Human Nature and the Social Order

Chapter 5: The Social Self -- 1. The Meaning of "I"

Charles Horton Cooley

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IT is well to say at the outset that by the word "self" in this discussion is meant simply that which is designated in common speech by the pronouns of the first person singular, "I," "me," "my," "mine," and "myself." "Self" and "ego" are used by metaphysicians and moralists in many other senses, more or less remote from the " I " of daily speech and thought, and with these I wish to have as little to do as possible. What is here discussed is what psychologists call the empirical self, the self that can be apprehended or verified by ordinary observation. I qualify it by the word social not as implying the existence of a self that is not social—for I think that the " I " of common language always has more or less distinct reference to other people as well as the speaker—but because

(169)I wish to emphasize and dwell upon the social aspect of it.

Although the topic of the self is regarded as an abstruse one this abstruseness belongs chiefly, perhaps, to the metaphysical discussion of the " pure ego "—whatever that may be—while the empirical self should not be very much more difficult to get hold of than other facts of the mind. At any rate, it may be assumed that the pronouns of the first person have a substantial, important, and not very recondite meaning, otherwise they would not be in constant and intelligible use by simple people and young children the world over. And since they have such a meaning why should it not be observed and reflected upon like any other matter of fact? As to the underlying mystery, it is no doubt real, important, and a very fit subject of discussion by those who are competent, but I do not see that it is a peculiar mystery. I mean that it seems to be simply a phase of the general mystery of life, not pertaining to "I" more than to any other personal or social fact; so that here as elsewhere those who are not attempting to penetrate the mystery may simply ignore it. If this is a just view of the matter, "I" is merely a fact like any other.

The distinctive thing in the idea for which the pronouns of the first person are names is apparently a characteristic kind of feeling which may be called the my-feeling or sense of appropriation. Almost any sort of ideas may be associated with this feeling, and so come to be named "I" or "mine," but the feeling,

(170) and that alone it would seem, is the determining factor in the matter. As Professor James says in his admirable discussion of the self, the words "me" and "self" designate "all the things which have the power to produce in a stream of consciousness excitement of a certain peculiar sort." [1] This view is very fully set forth by Professor Hiram M. Stanley, whose work, "The Evolutionary Psychology of Feeling," has an extremely suggestive chapter on self-feeling.

I do not mean that the feeling aspect of the self is necessarily more important than any other, but that it is the immediate and decisive sign and proof of what "I" is; there is no appeal from it; if we go behind it it must be to study its history and conditions, not to question its authority. But, of course, this study of history and conditions may be quite as profitable as the direct contemplation of self-feeling. What I would wish to do is to present each aspect in its proper light.

The emotion or feeling of self may be regarded as instinctive, and was doubtless evolved in connection with

(171) its important function in stimulating and unifying the special activities of individuals.[2] It is thus very profoundly rooted in the history of the human race and apparently indispensable to any plan of life at all similar to ours. It seems to exist in a vague though vigorous form at the birth of each individual, and, like other instinctive ideas or germs of ideas, to be defined and developed by experience, becoming associated, or rather incorporated, with muscular, visual, and other sensations; with perceptions, apperceptions, and conceptions of every degree of complexity and of infinite variety of content; and, especially, with personal ideas. Meantime the feeling itself does not remain unaltered, but undergoes differentiation and refinement just as does any other sort of crude innate feeling. Thus, while retaining under every phase its characteristic tone or flavor, it breaks up into innumerable self-sentiments. And concrete self-feeling, as it exists in mature persons, is a whole made up of these various sentiments, along with a good deal of primitive emotion not thus broken up. It partakes fully of the general development of the mind, but never loses that peculiar gusto of appropriation that causes us to name a thought with a first-personal pronoun. The other contents of the self-idea are of little use, apparently, in defining it, because they are so extremely various. It would be no more futile, it seems to me, to attempt to define fear by enumerating the things

(172) that people are afraid of, than to attempt to define "I" by enumerating the objects with which the word is associated. Very much as fear means primarily a state of feeling, or its expression, and not darkness, fire, lions, snakes, or other things that excite it, so "I" means primarily self-feeling, or its expression, and not body, clothes, treasures, ambition, honors, and the like, with which this feeling may be connected. In either case it is possible and useful to go behind the feeling and inquire what ideas arouse it and why they do so, but this is in a sense a secondary investigation.

Since "I" is known to our experience primarily as a feeling, or as a feeling-ingredient in our ideas, it cannot be described or defined without suggesting that feeling. We are sometimes likely to fall into a formal and empty way of talking regarding questions of emotion, by attempting to define that which is in its nature primary and indefinable. A formal definition of self-feeling, or indeed of any sort of feeling, must be as hollow as a formal definition of the taste of salt, or the color red; we can expect to know what it is only by experiencing it. There can be no final test of the self except the way we feel; it is that toward which we have the " my " attitude. But as this feeling is quite as familiar to us and as easy to recall as the taste of salt or the color red, there should be no difficulty in understanding what is meant by it. One need only imagine some attack on his " me," say ridicule of his dress or an attempt to take away his property or his child, or his good name by slander,

(173) and self-feeling immediately appears. Indeed, he need only pronounce, with strong emphasis, one of the self-words, like "I" or "my," and self-feeling will be recalled by association. Another good way is to enter by sympathy into some self-assertive state of mind depicted in literature; as, for instance, into that of Coriolanus when, having been sneered at as a ' boy of tears," he cries out:

"Boy I . . .
If you have writ your annals true, 'tis there,
That, like an eagle in a dovecote, I
Fluttered your Volscians in Corioli;
Alone I did it.—Boy I "

Here is a self indeed, which no one can fail to feel, though he might be unable to describe it. What a ferocious scream of the outraged ego is that "I" at the end of the second line!

So much is written on this topic that ignores self-feeling and thus deprives "self" of all vivid and palpable meaning, that I feel it permissible to add a few more passages in which this feeling is forcibly expressed. Thus in Lowell's poem, "A Glance Behind the Curtain," Cromwell says:

"I, perchance,
Am one raised up by the Almighty arm
To witness some great truth to all the world."

And his Columbus, on the bow of his vessel, soliloquizes:

"Here am I, with no friend but the sad sea,
The beating heart of this great enterprise,
Which, without me, would stiffen in swift death."

(174) And so the "I am the way" which we read in the New Testament is surely the expression of a sentiment not very different from these. In the following we have a more plaintive sentiment of self;

Philoctetes And know'st thou not, O boy, whom thou cost see?
Neoptolemus How can I know a man I ne'er beheld?
Philoctetes And didst thou never hear my name, nor fame
Of these my ills, in which I pined away?
Neoptolemus Know that I nothing know of what thou ask'st.
Philoctetes O crushed with many woes, and of the Gods
Hated am I, of whom, in this my woe,
No rumor travelled homeward, nor went forth
Through any clime of Hellas.[3]

We all have thoughts of the same sort as these, and yet it is possible to talk so coldly or mystically about the self that one begins to forget that there is, really, any such thing.

But perhaps the best way to realize the naive meaning of "I" is to listen to the talk of children playing together, especially if they do not agree very well. They use the first person with none of the conventional self-repression of their elders, but with much emphasis and variety of inflection, so that its emotional animus is unmistakable.

Self-feeling of a reflective and agreeable sort, an appropriative zest of contemplation, is strongly suggested by the word " gloating." To gloat, in this sense, is as much as to think "mine, mine, mine,"

(175) with a pleasant warmth of feeling. Thus a boy gloats over something he has made with his scroll-saw, over the bird he has brought down with his gun, or over his collection of stamps or eggs; a girl gloats over her new clothes, and over the approving words or looks of others; a farmer over his fields and his stock; a business man over his trade and his bank-account; a mother over her child; the poet over a successful quatrain; the self-righteous man over the state of his soul; and in like manner every one gloats over the prosperity of any cherished idea.

I would not be understood as saying that self-feeling is clearly marked off in experience from other kinds of feeling; but it is, perhaps, as definite in this regard as anger, fear, grief, and the like. To quote Professor James, " The emotions themselves of self-satisfaction and abasement are of a unique sort, each as worthy to be classed as a primitive emotional species as are, for example, rage or pain." [4] It is true here, as wherever mental facts are distinguished, that there are no fences, but that one thing merges by degrees into another. Yet if "I" did not denote an idea much the same in all minds and fairly distinguishable from other ideas, it could not be used freely and universally as a means of communication.

As many people have the impression that the verifiable self, the object that we name with " I," is usually the material body, it may be well to say that this impression is an illusion, easily dispelled by any one

who will undertake a simple examination of facts. It is true that when we philosophize a little about "I" and look around for a tangible object to which to attach it, we soon fix upon the material body as the most available locus; but when we use the word naively, as in ordinary speech, it is not very common to think of the body in connection with it; not nearly so common as it is to think of other things. There is no difficulty in testing this statement, since the word " I " is one of the commonest in conversation and literature, so that nothing is more practicable than to study its meaning at any length that may be desired. One need only listen to ordinary speech until the word has occurred, say, a hundred times, noting its connections, or observe its use in a similar number of cases by the characters in a novel. Ordinarily it will be found that in not more than ten cases in a hundred does "I" have reference to the body of the person speaking. It refers chiefly to opinions, purposes, desires, claims, and the like, concerning matters that involve no thought of the body. I think or feel so and so; I wish or intend so and so; I want this or that; are typical uses, the self-feeling being associated with the view, purpose, or object mentioned. It should also be remembered that "my" and "mine" are as much the names of the self as "I," and these, of course, commonly refer to miscellaneous possessions.

I had the curiosity to attempt a rough classification of the first hundred "I's" and "me's" in Hamlet, with the following results. The pronoun was used in

(177) connection with perception, as " I hear," " I see," fourteen times; with thought, sentiment, intention, etc., thirty-two times; with wish, as "I pray you," six times; as speaking—"I'll speak to it"—sixteen times; as spoken to, twelve times; in connection with action, involving perhaps some vague notion of the body, as "I came to Denmark," nine times; vague or doubtful, ten times; as equivalent to bodily appearance—"No more like my father than I to Hercules"— once. Some of the classifications are arbitrary, and another observer would doubtless get a different result; but he could not fail, I think, to conclude that Shakespeare's characters are seldom thinking of their bodies when they say "I" or "me." And in this respect they appear to be representative of mankind in general.

As already suggested, instinctive self-feeling is doubtless connected in evolution with its important function in stimulating and unifying the special activities of individuals. It appears to be associated chiefly with ideas of the exercise of power, of being a cause, ideas that emphasize the antithesis between the mind and the rest of the world. The first definite thoughts that a child associates with self-feeling are probably those of his earliest endeavors to control visible objects— his limbs, his playthings, his bottle, and the like. Then he attempts to control the actions of the persons about him, and so his circle of power and of self-feeling widens without interruption to the most complex objects of mature ambition. Although he does

(178) not say "I" or "my" during the first year or two, yet he expresses so clearly by his actions the feeling that adults associate with these words that we cannot deny him a self even in the first weeks.

The correlation of self-feeling with purposeful activity is easily seen by observing the course of any productive enterprise. If a boy sets about making a boat, and has any success, his interest in the matter waxes, he gloats over it, the keel and stem are dear to his heart, and its ribs are more to him than those of his own frame. He is eager to call in his friends and acquaintances, saying to them, "See what I am doing! Is it not remarkable?" feeling elated when it is praised, and resentful or humiliated when fault is found with it. But so soon as he finishes it and turns to something else, his self-feeling begins to fade away from it, and in a few weeks at most he will have become comparatively indifferent. We all know that much the same course of feeling accompanies the achievements of adults. It is impossible to produce a picture, a poem, an essay, a difficult bit of masonry, or any other work of art or craft, without having self-feeling regarding it, amounting usually to considerable excitement and desire for some sort of appreciation; but this rapidly diminishes with the activity itself, and often lapses into indifference after it ceases.

It may perhaps be objected that the sense of self, instead of being limited to times of activity and definite purpose, is often most conspicuous when the mind is unoccupied or undecided, and that the idle and ineffectual are commonly the most sensitive in

(179) their self-esteem. This, however, may be regarded as an instance of the principle that all instincts are likely to assume troublesome forms when denied wholesome expression. The need to exert power. when thwarted in the open fields of life, is the more likely to assert itself in trifles.

The social self is simply any idea, or system of ideas, drawn from the communicative life, that the mind cherishes as its own. Self-feeling has its chief scope within the general life, not outside of it; the special endeavor or tendency of which it is the emotional aspect finds its principal field of exercise in a world of personal forces, reflected in the mind by a world of personal impressions.

As connected with the thought of other persons the self idea is always a consciousness of the peculiar or differentiated aspect of one's life, because that is the aspect that has to be sustained by purpose and endeavor, and its more aggressive forms tend to attach themselves to whatever one finds to be at once congenial to one's own tendencies and at variance with those of others with whom one is in mental contact. It is here that they are most needed to serve their function of stimulating characteristic activity, of fostering those personal variations which the general plan of life seems to require. Heaven, says Shakespeare, cloth divide

"The state of man in divers functions,
Setting endeavor in continual motion,

(180) and self-feeling is one of the means by which this diversity is achieved.

Agreeably to this view We find that the aggressive self manifests itself most conspicuously in an appropriativeness of objects of common desire, corresponding to the individual's need of power over such objects to secure his own peculiar development, and to the danger of opposition from others who also need them. And this extends from material objects to lay hold, in the same spirit, of the attentions and affections of other people, of all sorts of plans and ambitions, including the noblest special purposes the mind can entertain, and indeed of any conceivable idea which may come to seem a part of one's life and in need of assertion against some one else. The attempt to limit the word self and its derivatives to the lower aims of personality is quite arbitrary; at variance with common sense as expressed by the emphatic use of "I" in connection with the sense of duty and other high motives, and unphilosophical as ignoring the function of the self as the organ of specialized endeavor of higher as well as lower kinds.

That the "I" of common speech has a meaning which includes some sort of reference to other persons is involved in the very fact that the word and the ideas it stands for are phenomena of language and the communicative life. It is doubtful whether it is possible to use language at all without thinking more or less distinctly of some one else, and certainly the things to which we give names and which have a large place in reflective thought are almost always those

(181) which are impressed upon us by our contact with other people. Where there is no communication there can be no nomenclature and no developed thought. What we call "me," "mine," or "myself" is, then, not something separate from the general life, but the most interesting part of it, a part whose interest arises from the very fact that it is both general and individual. That is, we care for it just because it is that phase of the mind that is living and striving in the common life, trying to impress itself upon the minds of others. "I" is a militant social tendency, working to hold and enlarge its place in the general current of tendencies. So far as it can it waxes, as all life does. To think of it as apart from society is a palpable absurdity of which no one could be guilty who really saw it as a fact of life.

"Der Mensch erkennt sich nur im Menschen, nur
Das Leben lehret jedem was er set." [5]

If a thing has no relation to others of which one is conscious he is unlikely to think of it at all, and if he does think of it he cannot, it seems to me, regard it as emphatically his. The appropriative sense is always the shadow, as it were, of the common life, and when we have it we have a sense of the latter in connection with it. Thus, if we think of a secluded part of the woods as "ours," it is because we think, also, that others do not go there. As regards the body I doubt if we have a vivid my-feeling about any

(182) part of it which is not thought of, however vaguely, as having some actual or possible reference to some one else. Intense self-consciousness regarding it arises along with instincts or experiences which connect it with the thought of others. Internal organs, like the liver, are not thought of as peculiarly ours unless we are trying to communicate something regarding them, as, for instance, when they are giving us trouble and we are trying to get sympathy.

"I," then, is not all of the mind, but a peculiarly central, vigorous, and well-knit portion of it, not separate from the rest but gradually merging into it, and yet having a certain practical distinctness, so that a man generally shows clearly enough by his language and behavior what his "I" is as distinguished from thoughts he does not appropriate. It may be thought of, as already suggested, under the analogy of a central colored area on a lighted wall. It might also, and perhaps more justly, be compared to the nucleus of a living cell, not altogether separate from the surrounding matter, out of which indeed it is formed, but more active and definitely organized.

The reference to other persons involved in the sense of self may be distinct and particular, as when a boy is ashamed to have his mother catch him at something she has forbidden, or it may be vague and general, as when one is ashamed to do something which only his conscience, expressing his sense of social responsibility, detects and disapproves; but it is always there. There is no sense of "I," as in pride or shame, without its correlative sense of you, or he, or they.

(183) Even the miser gloating over his hidden gold can feel the "mine" only as he is aware of the world of men over whom he has secret power; and the case is very similar with all kinds of hid treasure. Many painters, sculptors, and writers have loved to withhold their work from the world, fondling it in seclusion until they were quite done with it; but the delight in this, as in all secrets, depends upon a sense of the value of what is concealed.

I remarked above that we think of the body as "I" when it comes to have social function or significance, as when we say "I am looking well to-day," or "I am taller than you are." We bring it into the social world, for the time being, and for that reason put our self-consciousness into it. Now it is curious, though natural, that in precisely the same way we may call any inanimate object "I" with which we are identifying our will and purpose. This is notable in games, like golf or croquet, where the ball is the embodiment of the player's fortunes. You will hear a man say, "I am in the long grass down by the third tee," or "I am in position for the middle arch." So a boy flying a kite will say " I am higher than you," or one shooting at a mark will declare that he is just below the bulls-eye.

In a very large and interesting class of cases the social reference takes the form of a somewhat definite imagination of how one's self—that is any idea he appropriates—appears in a particular mind, and the kind of self-feeling one has is determined by the

(184) attitude toward this attributed to that other mind. A social self of this sort might be called the reflected or looking-glass self:

"Each to each a looking-glass
Reflects the other that doth pass."

As we see our face, figure, and dress in the glass, and are interested in them because they are ours, and pleased or otherwise with them according as they do or do not answer to what we should like them to be; so in imagination we perceive in another's mind some thought of our appearance, manners, aims, deeds, character, friends, and so on, and are variously affected by it.

A self-idea of this sort seems to have three principal elements: the imagination of our appearance to the other person; the imagination of his judgment of that appearance, and some sort of self-feeling, such as pride or mortification. The comparison with a looking-glass hardly suggests the second element, the imagined judgment, which is quite essential. The thing that moves us to pride or shame is not the mere mechanical reflection of ourselves, but an imputed sentiment, the imagined effect of this reflection upon another's mind. This is evident from the fact that the character and weight of that other, in whose mind we see ourselves, makes all the difference with our feeling. We are ashamed to seem evasive in the presence of a straightforward man, cowardly in the presence of a brave one, gross in the eyes of a refined one, and so on. We always imagine, and in imagining

(185) share, the judgments of the other mind. A man will boast to one person of an action—say some sharp transaction in trade—which he would be ashamed to own to another.

It should be evident that the ideas that are associated with self-feeling and form the intellectual content of the self cannot be covered by any simple description, as by saying that the body has such a part in it, friends such a part, plans so much, etc., but will vary indefinitely with particular temperaments and environments. The tendency of the self, like every aspect of personality, is expressive of far-reaching hereditary and social factors, and is not to be understood or predicted except in connection with the general life. Although special, it is in no way separate—speciality and separateness are not only different but contradictory, since the former implies connection with a whole. The object of self-feeling is affected by the general course of history, by the particular development of nations, classes, and professions, and other conditions of this sort.

The truth of this is perhaps most decisively shown in the fact that even those ideas that are most generally associated or colored with the "my" feeling, such as one's idea of his visible person, of his name, his family, his intimate friends, his property, and so on, are not universally so associated, but may be separated from the self by peculiar social conditions. Thus the ascetics, who have played so large a part in the history of Christianity and of other religions and

(186) philosophies, endeavored not without success to divorce their appropriative thought from all material surroundings, and especially from their physical per sons, which they sought to look upon as accidental and degrading circumstances of the soul's earthly sojourn. In thus estranging themselves from their bodies, from property and comfort, from domestic affections—whether of wife or child, mother, brother or sister—and from other common objects of ambition, they certainly gave a singular direction to self-feeling, but they did not destroy it: there can be no doubt that the instinct, which seems imperishable so long as mental vigor endures, found other ideas to which to attach itself; and the strange and uncouth forms which ambition took in those centuries when the solitary, filthy, idle, and sense-tormenting anchorite was a widely accepted ideal of human life, are a matter of instructive study and reflection. Even in the highest exponents of the ascetic ideal, like St. Jerome, it is easy to see that the discipline, far from effacing the self, only concentrated its energy in lofty and unusual channels. The self-idea may be that of some great moral reform, of a religious creed, of the destiny of one's soul after death, or even a cherished conception of the deity. Thus devout writers, like George Herbert and Thomas Kempis, often address my God, not at all conventionally as I conceive the matter, but with an intimate sense of appropriation. And it has been observed that the demand for the continued and separate existence of the individual soul after death is an expression of self-feeling, as by J. A.


Symonds, who thinks that it is connected with the intense egotism and personality of the European races, and asserts that the millions of Buddhism shrink from it with horror.[6]

Habit and familiarity are not of themselves sufficient to cause an idea to be appropriated into the self. Many habits and familiar objects that have been forced upon us by circumstances rather than chosen for their congeniality remain external and possibly repulsive to the self; and, on the other hand, a novel but very congenial element in experience, like the idea of a new toy, or, if you please, Romeo's idea of Juliet, is often appropriated almost immediately, and becomes, for the time at least, the very heart of the self. Habit has the same fixing and consolidating action in the growth of the self that it has elsewhere, but is not its distinctive characteristic.

As suggested in the previous chapter, self-feeling may be regarded as in a sense the antithesis, or better perhaps, the complement, of that disinterested and contemplative love that tends to obliterate the sense of a divergent individuality. Love of this sort has no sense of bounds, but is what we feel when we are expanding and assimilating new and indeterminate experience, while self-feeling accompanies the appropriating, delimiting, and defending of a certain part of experience; the one impels us to receive life, the other to individuate it. The self, from this point

(188) of view, might be regarded as a sort of citadel of the mind, fortified without and containing selected treasures -within' while love is an undivided share in the rest of the universe. In a healthy mind each contributes to the growth of the other: what we love intensely or for a long time we are likely to bring within the citadel, and to assert as part of ourself. On the other hand, it is only on the basis of a substantial self that a person is capable of progressive sympathy or love.

The sickness of either is to lack the support of the other. There is no health in a mind except as it keeps expanding, taking in fresh life, feeling love and enthusiasm; and so long as it does this its self-feeling is likely to be modest and generous; since these sentiments accompany that sense of the large and the superior which love implies. But if love closes, the self contracts and hardens: the mind having nothing else to occupy its attention and give it that change and renewal it requires, busies itself more and more with self-feeling, which takes on narrow and disgusting forms, like avarice, arrogance, and fatuity. It is necessary that we should have self-feeling about a matter during its conception and execution; but when it is accomplished or has failed the self ought to break loose and escape, renewing its skin like the snake, as Thoreau says. No matter what a man does, he is not fully sane or human unless there is a spirit of freedom in him, a soul unconfined by purpose and larger than the practicable world. And this is really what those mean who inculcate the suppression of the

(189) self; they mean that its rigidity must be broken up by growth and renewal, that it must be more or less decisively " born again." A healthy self must be both vigorous and plastic, a nucleus of solid, well-knit private purpose and feeling, guided and nourished by sympathy.

The view that "self" and the pronouns of the first person are names which the race has learned to apply to an instinctive attitude of mind, and which each child in turn learns to apply in a similar way, was impressed upon me by observing my child M. at the time when she was learning to use these pronouns. When she was two years and two weeks old I was surprised to discover that she had a clear notion of the first and second persons when used possessively. When asked, "Where is your nose?" she would put her hand upon it and say "my." She also understood that when some one else said "my" and touched an object, it meant something opposite to what was meant when she touched the same object and used the same word. Now, any one who will exercise his imagination upon the question how this matter must appear to a mind having no means of knowing anything about "I" and "my" except what it learns by hearing them used, will see that it should be very puzzling. Unlike other words, the personal pronouns have, apparently, no uniform meaning, but convey different and even opposite ideas when employed by different persons. It seems remarkable that children should master the problem before they arrive at con-

(190)-siderable power of abstract reasoning. How should a little girl of two, not particularly reflective, have discovered that "my" was not the sign of a definite object like other words, but meant something different with each person who used it? And, still more surprising, how should she have achieved the correct use of it with reference to herself which, it would seem, could not be copied from any one else, simply because no one else used it to describe what belonged to her? The meaning of words is learned by associating them with other phenomena. But how is it possible to learn the meaning of one which, as used by others, is never associated with the same phenomenon as when properly used by one's self? Watching her use of the first person, I was at once struck with the fact that she employed it almost wholly in a possessive sense, and that, too, when in an aggressive, self-assertive mood. It was extremely common to see R. tugging at one end of a plaything and M. at the other, screaming, "My, my." "Me" was sometimes nearly equivalent to "my," and was also employed to call attention to herself when she wanted something done for her. Another common use of "my" was to demand something she did not have at all. Thus if R. had something the like of which she wanted, say a cart, she would exclaim, "Where's my cart?"

It seemed to me that she might have learned the use of these pronouns about as follows. The self-feeling had always been there. From the first week she had wanted things and cried and fought for them. She had also become familiar by observation and op-

(191)-position with similar appropriative activities on the part of R. Thus she not only had the feeling herself, but by associating it with its visible expression had probably divined it, sympathized with it, resented it, in others. Grasping, tugging, and screaming would be associated with the feeling in her own case and would recall the feeling when observed in others. They would constitute a language, precedent to the use of first-personal pronouns, to express the self-idea. All was ready, then, for the word to name this experience. She now observed that R., when contentiously appropriating something, frequently exclaimed, "my," "mine," "give it to me," "I want it," and the like. Nothing more natural, then, than that she should adopt these words as names for a frequent and vivid experience with which she was already familiar in her own case and had learned to attribute to others. Accordingly it appeared to me, as I recorded in my notes at the time, that "'my' and 'mine' are simply names for concrete images of appropriativeness," embracing both the appropriative feeling and its manifestation. If this is true the child does not at first work out the I-and-you idea in an abstract form. The first-personal pronoun is a sign of a concrete thing after all, but that thing is not primarily the child's body, or his muscular sensations as such, but the phenomenon of aggressive appropriation, practiced by himself, witnessed in others, and incited and interpreted by a hereditary instinct. This seems to get over the difficulty above mentioned, namely, the seeming lack of a common content between the meaning of " my "

(192) when used by another and when used by one's self. This common content is found in the appropriative feeling and the visible and audible signs of that feeling. An element of difference and strife comes in, of course, in the opposite actions or purposes which the "my" of another and one's own "my" are likely to stand for. When another person says " mine " regarding something which I claim, I sympathize with him enough to understand what he means, but it is a hostile sympathy, overpowered by another ahd more vivid "mine" connected with the idea of drawing the object my way.

In other words, the meaning of "I" and "mine" is learned in the same way that the meanings of hope, regret, chagrin, disgust. and thousands of other words of emotion and sentiment are learned: that is, by having the feeling, imputing it to others in connection with some kind of expression, and hearing the word along with it. As to its communication and growth the self-idea is in no way peculiar that I see, but essentially like other ideas. In its more complex forms, such as are expressed by "I" in conversation and literature, it is a social sentiment, or type of sentiments, defined and developed by intercourse, in the manner suggested in a previous chapter. [7]

R., though a more reflective child than M., was much slower in understanding these pronouns, and in his thirty-fifth month had not yet straightened them out, sometimes calling his father "me." I imagine

(193) that this was partly because he was placid and uncontentious in his earliest years, manifesting little social self-feeling, but chiefly occupied with impersonal experiment and reflection: and partly because he saw little of other children by antithesis to whom his self could be awakened. M., Oh the other hand, coming later, had R.'s opposition on which to whet her naturally keen appropriativeness. And her society had a marked effect in developing self-feeling in R., who found self-assertion necessary to preserve his playthings, or anything else capable of appropriation. He learned the use of "my," however, when he was about three years old, before M. was born. He doubtless acquired it in his dealings with his parents. Thus he would perhaps notice his mother claiming the scissors as mine and seizing upon them, and would be moved sympathetically to claim something in the same way— connecting the word with the act and the feeling rather than the object. But as I had not the problem clearly in mind at that time I made no satisfactory observations.

I imagine, then, that as a rule the child associates "I " and "me" at first only with those ideas regarding which his appropriative feeling is aroused and defined by opposition. He appropriates his nose, eye, or foot in very much the same way as a plaything—by antithesis to other noses, eyes, and feet, which he cannot control. It is not uncommon to tease little children by proposing to take away one of these organs, and they behave precisely as if the " mine " threatened were a separable object—which it might be for all

(194) they know. And, as I have suggested, even in adult life, "I," "me," and "mine" are applied with a strong sense of their meaning only to things distinguished as peculiar to us by some sort of opposition or contrast. They always imply social life and relation to other persons. That which is most distinctively mine is very private, it is true, but it is that part of the private which I am cherishing in antithesis to the rest of the world, not the separate but the special. The aggressive self is essentially a militant phase of the mind, having for its apparent function the energizing of peculiar activities, and, although the militancy may not go on in an obvious, external manner, it always exists as a mental attitude.

In some of the best-known discussions of the development of the sense of self in children the chief emphasis has been placed upon the speculative or quasi-metaphysical ideas concerning "I" which children sometimes formulate as a result either of questions from their elders, or of the independent development of a speculative instinct. The most obvious result of these inquiries is to show that a child, when he reflects upon the self in this manner, usually locates "I" in the body. Interesting and important as this juvenile metaphysics is, as one phase of mental development, it should certainly not be taken as an adequate expression of the childish sense of self, and probably President G. Stanley Hall, who has collected valuable material of this kind, does not so take it. [8]

(195) This analysis of the "I," asking one's self just where it is located, whether particular limbs are embraced in it, and the like, is somewhat remote from the ordinary naive use of the word, with children as with grown people. In my own children I only once observed anything of this sort, and that was in the case of R., when he was struggling to achieve the correct use of his pronouns; and a futile, and as I now think mistaken, attempt was made to help him by pointing out the association of the word with his body. On the other hand, every child who has learned to talk uses "I," "me," "mine," and the like hundreds of times a day, with great emphasis, in the simple, naive way that the race has used them for thousands of years. In this usage they refer to claims upon playthings, to assertions of one's peculiar will or purpose, as I don t want to do it that way," "I am going to draw a kitty," and so on, rarely to any part of the body. And when a part of the body is meant it is usually by way of claiming approval for it, as "Don't I look nice?" so that the object of chief interest is after all another person's attitude. The speculative "I," though a true "I," is not the "I" of common speech and workaday usefulness, but almost as remote from ordinary thought as the ego of metaphysicians, of which, indeed, it is an immature example

That children, when in this philosophizing state of mind, usually refer "I" to the physical body, is easily explained by the fact that their materialism, natural to all crude speculation, needs to locate the self somewhere, and the body, the one tangible thing over which

(196) they have continuous power, seems the most available home for it.

The process by which self-feeling of the looking-glass sort develops in children may be followed without much difficulty. Studying the movements of others as closely as they do they soon see a connection between their own acts and changes in those movements; that is, they perceive their own influence or power over persons. The child appropriates the visible actions of his parent or nurse, over which he finds he has some control, in quite the same way as he appropriates one of his own members or a plaything, and he will try to do things with this new possession, just as he will with his hand or his rattle. A girl six months old will attempt in the most evident and deliberate manner to attract attention to herself, to set going by her actions some of those movements of other persons that she has appropriated. She has tasted the joy of being a cause, of exerting social power, and wishes more of it. She will tug at her mother's skirts, wriggle, gurgle, stretch out her arms, etc., all the time watching for the hoped-for effect. These performances often give the child, even at this age, an appearance of what is called affectation, that is, she seems to be unduly preoccupied with what other people think of her. Affectation, at any age, exists when the passion to influence others seems to overbalance the established character and give it an obvious twist or pose. It is instructive to find that even Darwin was, in his childhood, capable of departing from truth for the

(197) sake of making an impression. "For instance," he says in his autobiography, " I once gathered much valuable fruit from my father's trees and hid it in the shrubbery, and then ran in breathless haste to spread the news that I had discovered a hoard of stolen fruit." [9]

The young performer soon learns to be different things to different people, showing that he begins to apprehend personality and to foresee its operation. If the mother or nurse is more tender than just she will almost certainly be "worked" by systematic weeping. It is a matter of common observation that children often behave worse with their mother than with other and less sympathetic people. Of the new persons that a child sees it is evident that some make a strong impression and awaken a desire to interest and please them, while others are indifferent or repugnant. Sometimes the reason can be perceived or guessed, sometimes not; but the fact of selective interest, admiration, prestige, is obvious before the end of the second year. By that time a child already cares much for the reflection of himself upon one personality and little for that upon another. Moreover, he soon claims intimate and tractable persons as mine, classes them among his other possessions, and maintains his ownership against all comers. M., at three years of age, vigorously resented R.'s claim upon their mother. The latter was "my mamma," whenever the point was raised.

Strong joy and grief depend upon the treatment

(198) this rudimentary social self receives. In the case of M. I noticed as early as the fourth month a "hurt" way of crying which seemed to indicate a sense of personal slight. It was quite different from the cry of pain or that of anger, but seemed about the same as the cry of fright. The slightest tone of reproof would produce it. On the other hand, if people took notice and laughed and encouraged, she was hilarious. At about fifteen months old she had become "a perfect little actress," seeming to live largely in imaginations of her effect upon other people. She constantly and obviously laid traps for attention, and looked abashed or wept at any signs of disapproval or indifference. At times it would seem as if she could not get over these repulses, but would cry long in a grieved way, refusing to be comforted. If she hit upon any little trick that made people laugh she would be sure to repeat it, laughing loudly and affectedly in imitation. She had quite a repertory of these small performances, which she would display to a sympathetic audience, or even try upon strangers. I have seen her at sixteen months, when R. refused to give her the scissors, sit down and make-believe cry, putting up her under lip and snuffling, meanwhile looking up now and then to see what effect she was producing.[10]

In such phenomena we have plainly enough, it seems to me, the germ of personal ambition of every sort. Imagination co-operating with instinctive self-

(199)-feeling has already created a social "I," and this has become a principal object of interest and endeavor.

Progress from this point is chiefly in the way of a greater definiteness, fulness; and inwardness in the imagination of the other's state of mind. A little child thinks of and tries to elicit certain visible or audible phenomena, and does not go back of them; but what a grown-up person desires to produce in others is an internal, invisible condition which his own richer experience enables him to imagine, and of which expression is only the sign. Even adults, however, make no separation between what other people think and the visible expression of that thought. They imagine the whole thing at once, and their idea differs from that of a child chiefly in the comparative richness and complexity of the elements that accompany and interpret the visible or audible sign. There is also a progress from the naive to the subtle in socially self-assertive action. A child obviously and simply, at first, does things for effect. Later there is an endeavor to suppress the appearance of doing so; affection, indifference, contempt, etc., are simulated to hide the real wish to affect the self-image. It is perceived that an obvious seeking after good opinion is weak and disagreeable.

I doubt whether there are any regular stages in the development of social self-feeling and expression common to the majority of children. The sentiments of self develop by imperceptible gradations out of the crude appropriative instinct of new-born babes, and their manifestations vary indefinitely in different cases.

(200) Many children show "self-consciousness" conspicuously from the first half-year; others have little appearance of it at any age. Still others pass through periods of affectation whose length and time of occurrence would probably be found to be exceedingly various. In childhood, as at all times of life, absorption in some idea other than that of the social self tends to drive "self-consciousness" out.

Nearly every one, however, whose turn of mind is at all imaginative goes through a season of passionate self-feeling during adolescence, when, according to current belief, the social impulses are stimulated in connection with the rapid development of the functions of sex. This is a time of hero-worship, of high resolve, of impassioned revery, of vague but fierce ambition, of strenuous imitation that seems affected, of gene in the presence of the other sex or of superior persons, and so on.

Many autobiographies describe the social self-feeling of youth which, in the case of strenuous, susceptible natures, prevented by weak health or uncongenial surroundings from gaining the sort of success proper to that age, often attains extreme intensity. This is quite generally the case with the youth of men of genius, whose exceptional endowment and tendencies usually isolate them more or less from the ordinary life about them. In the autobiography of John Addington Symonds we have an account of the feelings of an ambitious boy suffering from ill-health, plainness of feature—peculiarly mortifying to his strong

(201) aesthetic instincts—and mental backwardness. "I almost resented the attentions paid me as my father's son, . . . I regarded them as acts of charitable condescension Thus I passed into an attitude of haughty shyness which had nothing respectable in it except a sort of self-reliant, world-defiant pride, a resolution to effectuate myself, and to win what I wanted by my exertions.... I vowed to raise myself somehow or other to eminence of some sort.... I felt no desire for wealth, no mere wish to cut a figure in society. But I thirsted with intolerable thirst for eminence, for recognition as a personality. [11] . . . The main thing which sustained me was a sense of self— imperious, antagonistic, unmalleable. [12]. . . My external self in these many ways was being perpetually snubbed, and crushed, and mortified. Yet the inner self hardened after a dumb, blind fashion. I kept repeating, 'Wait, wait. I will, I shall, I must."' [13] At Oxford he overhears a conversation in which his abilities are depreciated and it is predicted that he will not get his "first." "The sting of it remained in me; and though I cared little enough for first classes, I then and there resolved that I would win the best first of my year. This kind of grit in me has to be notified. Nothing aroused it so much as a seeming slight, exciting my rebellious manhood." [14] Again he exclaims, "I look round me and find nothing in which I excel." [15] . . . "I fret because I do not realize am-

(202)-bition, because I have no active work, and cannot win a position of importance like other men." [16]

This sort of thing is familiar in literature, and very likely in our own experience. It seems worth while to recall it and to point out that this primal need of self-effectuation, to adopt Mr. Symonds's phrase, is the essence of ambition, and always has for its object the production of some effect upon the minds of other people. We feel in the quotations above the indomitable surging up of the individualizing, militant force of which self-feeling seems to be the organ.

Sex-difference in the development of the social self is apparent from the first. Girls have, as a rule, a more impressible social sensibility; they care more obviously for the social image, study it, reflect upon it more, and so have even during the first year an appearance of subtlety, finesse, often of affectation, in which boys are comparatively lacking. Boys are more taken up with muscular activity for its own sake and with construction, their imaginations are occupied somewhat less with persons and more with things. In a girl das ewig Weibliche, not easy to describe but quite unmistakable, appears as soon as she begins to take notice of people, and one phase of it is certainly an ego less simple and stable, a stronger impulse to go over to the other person's point of view and to stake joy and grief on the image in his mind. There can be no doubt that women are as a rule more dependent upon immediate personal support and cor-

(203)-roboration than are men. The thought of the woman needs to fix itself upon some person in whose mind she can find a stable and compelling image of herself by which to live. If such an image is found, either In a visible or an ideal person, the power of devotion to it becomes a source of strength. But it is a sort of strength dependent upon this personal complement, without which the womanly character is somewhat apt to become a derelict and drifting vessel. Men, being built more for aggression, have, relatively, a greater power of standing alone. But no one can really stand alone, and the appearance of it is due simply to a greater momentum and continuity of character which stores up the past and resists immediate influences. Directly or indirectly the imagination of how we appear to others is a controlling force in all normal minds.

The vague but potent phases of the self associated with the instinct of sex may be regarded, like other phases, as expressive of a need to exert power and as having reference to personal function. The youth, I take it, is bashful precisely because he is conscious of the vague stirring of an aggressive instinct which he does not know how either to effectuate or to ignore. And it is perhaps much the same with the other sex: the bashful are always aggressive at heart; they are conscious of an interest in the other person, of a need to be something to him. And the more developed sexual passion, in both sexes, is very largely an emotion of power, domination, or appropriation. There is no state of feeling that says "mine, mine," more

(204) fiercely. The need to be appropriated or dominated which, in women at least, is equally powerful, is of the same nature at bottom, having for its object the attracting to itself of a masterful passion. "The desire of the man is for the woman, but the desire of the woman is for the desire of the man." [17]

Although boys have generally a less impressionable social self than girls, there is great difference among them in this regard. Some of them have a marked tendency to finesse and posing, while others have almost none. The latter have a less vivid personal imagination; they are unaffected chiefly, perhaps, because they have no vivid idea of how they seem to others, and so are not moved to seem rather than to be; they are unresentful of slights because they do not feel them, not ashamed or jealous or vain or proud or remorseful, because all these imply imagination of another's mind. I have known children who showed no tendency whatever to lie; in fact, could not understand the nature or object of lying or of any sort of concealment, as in such games as hide-and-coop. This excessively simple way of looking at things may come from unusual absorption in the observation and analysis of the impersonal, as appeared to be the case with R., whose interest in other facts and their relations so much preponderated over his interest in personal attitudes that there was no temptation to sacrifice the former to the latter. A child of this sort gives the impression of being non-moral; he neither sins nor

(205) repents, and has not the knowledge of good and evil. We eat of the tree of this knowledge when we begin to imagine the minds of others, and so become aware of that conflict of personal impulses which conscience aims to allay.

Simplicity is a pleasant thing in children, or at any age, but it is not necessarily admirable, nor is affectation altogether a thing of evil. To be normal, to be at home in the world, with a prospect of power, usefulness, or success, the person must have that imaginative insight into other minds that underlies tact and savoir-faire, morality and beneficence. This insight involves sophistication, some understanding and sharing of the clandestine impulses of human nature. A simplicity that is merely the lack of this insight indicates a sort of defect. There is, however, another kind of simplicity, belonging to a character that is subtle and sensitive, but has sufficient force and mental clearness to keep in strict order the many impulses to which it is open, and so preserve its directness and unity. One may be simple like Simple Simon, or in the sense that Emerson meant when he said, "To be simple is to be great." Affectation, vanity, and the like, indicate the lack of proper assimilation of the influences arising from our sense of what others think of us. Instead of these influences working upon the individual gradually and without disturbing his equilibrium, they overbear him so that he appears to be not himself, posing, out of function, and hence silly, weak, contemptible. The affected smile, the "foolish face of praise" is a type of all affec-

(206)-tation, an external, put-on thing, a weak and fatuous petition for approval. Whenever one is growing rapidly, learning eagerly, preoccupied with strange ideals, he is in danger of this loss of equilibrium; and so we notice it in sensitive children, especially girls, in young people between fourteen and twenty, and at all ages in persons of unstable individuality.

This disturbance of our equilibrium by the outgoing of the imagination toward another person's point of view means that we are undergoing his influence. In the presence of one whom we feel to be of importance there is a tendency to enter into and adopt, by sympathy, his judgment of ourself, to put a new value on ideas and purposes, to recast life in his image. With a very sensitive person this tendency is often evident to others in ordinary conversation and in trivial matters. By force of an impulse springing directly from the delicacy of his perceptions he is continually imagining how he appears to his interlocutor, and accepting the image, for the moment, as himself. If the other appears to think him well-informed on some recondite matter, he is likely to assume a learned expression; if thought judicious he looks as if he were, if accused of dishonesty he appears guilty, and so on. In short, a sensitive man, in the presence of an impressive personality, tends to become, for the time, his interpretation of what the other thinks he is. It is only the heavy-minded who will not feel this to be true, in some degree, of themselves. Of course it is usually a temporary and somewhat superficial phenomenon; but it is typical of all

(207) ascendancy, and helps us to understand how persons have power over us through some hold upon our imaginations, and how our personality grows and takes form by divining the appearance of our present self to other minds.

So long as a character is open and capable of growth it retains a corresponding impressibility, which is not weakness unless it swamps the assimilating and organizing faculty. I know men whose careers are a proof of stable and aggressive character who have an almost feminine sensitiveness regarding their seeming to others. Indeed, if one sees a man whose attitude toward others is always assertive, never receptive, he may be confident that man will never go far, because he will never learn much. In character, as in every phase of life, health requires a just union of stability with plasticity.

There is a vague excitement of the social self more general than any particular emotion or sentiment. Thus the mere presence of people, a "sense of other persons," as Professor Baldwin says, and an awareness of their observation, often causes a vague discomfort, doubt, and tension. One feels that there is a social image of himself lurking about, and not knowing what it is he is obscurely alarmed. Many people, perhaps most, feel more or less agitation and embarrassment under the observation of strangers, and for some even sitting in the same room with unfamiliar or uncongenial people is harassing and exhausting. It is well known, for instance, that a visit from a stranger would often cost Darwin his night's sleep,

(208) and many similar examples could be collected from the records of men of letters. At this point, however, it is evident that we approach the borders of mental pathology.

Possibly some will think that I exaggerate the importance of social self-feeling by taking persons and periods of life that are abnormally sensitive. But I believe that with all normal and human people it remains, in one form or another, the mainspring of endeavor and a chief interest of the imagination throughout life. As is the case with other feelings, we do not think much of it so long as it is moderately and regularly gratified. Many people of balanced mind and congenial activity scarcely know that they care what others think of them, and will deny, perhaps with indignation, that such care is an important factor in what they are and do. But this is illusion. If failure or disgrace arrives, if one suddenly finds that the faces of men show coldness or contempt instead of the kindliness and deference that he is used to, he will perceive from the shock, the fear, the sense of being outcast and helpless, that he was living in the minds of others without knowing it, just as we daily walk the solid ground without thinking how it bears us up. This fact is so familiar in literature, especially in modern novels, that it ought to be obvious enough. The works of George Eliot are particularly strong in the exposition of it. In most of her novels there is some character like Mr. Bulstrode in "Middlemarch" or Mr. Jermyn in "Felix Holt," whose respectable and long

(209)-established social image of himself is shattered by the coming to light of hidden truth.

It is true, however, that the attempt to describe the social self and to analyze the mental processes that enter into it almost unavoidably makes it appear more reflective and " self-conscious " than it usually is. Thus while some readers will be able to discover in themselves a quite definite and deliberate contemplation of the reflected self, others will perhaps find nothing but a sympathetic impulse, so simple that it can hardly be made the object of distinct thought. Many people whose behavior shows that their idea of themselves is largely caught from the persons they are with, are yet quite innocent of any intentional posing; it is a matter of subconscious impulse or mere suggestion. The self of very sensitive but non-reflective minds is of this character.

The group self or " we " is simply an " I " which includes other persons. One identifies himself with a group and speaks of the common will, opinion, service, or the like in terms of "we" and "us." The sense of it is stimulated by co-operation within and opposition without. A family that has had to struggle with economic difficulties usually develops solidarity—"We paid off the mortgage," "We sent the boys to college," and the like. A student identifies himself with his class or his university when it is performing a social function of some kind, especially when it is contending in games with other classes or institutions. "We won the tug of war," he says, or "We beat Wisconsin

(210) at football." Those of us who remained at home during the Great War nevertheless tell how " we " entered the war in 1917, how "we" fought decisively in the Argonne, and so on.

It is notable that the national self, indeed any group self, can be felt only in relation to a larger society, just as the individual self is felt only in relation to other individuals. We could have no patriotism unless we were aware of other nations, and the effect of a definitely organized society of nations, in whose activities we all took a generous interest, would be, not to diminish patriotism, as some have unintelligently asserted, but to raise its character, to make it more vivid, continuous, varied, and sympathetic. It would be like the self-consciousness of an intelligent individual in constant and friendly intercourse with others, as contrasted with the brutal self-assertion of one who knows his fellows only as objects of suspicion and hostility. The patriotism of the past has been of the latter kind, and we have hardly considered its higher possibilities. The national " we " can and should be a self of real honor, service, and humane aspiration.


  1. "The words ME, then, and SELF, SO far as they arouse feeling and connote emotional worth, are OBJECTIVE: designations meaning ALL THE THINGS which have the power to produce in a stream of consciousness excitement of a certain peculiar sort." Psychology, i., p. 319. A little earlier he says: "In its widest possible sense, however, a man's self is the sum total of all he CAN call his, not only his body and his psychic powers, but his clothes and his house, his wife and children, his ancestors and friends, his reputation and works, his lands and horses and yacht and bank-account. All these things give him the same emotions." Idem, p. 291.

    So Wundt says of "Ich": "EB ist ein Gefuhl, nicht eine Vorstellung, wie es haufig genannt wird." Grundrisi der Psychologie, 4 Auflage, S. 265.
  2. It is, perhaps, to be thought of as a more general instinct, of which anger, etc., are differentiated forms, rather than as standing by itself.
  3. Plumptre's Sophocles, p. 352.
  4. Psychology, i, p. 307.
  5. "Only in man does man know himself; life alone teaches each one what he is." -- Goethe, Tasso, act 2, sc. 3.
  6. John Addington Symonds, by H. F. Brown, vol. ii, p. 120.
  7. Compare my "Study of the Early Use of Self-Words by a Child," in the Psychological Review, vol. 15, p. 339.
  8. Compare Some Aspects of the Early Sense of Self, American Journal of Psychology, vol. 9, p. 351.
  9. Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, by F. Darwin, p. 27.
  10. This sort of thing is very familiar to observers of children. See, for instance, Miss Shinn's Notes on the Development of a Child, p. 153.
  11. John Addington Symonds, by H.F. Brown, vol. i, p. 63.
  12. P. 70.
  13. P. 74.
  14. P.120.
  15. P.125
  16. P. 348.
  17. Attributed to Mme. de Stael.

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