Self Control And The ‘Self’ Essay

2379 words - 10 pages

Nearly everyone in the modern world has heard of the term self-control, a seemingly non-important or uninteresting topic of interest. However, self-control has been related to having one of the most significant impacts on a person. Even some have gone as far to say that self-control is the “biggest predictor of a successful and satisfying life” (Pinker 1), which are bold words for a topic that many merely disregard. The idea of self-control is a concept coined in the Victorian era, and appears immensely throughout the novel, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, written by R.F. Baumeister & J. Tierney. Essentially a self-help book, ‘Willpower’ provides explanations for why ...view middle of the document...

Self-control is then the idea that an individual needs to conserve and cultivate their psychological identity, while simultaneously satisfying personal needs, and meeting society’s demands. Freud’s and Beumeister’s theories are somewhat conflicting in the sense that Freud believes self-control is a mental phenomenon, while Baumeister believes it is a muscular or controlled phenomenon.
Some may group the terms virtue and willpower, as a part of self-control, but according to Webster’s dictionary, these are all distinct qualities. Self-control is the “restraint exercised over one's own impulses, emotions, or desires” (Webster), while virtue is described as, “conformity to a standard of right” (Webster) and finally willpower is defined as “energetic determination” (Webster). As shown here, one can conclude that all the terms are integrated, yet self-control is more of an act, while the others are mental states or ideals. Self-control can be studied fairly easily through experiments, but one may have even more insight into the topic by looking at past individuals who exuded self-control, and what qualities those individuals possessed that others in their situation did not possess.
In Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, Baumeister writes of a man named Henry Morton Stanley, who was a Welch journalist and an explorer famous for his routes to Africa. Stanley moved to the United States, and began to write for many famous newspapers of his time. He was a man known for his amazing amount of morality, during an era when it wasn’t necessarily the norm amongst society. Now some philosophers, such as Freud, argue that self-control is hereditary. Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, gives the reader a depiction of what Stanley’s life was like as a child, and if self-control is, in fact, hereditary, , how could someone with such ‘odds against him’, such as Stanley, become a man oozing self-control? Stanley was a fatherless, adopted, abandoned boy, who denied his Welsh roots once grown, and wrote imaginative stories about his parents who had taught him self-control. Beaumeister describes how by age eleven, Stanley was “Experimenting on Will, by imposing extra hardships on himself.” (Beaumeister, The empathy Gap). Stanley discovered how character could be practiced, and therefore enhanced, with improvements at every stage of one’s life. Self-control in Stanley’s case was not learned from family, and did not seem to run in his genes, yet through experience, he gained this knowledge. It is almost as if Stanley ‘faked’ his knowledge of self-control, and therefore tricked himself even to believe what he was saying.
Studying self-control in psychology has been a long endured journey to try and pinpoint what exactly makes someone have more or less moral virtue. Over the many people in time who have studied self-control, Sigmund Freud seems to stand out as one of the most influential players in historical behavioral psychology....

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