The Empirical and Transcendental Ego

  • Maurice Natanson


Psychologists have often distinguished between the ego and the self, taking ego as subject and self as object of thought. So, for example, George H. Mead’s distinction of the “I” and “me” aspects of the self points, at one level at least, to the “I” as the subject and the “me” as the object of any act. More explicitly, William James in the first volume of his Principles of Psychology distinguishes between the self and the ego. But James is quick to establish a distinction between what he calls the “empirical self” and the “pure ego.” “The Empirical Self of each of us,” he writes, “is all that he is tempted to call by name of me1 but the pure ego refers to a “pure principle of personal identity” and leads ultimately to considerations of transcendental philosophy.


Transcendental Philosophy Pure Possibility Conscious Life Transcendental Condition Intentional Stream 
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  1. 1.
    William James, Principles of Psychology, Vol. I (New York, 1893), p. 291. 2 Italics mine.Google Scholar
  2. 1.
    Jean-Paul Sartre, “La Transcendance de L’Ego,” Recherches Philosophiques, VI, 1936-1937, p. 85. (Present translation by Forrest Williams and Robert Kirkpatrick: The Transcendence of the Ego (New York 1957), p. 31.)Google Scholar
  3. 2.
    Ibid., p. 94 (translation ibid., pp. 48-49).Google Scholar
  4. 3.
    Ibid., p. 90 (translation ibid., p. 40).Google Scholar
  5. 4.
    See Aron Gurwitsch, “The Phenomenological and the Psychological Approach to Consciousness,” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, XV (March 1955), pp. 303-319.Google Scholar
  6. 1.
    Cf. Sartre’s L’Être et le néant (Paris 1943), deuxième partie.Google Scholar
  7. 2.
    “La Transcendance de l’Ego,” p. 119 (translation, pp. 98-99).Google Scholar
  8. 3.
    Ibid., p. 97 (translation, p. 56).Google Scholar
  9. 1.
    Aron Gurwitsch, “A Non-Egological Conception of Consciousness,” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, I (March 1941), p. 337.Google Scholar
  10. 2.
  11. 3.
    Cf. the following criticism offered by Schutz: If Gurwitsch “says that there is no egological moment involved if I see my friend in adversity and help him and that what is given to me is just ‘myfriend-in-need-of-aid’ it must be stated that any single element of the hyphenated term ‘my,’ ‘friend,’ ‘need,’ ‘aid,’ already refers to the ego for which alone each of them may exist.” In: Alfred Schutz, “Scheler’s Theory of Intersubjectivity and the General Thesis of the Alter Ego,” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, II (March 1942), footnote on p. 339.Google Scholar
  12. 1.
    “La Transcendance de l’Ego,” p. 85 (translation, p. 32).Google Scholar
  13. 2.
  14. 3.
  15. 4.
    Ibid., p. 86 (translation, pp. 32-33).Google Scholar
  16. 1.
    Edmund Husserl, “Philosophie als strenge Wissenschaft,” Logos, Band I, 1910/11, p. 302 (present translation by Quentin Lauer: “Philosophy as a Strict Science,” Cross Currents, VI (Summer 1956), p. 236.Google Scholar
  17. 2.
    Ibid, (translation, pp. 236-237).)Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Martinus Nijhoff, The Hague, Netherlands 1959

Authors and Affiliations

  • Maurice Natanson
    • 1
  1. 1.University of North CarolinaUSA

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