SMC 1311: Self


The modern English word self is derived from the Old English word self/seolf/sylf, which is closely related to the Old Norse sjalfr, the Old Frisian self, the Dutch zelf, the Old High German selb, the German selbst, and the Gothic silba. All of these words can be traced back to the proto-Germanic *selbaz, which is based on the Indo-European root *s(w)e, meaning “separate, apart.” A self is something separate and apart from other things.

In this class, we will try to come to a better understanding of the self. We will ask what a self is, what sets selves apart from other kinds of things, and what distinguishes one self from another. We will explore the relationship between our minds, our bodies, and our selves. We will also reflect on the way that our beliefs, desires, decisions, and actions shape our selves. Finally, we will consider the ways that gender, race, class, religion, and nationality affect our understanding of our selves.


Sophocles, Sophocles I, translated by David Grene. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991).

Marcus Aurelius, The Meditations, translated by G.M.A. Grube (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing 1983).

Augustine, Confessions (Second Edition), translated by Peter Brown (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 2011).

Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy, translated by Donald Cress (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 1993).


Supplementary texts by Plato, Plutarch, Abelard, Montaigne, Kant, Marx, Beauvoir, Arendt, Fanon, and others


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