Philosophical Perspective About Self According to Socrates, Thomas Aquinas and Rene Descartes

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Table of Contents

  • Socrates
  • Thomas Aquinas
  • Rene Descartes
  • References


Socrates believes that the “self” exists in two parts. One part is the physical, tangible aspect of us. This is the part that is mortal and can be/is constantly changing.

The second part is the soul, which he believed to be immortal. The soul is the part that is unvarying across all realms (it is unchanging while it is attached to your body and thus in the physical realm, but is also unmodified once you die and your soul leaves the body to travel to the ideal realm). To expand on this slightly, Socrates believed that when we are in the physical realm, we are alive and our body and soul are attached, therefore making both parts of our “self” present in the physical realm. When we die however, our body stays in the physical realm while our soul travels to the ideal realm, therefore making our soul immortal.

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Thomas Aquinas

Thomas Aquinas' theory of self-knowledge states that our self-knowledge depends on our experience of the world around us. Aquinas states that our awareness of ourselves is triggered and shaped by our experiences of objects in our environment. For example, when I long for a cup of tea, I’m not just aware of the tea, but of myself as the one wanting it. So for Aquinas, we don’t encounter ourselves as isolated minds or selves, but rather always as agents interacting with our environment. That’s why the labels we apply to ourselves—“a gardener” or “a coffee-lover”—are always taken from what we do or feel or think toward other things.

Rene Descartes

The essence of existing as a human identity is the possibility of being aware of our selves: Being self-conscious in this way is integral to having a personal identity. Conversely, it would be impossible to be self-conscious if we didn’t have a personal identity of which to be conscious. In other words, having a self-identity and being self-conscious are mutually dependent on one another. You are a “thinking thing,” a dynamic identity that engages in all of those mental operations we associate with being a human self. For example, you understand situations in which you find yourself, you doubt the accuracy of ideas presented to you or you deny an accusation that someone has made.


  1. Cory, T. S. (2014, January 23). Thomas Aquinas – Toward a Deeper Sense of Self: FifteenEightyFour: Cambridge University Press. Retrieved July 19, 2019, from
  2. (n.d.) Retrieved from,

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