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A Definition On Self Philosophy Essay

Self is that conscious thinking thing; whether sensible or conscious of pleasure and pain, capable of happiness or misery, so is concerned for itself, as far as that consciousness extends. That in which consciousness of this present thinking can join itself, make the same person, and is one self with it, and with nothing else. It attributes to itself, and owns all the actions of that thing, as its own, as far as that consciousness reaches and no further as everyone who reflects will perceive. A past or future person cannot be exactly like you are now in order to be numerically identical with you. Is your identity what makes you an individual and unique from others, or is it the way you see yourself based on values and principles that you base your life around? How can one decipher between “sameness”? To say things are numerically identical is to say that they are one thing rather than two. At the same time… One doesn’t remain qualitatively the same throughout their life. You change in size and appearance, while also changing morals and beliefs at any given time.... So how can we address what personal identity is? What makes John unique from Bob? In this essay I will focus on the claim that each the body, experience and memory cannot make up one’s personal identity individually and it is in fact, every aspect of one's self (body, memory, thoughts, and actions) to what creates them an individual person. What really matters is that there is a continuity of mental life, so that although our beliefs, desires, plans and personalities do change, they do so gradually. While one can undergo dramatic changes, they still leave a great deal preserved. I will be proving my argument by examining what Descartes and Locke considers about personal identity.

One must consider both internal (mind) and external (body) perspectives. I think that it is pretty simple to reason why the body cannot be one’s personal identity by itself. What if that body changed, does one’s personal identity switch? We recognize bodies at different times by the organization of their material parts rather than by their substantial composition. Someone's body is surely different at age 80 than at age 8. If John get’s his finger cut off is he not still the same person? Say for instance twins…Although they have identical bodies, since the day they are born they go through different experience which makes them have different identities. People's body’s change, yet they still have the same identity. Therefore, the body alone cannot be considered a valid definition when defining personal identity. 

A thought experiment that illustrates this point is one from 'Self Knowledge and Self Identity' by Sydney Shoemaker. It is summarized by Joseph Chandlers as follows:

Two men, a Mr Brown and a Mr Robinson, had been operated on for brain tumours, and a brain extraction had been performed on both of them. At the end of the operation, however, the assistant inadvertently put Brown's brain in Robinson's head, and Robinson's brain in Brown's head. One of these men immediately dies, but the other, the one with Robinson's head and Brown's brain, eventually regains consciousness. Let us call the latter 'Brownson'..... When asked his name he automatically replies 'Brown'. He recognizes Brown's wife and family.

I would argue that Robinson in this case, does not have the same personal identity as Brown did when he was alive. This shows that the existence of the body (Robinson) is not enough to carry on the personal identity. So is this experiment showing that the memory needs to be required for the existence of personal identity?

Would a person have a personal identity if he or she has the same conscious self? I think this is the way Descartes views personal identity. Descartes shows his view of identity with his cogito; "I think therefore I Am," where 'I' is the thing that holds the capacity to think. Knowing that he exists shows the conscious self, while being able to think about any experience that has happened. Descartes believed that the 'I', was an thinking, non-material substance, where personal identity was formed in this substance. However, one can argue that the thoughts themselves are viewed as personal identity, rather than the substance that was doing the thinking. It is impossible to say that a human can consciously remember every experience of their lifetime. Say for instance a person has two different conscious experiences. Some people have a multiple personality disorder, but that does not mean that they are two different people even though they may have multiple identities. Therefore, the conscious alone cannot be considered a valid definition when defining personal identity. 

So is it experience that makes up our personal identity? Locke's believes that personal identity is a matter of psychological continuity, based on his theory of the mind being blank, and building from experiences. Locke argued that a person at an earlier time is the same as a person at a later time if the later person remembers all the experiences of the earlier one. So in this case, one would have personal identity because as one progresses further through time, no one person could ever experience the same thought patterns as another person because there are more thoughts in our brain then we could ever conceive. However, this would place a large factor on a chain of remembering - today you can remember most of yesterday's experiences and tomorrow you will remember most of todays. The statistical chance of any two individuals experiencing identical thought patterns from birth is basically zero. This much I agree with, because it is apparent that no two individuals think exactly alike. However, it is difficult to know where one would draw the line between memory and experience. One could argue that memories are simply more specific accounts of past experiences, which is why memories can fade, distort, or exaggerate reality. I believe that what actually effect our personality is not so much the specific memories that we accumulate, but rather the more general experience that these memories are based from. We are the same person to the extent that we are conscious of life experiences and actions. However, Locke's view faces several problems. What about people with dementia? Or people who undergo insanity? We would still consider them to be the same person? Therefore, experience alone cannot be considered a valid definition when defining personal identity. 

To me, personal continuity is the most important part of identity, where the quality of the mind is consistent from moment to the next. Without this, we would have no self- awareness or relationships. At the same time, personal continuity can only be possible with a person's body or physical being. Therefore, each the body, experience and memory cannot make up one’s personal identity individually and it is in fact, every aspect of one's self (body, memory, thoughts, and actions) to what creates them an individual person.

I am both convinced by, and having lingering questions with regard to the intrinsic and extrinsic relations in reference to understanding the self. The preconceptions one carries concerning what constitutes for good reasoning, paths to understanding, and sources for knowledge directly impact’s ones approach to identifying the constitution of personal identity. I find myself looking toward a blended perspective in which the ordinary experiences of people play a great role as the extraordinary experiences when it comes to personal identity. However, this leads me to another question… why does identity even matter? Why should we even care about it? The only one whose future welfare you cannot rationally ignore is yourself. In a case where your future welfare did not matter, then it seems as if identity itself has no practical importance whatsoever.

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