Phil 327

Self-Identity – Some Important Features



By “self-identity” I mean “self-conception” or “sense of self” (i.e. “sense of who and what you are”). By “identification” I mean “conception of another” or “sense of another” (i.e. somebody else’s “sense of who and what you are”).


The following is supposed to be a helpful way to think about self-identity. It is intended as a kind of tool as you explore the concept.  


(1)    Reflexivity. A self-identity is a conception of oneself as opposed to a conception of somebody else. By contrast, an identification is a conception that is not reflexive; it is a conception of somebody else.


(2)    Involvement (or implication) of others and the world more broadly. In conceptualizing yourself, you place yourself within a broader context. In order to make sense of who you are, you inevitable have a sense of what the world is like more broadly. You will generally include your relationships to other people as an integral component in your answer to the question “Who am I?” For example: Suppose you say “I am a student.” This requires you to have an understanding of what a student is, and how students fit into the scheme of things. You will also, therefore, have a broader conception of the university, instructors, other students, etc.  Because of this, self-identity also involves identifications.


(3)    Temporality. A sense of self involves having a sense of your past and also your future (i.e. a sense of where you have been and where you are going). Inevitably, your sense of the past affects you now. For example – if you look to a past event with regret, that will make you feel badly now. Also, promises or commitments made in the past will have a bearing on your options are now. Moreover, your sense of the future affects you now. For example – if you look to a future event with fear, that will make you feel badly now. Also, goals about what you want to accomplish will have a bearing on what your options are now.


(4)    Normativity. Values, norms, and evaluations seem to be deeply woven into our sense of self. For example, if you look to some future event with fear, this will be because you view the impending event as something bad (and this is a value-judgment). There are several types of values: moral (right/wrong), aesthetic (beautiful, pretty, etc.). Also, you might judge yourself as a good or bad student (according to standards of excellence which apply to students). Also, you might assess whether a life in general is a good life, a life worth living (e.g. Is a life in which you have a career, a happy family life, good friends, etc. a good life?). Also, you might hold views about yourself (I am good, bad, etc.). This type of evaluation is obviously connected to issues of self-esteem.


(5)    Agency. To what degree are you responsible for your own self-identity? Can you choose how you see you’re self? Does biology decide? Does society/culture decide? Does your own psychological make-up decide?