Undoubtedly everyone at some point in their life has posited the question”Who am I?” This, along with “Why am I here?” ,”What is the purpose of life?” , and other apparently transient questions, has been a question that has puzzled philosophers throughout the ages. Individuals and cultures alike have attempted to render a verdict for the evidence that has been presented. Even though the glut of answers that’s been given throughout history has varied tremendously both in nature and scope, they could be condensed into two basic viewpoints: atheistic and theistic. From the atheistic view, which tends to be the leaning of most modern philosophers, is that we’re here, just like everything else – by accident. Over the course of billions of years of evolution, people, somewhere in the past few million years have developed a conscience – a self-realization. What it really is, is anyone’s guess, but it somehow puts us a bit over the plants and flowers, which although are living, growing, and reproducing, have in themselves no concept of being; they just simply exist, and nothing more. Neither do they care. In this scenario, we actually don’t have any existence or purpose in life; we just have a couple overdeveloped brain cells which are firing erratically causing us to temporarily become somewhat aware of our existence. When we die, it is all over and we, conscious of our being or not, only cease to exist. On the other hand, in the theistic view, humans were created by God with a set purpose in life. Following are brief synopses of three prominent sociologists.
Charles Horton Cooley was a professor in the University of Michigan from 1892 until his death in 1929. Dr. Cooley set out to theorize human self-awareness by postulating three components that define our awareness based on our relationships with those around us. He believed that we imagine how we appear to those around us, then we interpret the reactions of others based on their perception of us, and we create a self-concept based on how we interpret the reactions of others. He called this theory that the”looking-glass self”. He believed that we perceive in our minds how we look or look to those around us. Irrespective of how we feel about ourselves, we often worry about how others regard us. In middle school, we all expect that everyone will think we are cool. In high school we can not fathom the notion that we won’t be found appealing. We frequently evaluate the answers we get from those around us to ascertain how they feel about us based on how they see us. Do they think we are weak because we’re nice? Perhaps they see us as cool since we speak condescendingly to other people. If we’re quiet by nature, do they perceive us as smart, or simply unfriendly? After we have evaluated the reactions of our friends and acquaintances, we will begin to develop ideas about ourselves. He believed that the notion of self was a lifelong, constantly shifting, procedure.
George Herbert Mead also employed a three-step process to explain the growth of self, however, his measures differed from those proposed by Dr. Cooley. The first of his measures was what he called fake. In this stage, which begins at an early age, we begin to imitate the actions and words of those around us. We don’t actually have a genuine sense of being; we simply view ourselves as an extension of those around us. In the second stage, known as play, we begin the process of studying our self-identity by no longer simply imitating others, but instead by pretending to be them. While we have not fully realized ourselves as being a total and separate entity, we’re realizing a step in that direction by showing that we understand that others are individuals who are different from one another. In the final stage we begin to undertake the roles of others once we play team sports. In these situations we must learn how to play as a team by not only playing our role, but by also understanding the functions that other men and women play so that we may anticipate their moves. In some cases we might also be asked to actively take on their function, such as when a player is hurt and we have to substitute for them. It is in these 3 measures, according to Dr. Mead, that we each develop our own personal identity.
Jean Piaget was a Swiss psychologist who noticed that kids often make the same wrong observations in similar conditions. He cautioned that all kids used the same reasoning when presented with a problem, no matter their background. At the conclusion of years of studying them, Dr. Piaget decided that children go through four stages in the development of reasoning abilities. The first stage, which he called the sensorimotor stage, lasts until about the age of 2 in many children. All our ideas about self are limited to direct physical touch. We have yet to develop the concept of abstract thought or the ability to realize that actions have consequences. The preoperational stage, which lasts from about age two to age seven, is the period of time where we start to learn about what he called symbols. That is, anything that we use to represent something different. This vocabulary not only applies to concrete symbols, such as the male/female silhouettes on bathroom doors, but also to more abstract symbols such as language and counting. Although children start to use and realize the use of these symbols, they do not always fully understand their complete meaning. For instance, a child may have the ability to understand the difference between a single cookie and two biscuits, but they would not have any idea of the difference between a car that cost $400 and another that cost $40,000. In the third stage, the concrete operational phase which lasts from roughly 7-12 years old, older children are starting to grasp the general meanings of concrete symbols such as numbers (even if they are extremely large numbers), yet still have difficulties understanding abstract ideas like love and honesty. In the fourth and final phase of our development, the formal operational stage, we now are starting to comprehend abstract ideas. We can now answer not only questions about who, what, where, and when, but we can also start to answer questions related to why something is right, wrong, beautiful, kind, etc..
Although Charles Cooley and George Mead differed in their approach to the development of self (Cooley’s was more mental in facet, whereas Mead’s was physical), their thoughts were the same in that their approach was the idea that we look to others to determine our idea of self. Regardless of whether it is our thoughts or actions that are based on those of others, we can’t develop the thought of self without the presence of others. On the same hand though, those we are looking at are also looking back at us to make their own determinations about them selves. What we wind up with then is a case of the blind leading the blind. These all, of course, differ from the theistic view which states that we should look to God (Hebrews 12:2, KJV). The Bible recounts a story of the Apostle Paul debating with the philosophers in Athens. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.