Real Perspectival Selves
Self-studies are important to psychology, understood as the study of human action and experience in the world. For, unlike other animals, humans are uniquely capable of a kind of personhood that, while evolved in a broad Darwinian sense, has proven adept at tethering itself historically to increasingly complex cultures (Donald, 2001). A necessary aspect of such an evolved, culturally sustained personhood has seemed to many to be the psychological self, understood both as a self-conscious first-person perspective (a psychological “I”) and as a conceptual self-understanding (a psychological “me”), through which we humans perceive, understand, and act in the world. Since first theorized by William James (1890), some version of this dual-aspect psychological self has been a mainstay of much self-theory and research in the discipline of psychology (e.g., Harré, 1998; McAdams, 1997; Mead, 1934). If both first-person experiences and self-understandings are not to count as real in a way that matters to human life on this planet, psychology dissolves into either physics or sociology, or assumes the status of folk beliefs and practices of interest to historians and cultural anthropologists. Given the current prevalence of antirealist sentiments concerning the self, it is surprising that so few contemporary psychologists appear willing to defend its reality.