The Classics on Concepts of Person and Self

A collection of classic texts in chronological order pertaining to the study of self, personhood, and personal identity.

Plato Plato. 360 BCE. The Phaedo.

Crito: But in what way would you have us bury you?
Socrates: In any way that you like; only you must get hold of me, and take care that I do not walk away from you.

Then Socrates turned to us, and added with a smile: I cannot make Crito believe that I am the same Socrates who have been talking and conducting the argument; he fancies that I am the other Socrates whom he will soon see, a dead body -- and he asks, How shall he bury me?


AristotleAristotle. 350 BCE. Peri Psychis (De Anima, On the Soul).

" ... the soul must be a substance in the sense of the form of a natural body having life potentially within it. ... That is why we can wholly dismiss as unnecessary the question whether the soul and the body are one: it is as meaningless as to ask whether the wax and the shape given to it by the stamp are one, or generally the matter of a thing and that of which it is the matter. Unity has many senses (as many as 'is' has), but the most proper and fundamental sense of both is the relation of an actuality to that of which it is the actuality."



Locke, John. 1690. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding -- the section on Personal Identity: Book 2, Chapter 27.

" ... person ... a thinking intelligent being, that has reason and reflection, and can consider itself as itself, the same thinking thing, in different times and places; which it does only by that consciousness with is inseparable from thinking, and, as it seems to me, essential to it ..."


Berkeley Berkeley, George. 1710. Of the Principles of Human Knowledge.

"But, besides all that endless variety of ideas or objects of knowledge, there is likewise something which knows or perceives them; and exercises divers operations, as willing, imagining, remembering, about them. This perceiving, active being is what I call MIND, SPIRIT, SOUL, or MYSELF. By which words I do not denote any one of my ideas, but a thing entirely distinct from them, wherein they exist, or, which is the same thing, whereby they are perceived - for the existence of an idea consists in being perceived."


butlerButler, Joseph (Bishop). 1736. The Analogy of Religion, Appendix I.

"... one should really think it self-evident, that consciousness of personal identity presupposes, and therefore cannot constitute, personal identity, any more than knowledge, in any other case, can constitute truth, which it presupposes."



Hume, David. 1739. A Treatise of Human Nature. Book I, Part IV. Of Personal Identity.

"For my part, when I enter most intimately into what I call myself , I always stumble on some particular perception or other, of heat or cold, light or shade, love or hatred, pain or pleasure. I never catch myself at any time without a perception, and never can observe anything but the perception. ... I may venture to affirm of the rest of mankind, that they are nothing but a bundle or collection of different perceptions, which succeed each other with an inconceivable rapidity, and are in a perpetual flux and movement."



Kant, Immanuel. 1781. Critique of Pure Reason.

"I cannot know as an object that which I must presuppose in order to know any object. ... In the transcendental synthesis ... I am conscious of myself, not as I appear to myself, nor as I am in myself, but only that I am" (B157)



Thomas Reid


Reid, Thomas. 1785. Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man. Essay 3: Of Memory. Chapters 4 and 6.

"The conviction which every man has of his identity .... is indispensably necessary to all exercise of reason."



BrentanoBrentano, Franz. 1874. Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint. "The Concept and Purpose of Psychology."

"... whether or not there are souls, the fact is that there are mental phenomena. And no one who accepts the theory of the substantiality of the soul will deny that whatever can be established with reference to the soul is also related to mental phenomena. Nothing, therefore, stands in our way if we adopt the modern definition instead of defining psychology as the science of the soul."




Dilthey, Wilhelm. 1883. Introduction to the Human Sciences

"No real blood flows in the veins of the knowing subject constructed by Locke, Hume, and Kant, but rather the diluted extract of reason as a mere activity of thought."


Wm. James

James, William. 1890. Principles of Psychology. Chapter 10: The consciousness of self. Chapter 11: The stream of consciousness

"Let us begin with the Self in its widest acceptation, and follow it up to its most delicate and subtle form, advancing from the study of the empirical, as the Germans call it, to that of the pure, Ego."


MeadMead, George Herbert 1913. The social self. Journal of Philosophy, Psychology and Scientific Methods 10: 374- 380.

"Recognizing that the self can not appear in consciousness as an "I," that it is always an object, i.e., a "me," I wish to suggest an answer to the question, What is involved in the self being an object?"