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The I-consciousness or self-awareness means generally the "awareness of one's own personality or individuality"[1]. In contemporary usage, self-awareness is slightly distinguished from self-consciousness, which means an exaggerated awareness of oneself, especially how others might perceive one's appearance or one's actions.

I and Ego

In anthroposophy, the real I, as the spiritual core of man, must be clearly distinguished from the ego, which is only its echo, the reflection of the I in the soul. Modern philosophy of self describes only this ego. Self-awareness ist then defined as the way how someone understands his or her own character, feelings, motives, and desires. So ist must not be confused with the awareness of sensual qualia. Two categories of self-awareness are distinguished today: Internal self-awareness "represents how clearly we see our own values, passions, aspirations, fit with our environment, reactions (including thoughts, feelings, behaviors, strengths, and weaknesses), and impact on others.". External self-awareness "means understanding how other people view us, in terms of those same factors listed above."[2]. The firs is also called private self-consciousness, the latter public self-consciousness. Pleasant feelings of self-consciousness may lead to narcissism, which is the pursuit of gratification from vanity or egotistic admiration of one's idealised self-image and attributes. Negative feelings often correlate with shyness or paranoia.

The knowledge and realisation of one's own I can only be developed by man on Earth. It is the other pole of the outwardly directed object-consciousness that is inseparably connected with it. Through this subject-object split, reality is torn into two unreal halves, which are only reunited in the act of cognition, as Rudolf Steiner described it in detail, namely in his "Philosophy of Freedom".

The creative act of will, through which the I sets itself, does not fall as such into empirical consciousness, but forms its necessary basis and thereby appears at the same time as self-awareness in the true sense. This is what the German idealist philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte called the "Tathandlung" (act of doing). Therein lies the beginning of spiritual science.

„The activity in the I that forms our spiritual organs, that is the being that man gives himself. That is the Tathandlung, that is Fichte's self-knowledge. From this point, Fichte goes up from step to step. If one settles in completely, educates oneself to one's thoughts, then one finds a healthy entrance into theosophy, and no one will ever have to regret it if he settles into Johann Gottlieb Fichte's crystal-clear trains of thought, for he finds the way to spiritual life.“ (Lit.:GA 54, p. 398)

I and I-consciousness

The psychological I, i.e. the empirical or phenomenological I, which shows us the I-consciousness as the centre of our soul life, must be clearly differentiated from the real I. The I-consciousness that we experience in everyday consciousness initially only gives us its unreal mirror image. Only in pure thinking does the real I protrude into the I-consciousness and can be experienced intuitively here and subsequently also shed light on the reality of other spiritual experiences.

„The psychological I arises from the fact that I relate all my conceptions to a common centre in which they intersect, and this relating of the conceptions to a common centre is the psychological I. But being related is preceded by relating, being active is preceded by action, and cannot take place without the latter. This psychological I is therefore no longer the original pure I, but an I that has arisen through reflection, that has arisen through the activity of the pure I. The pure I is neither, nor is it anything in the strictest sense of the word. Its entire tangible being is given by its being active; we cannot know what it is, but only what it does. If Fichte meant that the pure essence of the I is the setting of itself, this is said very arbitrarily, for the I not only sets itself, but also sets other things, as Fichte himself would have to admit. In all cases, however, it is always active; its whole being, therefore, consists in its activity, which can be expressed in the sentence: The I is active. Everything that would not be active like the I would not be an I [...] Its "what" is its own product. One could figuratively say that the I gives itself its own imprint.“ (Lit.: Contributions 30, p. 31)

„In order to recognise the "I" as that by means of which the submergence of the human soul into full reality can be seen through, one must carefully guard against seeing the real "I" in the ordinary consciousness that one has of this "I". If, seduced by such a confusion, one were to say, as the philosopher Descartes did, "I think, therefore I am," one would be refuted by reality every time one slept. For then one is without thinking. Thinking does not guarantee the reality of the "I". But it is equally certain that the true "I" cannot be experienced through anything else than pure thinking alone. It is precisely in pure thinking, and for the ordinary human consciousness only in this, that the real I projects itself. He who merely thinks only comes as far as the thought of the "I"; he who experiences what can be experienced in pure thinking, by experiencing the "I" through thinking, makes a real, which is form and matter at the same time, the content of his consciousness. But apart from this "I" there is at first nothing for the ordinary consciousness that sinks form and matter into thinking at the same time. All other thoughts are at first not images of a full reality. But by experiencing the true I as an experience in pure thinking, one comes to know what full reality is. And one can advance from this experience to other realms of true reality.

This is what anthroposophy tries to do. It does not stop at the experiences of ordinary consciousness. It strives for a research into reality that works with a transformed consciousness. With the exception of the I experienced in pure thinking, it eliminates ordinary consciousness for the purposes of its research. And in its place it puts such a consciousness that operates to its full extent in a way that ordinary consciousness can only achieve when it experiences the I in pure thought. In order to attain what is thus striven for, the soul must acquire the power to withdraw from all outer perception and from all ideas which in ordinary life are so entrusted to the human inner world that they can revive in memory.“ (Lit.:GA 35, p. 103f)

Self-awareness and the processes of degradation

„The Self-consciousness which is summed up in the ‘I’ or ‘Ego’ emerges out of the sea of consciousness. Consciousness arises when the forces of the physical and etheric bodies disintegrate these bodies, and thus make way for the Spiritual to enter into man. For through this disintegration is provided the ground on which the life of consciousness can develop. If, however, the organism is not to be destroyed, the disintegration must be followed by a reconstruction. Thus, when for an experience in consciousness a process of disintegration has taken place, that which has been demolished will be built up again exactly. The experience of Self-consciousness lies in the perception of this upbuilding process. The same process can be observed with inner vision. We then feel how the Conscious is led over into the Self-conscious by man's creating out of himself an after-image of the merely Conscious. The latter has its image in the emptiness, as it were, produced within the organism by the disintegration. It has passed into Self-consciousness when the emptiness has been filled up again from within. The Being, capable of this ‘fulfilment,’ is experienced as ‘ I .’ “ (Lit.:GA 26, p. 19f)


References to the work of Rudolf Steiner follow Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works (CW or GA), Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach/Switzerland, unless otherwise stated.
Email: verlag@steinerverlag.com URL: www.steinerverlag.com.
Index to the Complete Works of Rudolf Steiner - Aelzina Books
A complete list by Volume Number and a full list of known English translations you may also find at Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works
Rudolf Steiner Archive - The largest online collection of Rudolf Steiner's books, lectures and articles in English.
Rudolf Steiner Audio - Recorded and Read by Dale Brunsvold
steinerbooks.org - Anthroposophic Press Inc. (USA)
Rudolf Steiner Handbook - Christian Karl's proven standard work for orientation in Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works for free download as PDF.


  1. Self-awarenessMerriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, accessed 23 Apr. 2021.
  2. Tasha Eurich: What Self-Awareness Really Is (and How to Cultivate It). Harvard Business Review. January 4, 2018. Retrieved April 23, 2021.