: the beginning of distinctions between ego and subconscious or unconscious. Pierre Janet, a French contemporary of Freud, distinguished between individu, personnage and moi. William James in his Principles of Psychology (1880) makes a distinction between self as object and self as subject. The philosopher G.H. Mead, developing the idea at the same time, made a similar distinction between I, Me and Self.

Jung\'s theories on the self were derived from his own personal crisis, as a result of which he talked about the self with enormous conviction of its psychic reality. He described the journey of the psyche as one which led to the individuation of the self. AJ MJ

See also death; dreams; no-ownership theory of the self.



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