PHILOSOPHY, in its simplest term, as the Study of knowledge
As a broad field about knowledge, thinking, reasoning, nature,
as well as how we should live, among others, it is almost inevitable that
the study of philosophy would lead for the philosophers to reflect on
themselves and ask, "Who am I? What characterizes this 'self' that
I say I am?" Here are several philosophers and their ideas that we can
also reflect on.
Greek thinkers prior to Socrates, like Thales, Pythagoras, and
Heraclitus, among others, focused on the composition and processes of
the world around them. Unsatisfied with mere mythological and
supernatural explanations, these so-called Pre-Socratic philosophers
turned to observation, documentation, and reasoning.
"Who am I? What characterizes this 'self' that I say I am?
Socrates (469-399 BCE) provided a change of perspective by
focusing on their self. His life and ideas, documented by his students, the
historian Xenophon and the philosopher Plato, showed how Socrates
applied systematic questioning of the self.
Socratic Method – a method of inquiry consisting a series of questions to
stimulate critical thinking and to draw out ideas and underlying presuppositions.
Socrates believed that it is the duty of the philosopher to know
oneself. To live without knowing who you are and what virtues you can
attain is the worst that can happen to a person. Thus, he noted that an
“unexamined life is not worth living.” ( Know thyself)
Socrates saw a person as dualistic, that is, every person is
composed of body and soul. There is an imperfect and impermanent
Plato (428-347 BCE) further expounded on the idea of the soul by
stating that it has three parts or components: the appetitive soul, the rational
soul, and the spirited soul. The appetitive soul is the one responsible for the
desires and cravings of a person; the rational soul is the thinking, reasoning, and
judging aspect; and the spirited soul is accountable for emotions and also makes
sure that the rules of reason is followed in order to attain victory and/or honor.
In his work The Republic, Plato emphasized that all three parts of the
soul must work harmoniously to attain justice and virtue in a person. The rational
soul must be well developed and in-charge, the emotions from the spirited soul
are checked, and the desires of the appetitive must be controlled and focused to
St. Augustine (354-430 CE) is considered as one of the most
significant Christian thinkers, especially in the development of the Latin
Christianity theology. His idea of the “self” merged that of Plato and the then
new Christian perspective, which led him to believe in the duality of a
He believes that there is this imperfect part of us, which is
connected with the world and yearns to be with the divine, and there is a
part of us that is not bound by his world and can therefore attain immortality
– soul. The imperfection of the body incapacitates if from thriving in the
spiritual communion with God, thus, it must die for the soul to reach the
Rene Descartes (1596-1650) was a French mathematician,
scientist, and philosopher. He claimed that the person is composed of the
cogito or the mind, and the extenza or the body, which is the extension
of the mind. He argues that a person should only believe the things that can
pass the test of doubt (Descartes 2008). In his “Discourse on the Method”
and “Meditations on First Philosophy,” he therefore concluded that the only
thing that a person cannot doubt is the existence of his or her “self.”
Because even doubt about the self proves that there is thinking or doubting
self. Thus, his famous quote “cogito ergo sum.” ( I think, therefore I am)
What makes a person a person is therefore the mind, and the
body is just some kind of a machine that is attached and controlled by it. In
his words, “But what then, am I? a thinking thing. It has been said. But what
Locke (1632-1704) was an English philosopher, political theorist, and
physician. His works as a physician provided him with an idea that deviated
from the duality of the body or soul.
A person's mind is a blank slate or tabula rasa at birth. It is through
experiences that this blank slate is filled, and a personal identity or "self" is
formed. This "self" cannot be found in the soul nor the body but in one's
consciousness (Nimbalkar 2011).
Note, however, that the consciousness is not the brain itself. It is
something that goes beyond the brain and thus, for Locke, the consciousness
and the “self” that comes with it can be transferred from one person or body to
another (Nimbalkar 2011). (e.g, memory)
Hume (1711-1776) was a Scottish philosopher and an empiricist who
believes that all concepts as well as knowledge come from the senses and
experiences. Based on such perspective, he argued that there is no self beyond
what can be experienced. We do not know others because we have seen or
touched their souls; we know them because of what we can actually observe.
The "self." according to Hume, is “a bundle or collection of different
perceptions, which succeed each other with an inconceivable rapidity, and are in a
perpetual flux and movement" (Hume and Steinberg 1992). Simply, the self is a
combination of experiences of a person.
We can categorize these experiences into impressions and ideas.
Impressions are real or actual experiences or sensations, like feeling the rough edges
of a stone or tasting a sweet ice cream. Ideas are copies of impressions or
representation of the world and sensations, like love, faith, or even an association
that this certain event is caused by something in the past could possibly create
One of the most influential philosophers in Western philosophy, Kant (1724-
1804) contributed to the fields of metaphysics, ethics, and aesthetics among others.
While everything starts with sensations and impressions, Kant believes that
there must necessarily be something in us that organizes these sensations to create
knowledge and ideas. Against the empiricist Locke, Kant is a rationalist who thinks
that reason, not mere experience, is the foundation of knowledge. It is like seeing a
visual effect in television, your experience say it is there, but reason says it is only a
For Kant, it is the self that organizes and synthesizes our experiences into
something meaningful for us. It can do such thing because it is independent from
sensory experiences. It is something that transcends or is above even our
Ryle, Churchland, &Merleau-
The debate on the duality of a person's self, of mind and body, of
consciousness and substance, internal and external, have been revised and
adapted for a long time that several modern-day philosophers had to take
drastic actions, so to speak.
This action is the rejection of that duality.
Ryle Merlean-Ponty Churchland
A British philosopher mainly associated with the Ordinary Language
Philosophy Movement, Gilbert Ryle (1900-1976) proposed that we should instead
focus on the observable behavior of a person in defining the "self." One of the
things that the duality approach seems to state is that there can be a private,
unobservable aspect of a person, and a different public and observable part. One
can describe one's "self" as good but do otherwise in real life.
Ryle do not adhere to this idea and sees the self as an entirety of
thoughts, emotions, and actions of a person that relates to observable behavior.
We get to know others by observing their behavior and inferring about their "selves."
We can apply the same observation and reflection on ourselves.
Maurice Jean Merleau-Ponty (1908-1961), a leading French existentialist
and phenomenologist, also contributes to the idea by stating that mind and body are
interconnected with each other and therefore cannot be separated. Our body is our
connection to the external world, including other people, thus all experiences are
embodied. This also includes the thoughts and emotions of a person.
More recent philosophers, like Paul Churchland (1942-)
further utilized knowledge from other academic and research fields to
talk about the self as well as the mind. He was one of those who
proposed the use of "eliminative materialism' or "eliminativism,"
which claims that the old terms we use to describe the mind are
outdated, if not mere "folk psychology," thus the need to use more
accurate and scientifically proven terms, especially based on
Neuroscience somehow shows a connection of what we call
mental states to that of the physical activities of the brain. It can
be argued therefore that the self is actually located in the brain, and
that the actions of the mind or the self are processes of the brain.
The dual perspective of the "self" continues to exist,
perhaps because our brains are programmed to think of
dualities. Our religious beliefs, that of a mortal body and an
immortal soul, also affects such continuity. However, new
ideas from other academic fields as well as findings from
technological advances are being considered and
incorporated in this debate and the discovery of the self.
Being open to such new ideas may help us know more
about our own "self."
Home work: (100 pts.)
I. Make your own diagram showing similarities and
differences between the ten (10) various Philosophical
perspectives of “The Self”.
e.g ( you can create your own design for the diagram)