William James' (1890) duplex conception of the self as subject (the ' I ' )
and the self as object (the 'Me'). He described these two aspects of the
self as follows:
Whatever I may be thinking of, I am always at the same time more or less
aware of myself, of my personal existence. At the same time, it is I who am
aware; so that the total self of me, being as it were duplex, partly known and
partly knower, partly object and partly subject, must have two aspects
discriminated in it, of which for shortness, we may call the one 'Me' and the
other the ' I ' .
Herbert Mead, for example, used James' ' I ' and ' Me' paradigm in
developing the central proposition of symbolic interactionism, i.e., that
the genesis of self is formed in communicative interaction with others,
becomes reflexively my image of myself and this becomes amplified and
cumulative over the life span
According to James this accruing structure of self-conceptions is part
of the Me, or the 'empirical self, and he posited three constituents of
this empirical self: the material Me, the social Me, and the spiritual
Me. The material and social aspects of the Me are the most accessible
to objective study and therefore appear more empirical than the
spiritual Me, which is more subjective and closer to the primary
consciousness of the I. There is also a strong appropriative element in
the material and social Me which consist of objects and persons
generally identified by the possessive terms "my" or "mine". Thus,
not only my physical body, clothing and possessions in general, but also
my family, friends, and allegiances are mine.
James identified the spiritual Me as ' the entire collection of my states
of consciousness, my psychic faculties and dispositions...' and he
delineated this further, as follows: 'The more active-feeling states of
consciousness are the ... more central portion of the Spiritual Me. The
very core and nucleus of our self, as we know it, the very sanctuary of
our life, is the sense of activity which certain inner states possess'.
William James (1890) and George Herbert Mead(1934).
James and Mead both distinguished between the "I,"
the self as observer, and the "me," which is closer to the commonly
used self-concept. James described the distinction this
Whatever I may be thinking of, I am always at the same time more
or less aware of myself, of my personal existence. At the same time
it is / who am aware; so that the total self of me, being as it were
duplex, partly known and partly knower, partly object and partly
subject, must have two aspects discriminated in it, of which for
shortness we may call one the Me and the other the /. (p. 176)
James, W. (1890). The principles of psychology. Cambridge, MA: Harvard
Mead, G. H. (1934). Mind, self, and society. Chicago: University of
Bengtson et al. (1985) differentiated between selfconception,
or ' 'the aspects 6f the 'me' that are perceived, interpreted,
and evaluated" (p. 548), and the "phenomenological
self,'' or the "I" who does the perceiving, interpreting, or evaluating.
The "I," then, is the observer and the "me," the observations;
it is the "I" who observes which traits, characteristics,
roles, behaviors, and attitudes are stable and which change.
Bengtson, V. L., Reedy, M. N., & Gordon, C. (1985). Aging and selfconceptions:
Personality processes and social contexts. In J. E. Birren
& K. W. Schaie (Eds.), Handbook of the psychology of aging
(2nd ed., pp. 544-593). New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold
Johnson (1985) pointed to this as a distinction between the self
as subject and the self as object (both a social object to others
and a social and psychological object unto itself).
Johnson, F. (1985). The Western concept of self. In A. J. Marsella, G.
DeVos, & F. L. K. Hsu (Eds.), Culture and self: Asian and Western
perspectives (pp. 91-138). London: Tavistock
McAdams (1987) put it metaphorically when he stated that individuals
fashion a niche or home that defines who and what they are.
The "I" is the niche McAdams spoke of, and the "me" is the
furnishings for that niche.
McAdams, D. P. (1987). A life-story model of identity. In R. Hogan &
W. H. Jones (Eds.), Perspectives in personality (Vol. 2, pp. 15-50).
Greenwich, CT JAI Press.
"self-concept, the observed, me
E. Troll, L., & McKean Skaff, M. (1997). Perceived continuity of self in very old age (Vol. 12).