William James Saw the Human Psyche as Essay

  • Length: 6 pages
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  • Subject: Psychology
  • Type: Essay
  • Paper: #78548663

Excerpt from Essay :

William James saw the human psyche as being awesomely complex. To start off with, he divided it into two selves:

The phenomenal self (the experienced self, the 'me' self, the self as known)

The self-thought (the I-self, the self as knower).

There is the 'ME' which is the objective, detached term that we use -- that we see -- the empirical self. And then there is the 'I' the constant flow of subjective thought that the person has about the self and which makes the person perceive the self, moment per moment, in a certain way:

'Personality implies the incessant presence of two elements, an objective person, known by a passing subjective Thought and recognized as continuing in time. Hereafter let us use the words ME and I for the empirical person and the judging Thought.' (James (1890), op. cit., Vol. 1, p. 371.)

The ME self is further divided into three different interrelated aspects of self:

the material self (I.e. anything in which we feel some sort of physical ownership towards such as our bodies, our families, our possessions),

the social self (our feelings of social relations),

The spiritual self (our feelings of our own subjectivity).

A person has many different social selves for he perceives himself in numerous ways and is, consequently, perceived by each of his acquaintances in a diversity of ways. Similarly, too, man's self-esteem is shaped by his goals and the level of actions that he sets himself out to accomplish, whilst man had disjunction from ideal self to real self - seeing himself in one abstract sort of way, whilst he may function, in actuality, as a totally different human.

James' discussion of the I-Self is philosophically complex. He points out that we form a holistic sense of self compounding the I of yesterday with the I of preceding days, and aggregating it into one whole. On the contrary, however, the I is constantly fluctuating and is made up of a series of pointillist 'I's that differ according to context. The convert, for instance, is different in the moment after the conversion to that of before. The man thinks in a different way; his reference to himself is different.

The conversion experience is one that transforms the whole man. This includes the I and the me. It, therefore, has to shape all crevices of the psyche. In regards to the ME, it has to thoroughly penetrate all spheres of the empirical life, such as man's relationship to others in all its materialistic indications (bodies, family, possessions); man's social self (I.e. The conversion experience has to shape the feeling of the many different social selves that he has); and the feelings of his spiritual self. By penetrating and influencing each of these singly, - who is made up of holistic whole -- becomes transformed and 'converted'. Man's 'I', in turn, therefore changes since one -- reciprocally -- affects the other. The 'I', namely the way man perceives himself, shapes the 'me (the objective self). In this way, an authentic "conversion" experience involves a new and special kind of relationship with the self.

Conversion, consequently, is also a penetration into the "unseen" since not only does it alter the outside appearance, namely the phenomenal self, but it also makes its way into the self-thought. We may articulate it as this: Conversion starts off from the self-thought. The man is shaken into a certain experience that impacts his inner self, his spirit, and his internal mechanisms of thinking about the world. Man is most closely in touch with this subjective 'I', this passing stream of inner self. It is this which compels him to view himself in a certain way. He knows that the empirical ME exists, but it is the 'I' that determines the way that he perceives himself and that is most immediate to him.

The 'I', however, shapes the 'Me' for the inner perception of the man causes the man, in turn, to behave in a certain way and conduct his affairs -- or his relationship to his physical phenomena -- in a certain manner. It is the 'I', to elaborate, that determines his self-esteem and the goals that he strives for, as well as it being the ' I' that determines the quality and quantity of his possessions (for instance whom he chooses to marry, if he decides to marry all; or how many kids he has -- if at all). Finally, although not conclusively, the 'I' also shapes his social contacts (a man becoming a monk, for instance, may decide to become a hermit). In this way, changes from the inside transform the outside, and the outside, in turn, reinforces the activity (or the effect of the conversion) form the inside. This is because there is a cyclical effect, which is inside (I.e. I) causing change on the empirical phenomena (i.e. ME), causing man's relations and external appendages to react to this individual in a certain manner. This, in turn, reinforces the change (I.e. conversion experience) in this individual.

This may be what James means when he observes:

…when the will has done its utmost towards bringing one close to the complete unification aspired after, it seems that the very last step must be left to other forces and performed without the help of its activity. (208)

In other words, conversion is indistinct from changes that act on all levels of the psyche. It needs the whole psyche to culminate the conversion process, and it does so by I and ME synchronizing and acting in loops one upon the other, with man's different systems (think of systems theory) abetting and intensifying the experience.

Such experiences are philosophically reasonable, but whether they are morally helpful is a different matter altogether, depending possibly on what man defines as 'morally helpful' and on whether the results aid or stunt his potential. Since man's inner conversion shakes his whole self (both inner and outer), it seems to me that a 'morally helpful' transformative experience would be one that has a positive impact on the whole of man helping him grow in a constructive direction. Affecting, as they do, the psyche and coming from within him (I.e. Initiating from his 'I'), they, therefore, seem to me to be strictly a psychological phenomenon.

Part 2.

The cartoon about Self meeting rational self is appropriate to James' thesis on the two opposing systems that battle within the human psyche: Susceptibility to emotional excitement and susceptibility to impulses and inhibitions (212). The first represents the 'aye' -- it moves one to action (e.g. To impulsively love another). The second inhibits and may be compared to man's control board aptly caricatured by the cartoon strip.

For James, the extreme and "instinct-breaching" magnanimity of brotherly love is possible by complete self-surrender to the "Ideal Power" (220). This can be instantiated by his example of Constant who was indecisive due to his inability to "give things up" (215). Once he resolved to hand over his emotional urges, and the battle of conflictual forces within him (the one moving towards perpetrating, the other towards quelling) to a Higher Power, Konstantin found peace. This results in an attitude called 'saintliness'.

Saintliness possesses four qualities:

(1) A sense of a personified "Ideal Power," and of the interrelationship of cosmos. (James describes this as "enveloping friendliness.")

(2) A surrender to the benevolence of this Power

(3) A sense of liberty and ecstasy

(4) A shift towards "emotional excitement" and strength (220).

It is this shift, and this all-encompassing feeling of wholeness and ecstasy as well as liberty, that makes an extreme and "instinct-breaching" magnanimity possible. This is so, because such magnanimity is no longer a source of conflict of the person. On the contrary, emotion and inhibition have merged to become one whole in assuming this brotherly stance as a life-affirming force to the recipient.

Seen from another way, this extreme of Christian charity may seem unnatural and self-sacrificing to another. To the saint, however, he possesses this sense of personified and interrelated cosmos. To him, he is part of the cosmos; the cosmos is he. He, therefore, experiences no conflict between giving (emotion) and inhibiting this emotion since to give to the other is like giving to himself. His sense of peace and wholeness only increases by doing so. Thi8s explains James' observation that if followed radically, "we should be born into another kingdom of being" (229).

Just as the qualities of saintliness are four, so too are the consequences of saintliness. They are the following:

(1) A tendency toward asceticism and self-immolation,

(2) Abandonment of fear and anxiety,

(3) Purity from "worldly pursuits,"

(4) Charity, or "brotherly love" (225).

James observes that such magnanimity / "brotherly love":

would involve such a breach with our instinctive springs of action as a whole, and with the present world's arrangements, that a critical point would be practically passed, and we should be born into another kingdom of being. (283-284)

Physical things can be quantified and measured. A spiritual…

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