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A History of the Self

 

Explanations > Identity > A History of the Self

Description | Discussion | See also

 

Description

Over time and culture, the notion of a person has changed. Here are some views derived from work by Mauss (1938).

The mythic part

Primitive tribes and clans live within a mythological frame, where people take parts within larger stories, acting out the parts of preconceived characters. Complex rules, ceremonies, dances and rituals have a powerful effect on the sense of who you are and, significantly, your position in the grand order of things.

The Latin persona

The persona of the Latins is an independent role, defined by their type, character and personality. The person in this role is anchored less by a containing story but is still constrained by the expectations of the role. They wear the masks of their role and play the part, but the story is less grand and more variable.

Original Latin masks include those of tragedy, ritual and ancestry. 'Persona' comes from 'per sonare', 'speaking through' the mask.

The moral person

The Stoics and Romans developed the notion of the person behind the persona, with volition that leads to the mask matching the underlying person.

Christianity developed the idea of moral obligation of the person and this was encased in law, including for non-individual institutions, corporations, etc.

The psychological person

Eventually the sciences took up the baton of examining the person, from biology to psychology and philosophy. And we are still looking, examining, dividing, wondering, ...

Discussion

The implication of this is that the state of 'me', 'self' or other identity and how we think about ourselves is very much defined by the cultural codes of the time and place. These have ranged from self-as-nature to self-as-separate.

See also

Mauss, M. (1938). A category of the human mind: The notion of person, the notion of self. in M. Carrithers, S. Collins and S. Lukes, The Category of the Person, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

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