Best Self vs. True Self

by Peter Saint-Andre


As previously mentioned, I am skeptical about the notion of the true self. Recently I've done some reading that has reinforced this skepticism. In particular, research by the likes of Roy Baumeister shows that human beings tend to identify with the activities and desires that they think are best (either individually or socially) and to disown the activities and desires that they think aren't so admirable.

For instance, let's say you have a guilty little secret: you spend an inordinate amount of time binge-watching re-runs of Charlie's Angels. You might think to yourself "that's not the true me" because you wish that you would spend your time differently or because you'd be embarrassed if friends and family found out about your 70s TV habit. However, if it's true of you, then, like it or not, it's expressive of your true self.

By contrast, I might grant the existence of the best self. For instance, counselors and coaches sometimes recommend an exercise in which you describe your best possible self: an aspirational vision of yourself at your most admirable, which you can use to motivate improvements in your life. Your best self is more like your future self than your true self: a person of whom you have had glimpses throughout your life, but whom you must strive to become more consistently.

Hard-headed realists might assert that the best self doesn't actually exist, because it's a mere potential. Yet as a good Aristotelian I am not deterred, but instead inspired to transform the potential into the actual.

(Cross-posted at


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