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I is usually in the Verbal speech in use personal pronouns with which the person aussagende refers to itself. Linguistically , the ego is integrated into the concept of deixis (here-now-me-origo) . The self , the self-confidence as an active vehicle for thinking or acting and the self-image are also referred to as I. Scientifically, the Latin equivalent ego is often used synonymously, but occasionally ego and ego are also used to denote aspects of the self that have to be distinguished. As such, it can appear as a technical term in various theories of psychology, theology and sociology, but also in religion and esotericism. In the structural model of psychoanalysis , the ego designates one of the three psychic instances .


Ever since René Descartes' famous cogito, ergo sum (from the Latin: I think, therefore I am), the ego has played a prominent role in Western philosophy. Descartes elevated the existence of the ego as a subject of thoughts to the only unequivocal basis of philosophical thought and of all knowledge in general. The ego thus became the starting point of a philosophy of subjectivity that lasted from the Enlightenment to modern times ( solipsism ). The Rational Psychology understood the certainty of the existence of the self as a subject of the thoughts as proof of the existence of an immaterial soul . In German idealism , I and not-I even became principles of a metaphysical ultimate foundation of the world for Johann Gottlieb Fichte . Modernity regards the conditional relationships between the self and the world in a more differentiated way, both in epistemological and metaphysical terms.

Hans-Georg Gadamer sees a fundamental conflict already with the toddler, who uses the word “I” for the first time in life: “When a child says I for the first time . What has happened there? Is it no longer me that I can say? [...] That is the verdict. That is the secret of being, that there is such a thing as a self-confidence that does not have the character of Here is the thinking I and there is what I think about as something else ... [carries] .... But here the ego is, so to speak, identical to itself. ”According to Gadamer, the ego shows“ the life movement of being itself ”. The oldest systematic program of German idealism formulates what Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling best demonstrated in German idealism, that "the ego in nature itself can be thought of as the key to all natural phenomena".


Neural basics

VS Ramachandran made several suggestions in 2009 that the neural representation of self-perception could be analogous to the representation of the perception of others. Just as the behavior of other living beings is presented in a neuronal manner, one's own behavior can also be presented in a neuronal manner. The proposal was triggered u. a. through the discovery of mirror neurons . These react when observing actions, e.g. B. a kick, just as with the self-execution of the action. Ramachandran thought it plausible that the neural mechanisms of external and self-representation developed in parallel during evolution.

Non-human self-awareness

The general assumption is that only humans are aware of their self ( self-confidence ). Certain traditions view this as a distinguishing feature between humans and animals . Some scientific studies suggest that various species of monkeys , dolphins , elephants and magpies are also self-aware. Among other things, it is stated here that specimens of these animal species recognize themselves in the mirror. The ability to see oneself in the mirror and to pass the so-called mirror test usually develops in humans in the first or second year of life.

Classic psychoanalysis

The term experienced a special orientation in Sigmund Freud's psychoanalysis . According to his structural model of the psyche , the human psyche is divided into three parts:

  • The Es or Id , the vegetative part of the psyche, which always remains in the unconscious and comprises the basic instincts and drives of the human being.
  • The super-ego or super-ego , which takes on the function of conscience and guides the ego (cf. ego ideal ). It is viewed by Freud as the vestige of parental authority in childhood.
  • The I or Ego with which Freud describes the consciously experiencing. This ego is influenced by both the superego and the id and mediates between these two instances.

In the further development of psychoanalysis, ego psychology , the ego is assigned a special meaning in the genesis of mental illnesses. Particularly Anna Freud and Heinz Hartmann have differentiated the ego as an instance in more detail. The defense mechanisms and the ego functions should be mentioned in particular . The defense mechanisms described by Anna Freud and often further developed describe the ability of the ego to ward off unpleasant feelings and thoughts in various ways so that they are no longer directly accessible to the conscious mind.

Hartmann, who is considered to be the actual founder of ego psychology, particularly emphasized the functions of the ego and described the development of the ego. The functions of the ego develop mainly in the absence of conflict, the so-called conflict-free ego-sphere.

Today, innumerable different ego functions can be distinguished, of which Wolfgang Mertens (based on Bellak and Meyers) names a few:


Symbolic interactionism

The ego played a major role in the microsociological theory of symbolic interactionism developed in the USA . This theory came from the philosophical direction of pragmatism , which refers to man as an active being that his world through interaction with her own construct . In other words, the world would not exist without the individual.

In symbolic interactionism, the theories of Charles Cooley , George Herbert Mead, and Erving Goffman point the way .

Charles Cooley was the first to look at the self in the context of this theory. For him, the self or the ego arises solely in the interaction of the individual with his environment. His model is also called looking-glass self (for example, “mirror self”), since, according to his theory, the individual defines himself according to the way he is perceived by other people.

George Herbert Mead started from a similar theory. However, according to William James , there are two dimensions of the I, the I and the ME. The ME corresponds roughly to Cooley's mirror ego; it consists of reflection with a detour via society, in the form of norms and rules. The I, however, is an autonomous, unpredictable, individual dimension of the I. This I as a process that looks at the Me corresponds most closely to Jane Loevinger's understanding of the I. In its model of ego development, this research group explored how the ego develops in different stages of personal maturity. This is where human creativity resides, according to Mead. I and ME are in permanent interaction with one another.

Erving Goffman , on the other hand, sees the ego in his so-called Dramaturgical Model as a kind of actor who assumes different forms in different situations. According to Goffmann, it is impossible to really define a person's ego, since this ego can also assume different roles in self-reflection.

Conversation Analysis

Whether and when the “I” is replaced (for example by “one” or “we”), and to what extent this has to do with insecurity and self-esteem, can be examined in conversation analysis, for example in psychology or sociology. Some speakers use the indefinite pronoun “man” instead of the personal pronoun “I” in order to generalize their own situation, for example in the case of regular processes. “You get up late, eat lunch and are already tired again.” In colloquial language and song texts, the “I” often coincides with the “you”. In this way, wisdom or pseudo-wisdoms are staged as arguments. Some stage themselves in conversation situations to such an extent that a theatrical "he" / "she" is chosen as a substitute. Up to the now accepted “Meinereiner”, every singular pronoun, including the pseudoplural forms Majestatis and Modestiae , is suitable to be chosen as a substitute for the word “I”. Understanding is ensured by the context of the conversation, gestures and facial expressions, intonation , etc. In this context, the appeal function , which is one of the basic functions of performance for Karl Bühler, is particularly significant .

Spiritual realm

Transcending, the conscious clearing of ego and self, is the main theme and goal in Hinduism and Buddhism . The student (chela) of a spiritual path in Hinduism (e.g. yoga ) recognizes that his ego dissolves in the “inner self” (the Atman ) and that unity with the divine ( Brahman ) takes place as self-knowledge. This liberation is called moksha , which in the West often translates as enlightenment . In Buddhism, on the other hand, the existence of a soul and of something divine is denied (cf. Anatta ), all phenomena are ultimately emptiness , and the path is merely an awakening to the knowledge of reality.

This experience is called samadhi in Hinduism and satori in Japanese Buddhism . All yoga practice ( Jnana-Yoga , Raja-Yoga ) only serves to overcome this illusion of a separate existence of the ego. In the experience of one's own self, there is the light experience of the one without a second (experience of enlightenment).

The I (ego) gives up its delusion and becomes one with the whole (with the spiritual light of eternal life). In fact, it does not “become” one: Since the I (ego) has actually never existed, this unity is experienced as all-embracing bliss in eternal light after letting go of the delusion of an “I”.

In the original ( Theravada ) Buddhism this spontaneous enlightenment experience also exists, but is ultimately understood as a deception or without lasting value. The “little gate” ( Lankavatara Sutra ) of the enlightenment experience is only a first contact with the path to be followed through practice and not a desirable state (cf. Arhat ).

In the teaching of the Sufis ( Islamic mystics) there are seven different levels of the self ( Arabic : nafs ), the lowest is an-nafs al-ammara , the lower self , the highest an-nafs al-safiya , the pure self . In between are the stations of the seekers on the way to divine unity ( tauhid ).


"I" monument

The I-Monument , which was designed by Hans Traxler and inaugurated on March 24, 2005, stands on the south bank of the Main in Frankfurt . On a board, Traxler illustrated his idea that anyone can use the monument base to have their picture taken on it, and added as a comment: “Every person is unique. Of course, this also applies to all animals. "

The neon sculpture ICHS by the artist Ludger Gerdes (1954–2008) is in the garden of the Esters House Museum in Krefeld .

The word I does not seem to play a prominent role in proverbs and sayings. Where you can find several hundred proverbs and idioms for other words in Wanders Deutsches Sprich emphasis-Lexikon , Wander only found 26 for the word ich in the German-speaking area (for example: I and the donkey fell down the stairs together. ).

See also


  • Ulrich Schwabe: Individual and trans-individual I. The self-individualization of pure subjectivity and Fichte's theory of science. Schöningh, Paderborn 2007, ISBN 978-3-506-76325-9 . (With a continuous commentary on the "Wissenschaftslehre nova methodo ".)
  • Anna Freud : The ego and the defense mechanisms. Vienna 1936.
  • Werner Siefer, Christian Weber: Me: How we invent ourselves. Campus, Frankfurt am Main 2006, ISBN 3-593-37676-8 .

Web links

Wikiquote: I  - quotes
Wiktionary: I  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Gadamer tells the story of philosophy 4/6 (2000) youtube.com Gadamer on German idealism from min. 4:55 on Youtube .
  2. Ibid., From min. 11:07.
  3. ^ L. Oberman, VS Ramachandran: Reflections on the Mirror Neuron System: Their Evolutionary Functions Beyond Motor Representation. In: JA Pineda (Ed.): Mirror Neuron Systems: The Role of Mirroring Processes in Social Cognition. Humana Press, 2009, ISBN 978-1-934115-34-3 , pp. 39-62.
  4. VS Ramachandran: Self Awareness: The Last Frontier. Edge Foundation web essay, January 1, 2009, tapped August 06, 2014 .
  5. I-consciousness: Elephants recognize each other in the mirror. In: Spiegel online. October 31, 2006.
  6. ^ A b W. Mertens: Introduction to psychoanalytic therapy. Volume 1, Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 2000.
  7. For the written language, the pluralis Auctoris should be mentioned in addition to the pseudoplural Majestatis and Modestiae .
  8. ^ ICHS , Neon-Stück, Museum Haus Esters, Krefeld 1989 .
  9. ↑ i . In: Wanders German Proverbs Lexicon. Volume 2, 1870, pp. 954 f.