Self awareness is simply the act of being aware of a self in any given situation. Self-awareness can be discussed pertaining to several disciplines, but today I shall discuss self-awareness as a philosophical concept relating to the idea of consciousness. Consciousness as a form of self-awareness has been explored as far back at the Neolithic era. Through archeological exploration, it has been found that tradition Neolithic burial sites display proof of spiritual belief and limited reflection on the self and on human consciousness. Cultures predating the literate age also seem to have embraced some form of spiritualism and a sense of self.
Consciousness has been for many centuries understood as a self-reflective exercise and was so considered by Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas explored the notion of consciousness in Summa Theologica as a "'common sense' which enables one for example to 'tell white from sweet', and adds that the common sense 'is also able to sense sensation itself, as when somebody sees that he is seeing'.
In Hindu texts, the "manas" is used often and this refers to a "mind-organ" which is similar to the external sensory organs except that it is internal and is able to view the external organs and their perceptions. This is a very crude explanation of awareness but serves as proof that as far back as 3rd century BC, human beings were aware of their senses and tried to explain this awareness by instilling some form of viewing or monitoring organ or subject.
Conscious, the word itself, can be broken down into two parts. Cum (together with) and scire (knowing). Both are derived from Latin origin and the meaning is simply to know. Self-Awareness, or here discussed and referred to as consciousness, is the ability for a person (or any creature for that matter) to be able to feel oneself as different from others and to be able to comprehend this different and act on it. Consciousness is the ability to be aware of your physical state and act in accordance to what is required. Simply put, even the simplest animals have a form of consciousness, as this consciousness is necessary for the survival of the organism.
Of course, human beings are in possession of a higher form of consciousness in that we are not just aware of our own bodies within any given environment, but we are also aware of the way we feel, the way we think and we are aware of our thoughts in retrospect. This ability is specific and unique to human beings and our ability to reflect on what has been thought and felt in also unique to human beings.
Consciousness in its simplest form is the awareness of the self and its surroundings. To be aware of the self is to be aware of the self in a world it cannot necessarily control and in which it must act in accordance with what is best for the self. It is thus of the utmost importance that consciousness performs at its optimum in order to ensure actions which are beneficial to the self.
Simply put, consciousness is an awareness of the self as it interacts with an external context. This interaction is usually accompanied by a feeling of what it is like being in a particular state. The feeling, the mapping out of this feeling, the memory thereof, and the utilization of the memory of the feelings, are all mapped out in different levels of consciousness, therefore self-awareness is critical in the act of survival with regards to the physical self as well as the mental and psychological self.