SELF AND SELFHOOD IN THE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY
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SELF AND SELFHOOD IN THE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY book
How, then, can we construct a ‘History of the Self? Of course, we cannot trust dictionaries, not even the Oxford English Dictionary, to establish the currency of an idea; they merely record the isolated observation of a certain word, used at a certain moment, in a certain literary (that is, written rather than spoken) context. Nevertheless, the OED does afford one tantalizing glimpse of a possible history of selfhood. Of the prefix formation ‘self-’, the dictionary observes:
Self-first appears as a living formative element about the middle of the sixteenth century…. The number of self-compounds was greatly augmented towards the middle of the seventeenth century, when many new words appeared in theological and philosophical writing, some of which had a restricted currency of about fifty years (e.g. 1645-1690).