I don't have any formal education on philosophy but I read some books including Think by Simon Blackburn that got me interested in this subject.


Edit: Specifically, I was intrigued by Kant's conception of the self as an "organizing principle" and would love to read more about it and other views/approaches to the subject. I guess I'll have to read the primary sources eventually but I was hopping to find a kind of survey of the main views from prominent thinkers.

  • It would help if you explain in the post what "the Self" or "this subject" are exactly, and what specifically piqued your interest. Do you want more reading on classics from Descartes to Kant, modern discussions in philosophy of mind, something else?
    – Conifold
    Commented Jul 11, 2019 at 19:35
  • “The self illusion” by Bruce Hood
    – JacobIRR
    Commented Jul 11, 2019 at 21:33

8 Answers 8


Recent books from a Western philosophy perspective on the topic include JJ Valberg's Dream, Death, and the Self and Caspar Hare's On Myself, and Other, Less Important Subjects.


"He demonstrates how the properties of self-referential systems, demonstrated most famously in Gödel's incompleteness theorems, can be used to describe the unique properties of minds." — (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Am_a_Strange_Loop)

I recommend I Am a Strange Loop by Douglas Hofstadter.

Besides Hofstadter, I would also recommend a traditional textbook on cognitive science. There is much benefit in studying classical methods. Philosophy overlaps significantly with cognitive science.

I recommend Cognitive Science: An Introduction to the Science of the Mind by José Luis Bermúdez (author).


Blackburn's book is very readable but as a stereotypical 'Western' thinker he has little to say other than to describe the state of academic philosophy.

The entire literature of the Perennial philosophy or 'Wisdom' literature is about the self, and there are so many good books you won't be able to miss them.

One book that comes to mind is Sri Ramana Maharshi Be As You Are. Another would be Krishna Prem's commentary on the Baghavad Gita. But any book on Buddhism, Taoism, Sufism etc. will be all about the self. A popular introductory book is What the Buddha Taught'

Or, you could check out youtube for good talks on the topic by Osho, Rupert Spira, Mooji, Sadhguru or other well-known teachers.

But any book by a non-duality teacher you pick up will discuss the self, from the Upanishads to Plotinus to David Bentley Hart.

Anything by Paul Ferrini may be helpful if you're coming from a Christian background.

  • @PeterJ -- any links you could provide would be a great asset to this answer!
    – Dcleve
    Commented Jul 12, 2019 at 3:52
  • @Dcleve - The writers and teachers I mentioned are easily found with a search. I cannot name a 'best' book or writer since there are so many who are wonderful. Rupert Spira is a favourite so maybe you could check him out on youtube or on his amazon book page. Perhaps I should have also mentioned Alan Watts and his little book 'This Is It'. You're spoilt for choice since the literature is vast. . .
    – user20253
    Commented Jul 12, 2019 at 12:14

You will get a summary from this:


And this book deals its details:


Answer to a possible doubt:

Bookish knowledge is not enough to realize the Self. What a tragedy it would be if I depend on books to realize mySELF ultimately!


mana eva manusyanam karanam bandha-moksayoh

Meaning: "For man, mind is the cause of bondage and mind is the cause of liberation.

Self becomes an attachment only if we consider it as a second thing; otherwise it isn't. One's own self can never be a second thing...[Strictly speaking, the usage--'one's own self' is wrong.]. In anybody's case, Self can never be a second thing.

  • Thank you for making this further answer.
    – Gordon
    Commented Jul 12, 2019 at 6:36

I think it's fascinating from both recent Western accounts and older Eastern philosophical investigations which are still as relevant as ever. Sometimes the two are intertwined, depending on the tradition. In terms of a Western approach, Susan Blackmore has a really good introductory book called Consciousness: An Introduction. I like Dennett's Consciousness Explained too (we read this in our second year course on philosophy of mind). They offer a material account but it will help you gauge where you stand and navigate whether you might agree with a viewpoint this materialistic or something closer to Thomas Nagel (who holds that consciousness cannot be reducible to physical mechanisms alone, and incorporate aspects of qualia to his writing). Or maybe philosophers like Jerry Fodor or David Chalmers, who claim there is an immaterial nature to the human mind that is impossible to replicate. Philosophers like Dennett and Chalmers will dispute each other in their writings on consciousness too, because they are so at odds with each other. There is great discussion in Western philosophy about how consciousness arises and whether it could be replicated, and the arguments are often supported through cognitive science or possibilities within artificial intelligence, which I find really cool and engaging. Understanding consciousness is very important in considerations on the self-consciousness that seeks to understand itself as the self. What makes up consciousness, self-consciousness and whether the self exists are very much tied to each other.

Eastern philosophy has a much more introspective look into what is the self, whether there is a self, what illusions may compromise the self (major overlap with the Western philosophers of mind who started looking at consciousness as an illusion thousands of years later). Many of the most revered holy scriptures in Hinduism (The Bhagavad Gita, The Upanishads, even the Mahabharata to some extent) incorporate lessons about consciousness within their teachings. It is not as direct as academic writing but there is a beauty in extracting understanding from each verse. There is a book called "Self-Knowledge" by Swami Nikhilananda that is interesting and approached from a non-dual perspective. Again with Hindu philosophical thought, Buddhist thought and many other religions there are different schools and viewpoints and it is best to see which one aligns with you. The traditions can be incredibly dualistic to completely non-dual, similar to materialism to immaterial. Spiritual texts are very rewarding, the main complication for me is only that it is very difficult to fully understand without a good background in the tradition itself. You might want to get a good commentary to go along with it, to help with the context and again to help extract the wonderful meaning behind it. I would also recommend starting from an introductory text on Eastern philosophy itself, to help you gauge what tradition(s) you might be interested in (though this will be very general and have less to do with the self, it is more to help navigate the school of thought you might be interested in -- which can then offer explanations on the self through its traditional scriptures). Something very interesting about many schools in Eastern philosophy is that they don't rely heavily on materialism but might also deny dualistic perspectives. This is found in Western texts too but not nearly to the same extent and with as much beauty and history. There is so much to explore in philosophy of mind and the topics never cease to be interesting.


May I suggest 'The Essentials of Zen Buddhism' by D.T. Suzuki, or any number in the series that Suzuki's written about Zen?

In my opinion Zen is about the pinnacle of both Western and Eastern thought in this area, and I can tell you that Suzuki has a way with words on the subject.

It's not as much about the self explicitly, but rather the lack of one and it's implications. Be forewarned that the concept is hard to express, and not everybody gets it, but if you do the culmination is a Zen enlightenment called 'Satori'.

To my understanding Zen basically boils down to seeing the world, yourself, and universe beyond the dualism of conceptual thought. There are many layers of shit that human cultures have caked onto our experience of the world, and underneath all of that is an ego-less, or selfless, zen.


There is a good book on SELF by Nisargatta Maharaj I am that

Ashtavakra geetha, Mundakopanishad, Yoga vasshishta are some other good books that are worth reading.


I would recommend: Selves & Not-self: The Buddhist Teaching on Anatta, by Ṭhānissaro Bhikkhu

There are many philosophies on self. In Buddhism there is a concept called not self. This book covers this aspect.

  • Is there some reason this book stood out for you? This is your opportunity to motivate the reader to examine it. Welcome. Commented Jul 14, 2019 at 18:22

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