William James' concept of the self in the light of selected contemporary personality theories
Goodwin, George Dolliver
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The problem of this dissertation is to examine William James's concept of the self and to evaluate his view in the light of selected contemporary theories of the self. Because James was the first great American psychologist to show sustained interest in the self, this paper examines his view of the self for possible relationships and similarities to current theories, specifically those of Gordon Allport, Carl Rogers, and the organismic and the phenomenological theories of the self. The method employed by the dissertation has involved analysis and comparison of the various theories and an evaluation of differences. The dissertation first offers an expository analysis of James's concept of the self, followed by similar expositions of theories by Allport and Rogers and those of the organismic and phenomenological schools. For James, the subject-object self is a phenomenal experience of the organism. The unifying stream of thought, each new thought inheriting all that the preceding thought possessed, constitutes the consistent identity of the self, eliminating the need for any other explanation of the coherence and continuity of the self. The self is capable of growth and change and has constituent aspects of a material, social and spiritual nature which generate feelings and actions. The constituent facets of the self are hierarchically arranged, creating an inner harmony which is purposive in character. For Allport, the term self is applied to the gradually evolving central aspects of one's existence, the bodily sense, continuing self-identity, self-esteem, self-extension, the self-image, the self as rational coper, and the self as goal-seeker. Having unity and continuing identity, the self is an object of knowledge. It is also a knowing self and, though this aspect remains undefined, is definitely not an homunculus. For Rogers, the self is gradually differentiated from the organism's total experience and is a unique value structure resulting from interpersonal relationships. This value system and the drive toward self-preservation, maintenance, and enhancement provide for consistency and unity in the self. The sovereign drive makes growth and change possible. The self is thus a process as well as a system. Organismic theory emphasizes the unity, integrity, coherence, and consistency of the self-actualizing organism. Inherent potentiality is stressed rather than environmental effects and pressures. The object of concern is the whole person rather than part functions. Phenomenological theory sees the self as a developmental social product, capable of change and centered around its fundamental need: the sense of adequacy. The self is both object (self-experiences) and process (an aspect of the phenomenal field which determines all behavior). In comparison with Allport and Rogers, James says little about the origin and development of the self, presents no coherent, unified, motivational theory, gives little insight into the way change occurs in the self and, though in agreement with Allport and Rogers regarding the self as object, he reduces the self as knower to passing thoughts phenomenally perceived as intra-cephalic movements and sensations. The successive states of consciousness also account, functionally, for the unity and identity of the self. Because of its unsystematic nature, internal inconsistency and omissions, James's theory was seen to be lacking in explicitness and structural detail. On the basis of the analysis and comparison, certain conclusions seem warranted: (1) In its broadest terms and particularly in the spirit of its approach, James's theory was judged viable; (2) Its chief values, theoretically and practically, are its broad perspective, its tentativeness, and its emphasis on phenomenological method rather than its specific content; (3) Though viable in its perspective and spirit, James's theory was considered to be lacking in clarity and focus to the point of ambiguity.
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