Friday, October 25, 2013

Personal Identity

From guest blogger, Talia.

Class on Tuesday got me thinking: why is it not enough for each individual to have his or her own opinion on the body/psychology theory debate? Why must we pursue an objective sense of what is the ”right” view? Also, I wanted to flesh out what I find to be the most plausible view of personal identity and get some feedback, good and bad.

Personally, I consider my philosophy to align with the body account; we can undergo a certain amount of physical or mental alteration and still maintain our “me”-ness. In the Badger/Everglade case, the two men switched bodies, thus losing their sense of self. Similarly, once the tissue box was burnt enough, it lost its identity as a tissue box; it was simply a pile of ashes. When we die, I believe, our bodies follow a similar decomposition and we are no longer in existence. As Isaac mentioned in class, I think it’s quite plausible to say that, if you are searching for a sense in which we continue to exist, our existence in the memories of others counts. Our mannerisms, likes/dislikes, and interactions with others continue to be remembered, which I think is enough to constitute existing after death.

On this account, it seems that while we’re alive, our bodies constitute our personal identity, and once we die, it is our psychology that becomes our essence. Does this seem plausible to you guys? I’m considering writing my second paper on something along these lines, so I’d love to hear what y’all think!


Anonymous said...

Hume's take on identity:

"... identity is nothing really belonging to ... different perceptions...; but is merely a quality, which we attribute to them, because of the union of their ideas in the imagination, when we reflect upon them... it follows, that our notions of personal identity, proceed entirely from the smooth and uninterrupted progress of the thought along a train of connected ideas... The only question, therefore, which remains, is, by what relations this uninterrupted progress of our thought is produc'd, when we consider the successive existence of a mind or thinking person. And here, 'tis evident we must confine ourselves to resemblance and causation...

To begin with resemblance; suppose we cou'd see clearly into the breast of another, and observe that succession of perceptions, which constitutes his mind or thinking principle, and suppose that he always preserves the memory of a considerable part of past perceptions; 'tis evident that nothing cou'd more contribute to the bestowing a relation on this succession amidst all its variations. For what is the memory but a faculty, by which we raise up the images of past perceptions? And as an image necessarily resembles its object, must not the frequent placing of these resembling perceptions in the chain of thought, convey the imagination more easily from one link to another, and make the whole seem like the continuance of one object? In this particular, then, the memory not only discovers the identity, but also contributes to its production, by producing the relation of resemblance among the perceptions. The case is the same whether we consider ourselves or others.

As to causation, we may observe, that the true idea of the human mind, is to consider it as a system of different perceptions or different existences, which are link'd together by the relation of cause and effect, and mutually produce, destroy, influence and modify each other. Our impressions give rise to their correspondent ideas; and these ideas in their turn produce other impressions.
One thought chaces another, and draws after it a third, by which it is expell'd in its turn. In this respect, I cannot compare the soul more properly to any thing than to a republic or commonwealth, in which the several members are united by the reciprocal ties of government and subordination, and give rise to other persons, who propagate the same republic in the incessant changes of its parts. And as the same individual republic may not only change its members but also its laws and constitutions; in like manner the same person may vary his character and disposition, as well as his impressions and ideas, without losing his identity. Whatever changes he endures, his several parts are still connected by the relation of causation. And in this view our identity with regard to the passions serves to corroborate that with regard to the imagination, by the making our distant perceptions influence each other, and by giving us a present concern for our past or future pains or pleasures...

What I have said concerning the first origin and uncertainty of our notions of identity, as apply'd to the human mind, may be extended with little or no variation to that of simplicity. An object, whose different co-existent parts are bound together by a close relation, operates upon the imagination after much the same manner as one perfectly simple and indivisible, and requires not a much greater stretch of thought in order to its conception. From this similarity of operation we attribute a simplicity to it, and feign a principle of union as the support of the simplicity, and the center of all the different parts and qualities of the object."

- David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, Book I Of The Understanding, Part IV, Sect VI

Zach Wrublewski said...

Hi Talia,

I think the view you outlined seems coherent, except for the bit at the end involving psychological identity after death.

You seem to accept a straightforward bodily identity theory to begin, citing the tissue box as an analogy. You also offer a consolation to bodily theorists seeking a way to leave their marks after death (Isaac's comment from class).

But, when you mention psychology as essential for identity, I think your view becomes somewhat incoherent. It seems like what you actually might be thinking (in my opinion) is that psychology is always essential for identity, whether one's body is living or not, and that psychological identity is closely related to (but not identical to) bodily identity.

To suss out your intuition, it might be worth scrutinizing your evaluation of the Badger-Everglade case from Olen's paper. Which body do you think corresponds to Badger, and which to Everglade?

Joshua Adams said...

It seems to me you take a hybrid account of personal identity. It is your body and your mind, that makes up who someone is. When you talk about living on in someones memories and such you seem to discuss a psychological identity here. A way you could go with this view of memories and living on that way is to say that it is only a part of you that lives on. Who you actually are is the body and mind, but it is the mind part that lives on after you have died. This to me seems to be a much more coherent view and also goes along with what you say. Obviously you would have to hash out exactly what it means to only have part of your personal identity in the sense of your mind and not having your body. And as long as you are ok with nothing for life after death besides the memories and such, I think you will be great with this paper.

Rashad said...

I can see where you are coming from; the body is a piece of our personal identity. Yet, I would not dare to align with the body philosophy in regard to personal identity. I personally align with the combination of psyche-soul philosophy: the body does not matter. Here we go, I hope this is clear and makes sense. As you stated in your example, Everglades and Bucky switched bodies therefore losing their sense of self. I would argue that all they did was just switch bodies. They did not lose their sense of self. I would describe a loss of sense of self as wholeheartedly believing that you are somebody else: psyche. If the two had really lost their sense of self, then they would not have known or realized the body switch. It is the psyche, the conscience, that makes up personal identity with the soul. The physical, especially the body, does not always matter. In this case, the body is not the self because either Bucky or Everglades would have ceased to exist if that were true.
Your second example was the tissue box; be careful how you use this argument. I feel a tissue box is different because it is an inanimate object. Inanimate objects do not have psyches or souls. For that matter, of course any inanimate object that is burned to ashes will no longer exist because it has changed properties and has become ashes. Nothing can live on because that object truly had one identity which is the body (or form) that it was identified by.

David Harms said...

In accordance with Rashad's response, I too align myself with the psyche-soul theory. As outlined, it does not seem to me that Everglades and Bucky lost their sense of self, for why else would they question their surroundings and try to contact their family. They still found identity with something that was from their old body, even though they were no longer apart of it. If you have ever seen the movie, "The Family Man," starring Nicolas Cage (ignore his fatal acting miscues) his character wakes up in a different person's body, and although the family in which he is now present doesn't realize the switch, the main character recognizes it. Now, this new environment seems to change his mannerisms and even many details of his personality. It seems this movie swings more in favor of a singular soul theory. Now, back to responding to this post. As Rashad said, identity is not lost here - simply, there has been a body switch. I think when you are pursuing a topic such as this, the details between the soul and psyche can be tricky, but make sure to thoroughly distinguish the two in your paper.

Anonymous said...

Physics is hard. You don't get good at it by watching Star Trek. Metaphysics is no different.

Andrew Josten said...

My Comment Part 1

To your first question: Why is it not enough for each individual to have his or her own opinion on the body/psychology theory debate? Why must we pursue an objective sense of what is the ”right” view?
If people think that there is a truth about what personal identity is, and they are interested in knowing or spreading the truth about it, then they will question others and argue etc. My view is that there is not a truth to be discovered about what person identity is. There is instead a definition to be arbitrarily decided on. Some of what you have said seems sympathetic to this view – why can’t everyone have their own opinion, putting right in quotation marks like there is no “right” view.
Some more on my view: There is the word “person”. There are also the following ideas:
1. A homo sapien, one animal, defined biologically, that has the same identity from its birth to its biological death, no matter what psychological changes it endures.
2. One living human brain.
3. A collection of mental traits, memories, desires, attitudes etc. that has the same identity so long as this collection of traits does not change or so long as a specified group within the collection does not change.
4. A collection of mental traits that has the same identity even if the traits change so long as the qualitatively different collections of mental traits at different times are somehow connected – for example include memories of previous states.
Or you could attach whatever other idea you want to the word “person”. These are just some common ones. My point is that we do not discover what “person” means. We say what “person” means. We are the creators and users of language and we get to decide the matter. What we do not get to decide arbitrarily is the following: given what we say “person” means, is a person morally responsible? Would a person survive complete annihilation of all its mental characteristics? Can a person exist in a computer? If you remove a homo sapien’s cerebrum, have you destroyed a person? If body A and body B swap psychologies, have body A and body B also swapped persons? First you choose a definition for person and that choice will determine your answers to these questions. I have witnessed discussions in which people have tried to “discover” the “true meaning” of “person” by answering questions like these and it seems to me futile. It is attempting to determine what a person is by answering questions whose answers are determined by what you think a person is. It often seems like a vicious circularity in which your answers to the questions are supposed to determine what a person is but what you think a person is is what determines your answers to the questions. You need to have some solid ground and not just a bunch of variables up in the air. The solid ground I think we should start with, the variable I choose to just stipulate to solve for the other variables given the value of that variable, is the definition of “person”. You could alternatively stipulate the answers to numerous questions that can be asked about a person like “could a person survive the extinction of all homo sapiens?” and “can you hold a person in your hand?” and from all of these answers reason back to what person means. But I prefer to stipulate the meaning of “person” variable and then solve for any of the answers to these questions variables rather than stipulating the answers to these questions variables and then solving for the meaning of “person”. That alternative, the one I do not prefer, would be ridiculous. It would be to say “I don’t know what a person is but a person can survive X. Given that a person can survive X, “person” must mean such and such.”

Andrew Josten said...

My Comment Part 2

Given my view, we could all come up with our own definitions of “person”, but the word would become somewhat useless or difficult to use in conversation, everyone having their own meaning. That is perhaps one reason for people wanting the “right” answer. We want everyone to use the same definition so that we don’t misunderstand each other.
So far I haven’t said anything about your view of personal identity Talia, and I’m not going to because this comment is very long as it is. But here is a possible suggestion for your paper. You could say something like “Hey all you other language users, let’s use the word “person” to mean X because I like that meaning (maybe include “for reasons r, s, and t” – I’m not sure what kind of reasons would fit in here, perhaps meaning X is compatible with the way most people currently or have historically used the word so you could be offering a unifying definition that would make as few as possible past uses of the word false).

Aviva said...

I agree with Rashad's point, that Badger and Everglade did not in fact lose their sense of self. Their sense of self remained fully in tact, as both men recognized the lives of their mind/soul/whatever, while they did not recognize the lives of their new bodies. I also agree with other comments that it seems incoherent to say that one's bodily identity is utmost in life, and psychological identity is utmost in death.
To me, it seems that the soul and the body function as puzzle pieces. Together, they form a complete being. We know the body dies; this is what we see when we see death. The soul does not die with the body (though maybe it does; I do not want to make the claim that souls are eternal, only that I assume their existence is not entirely dependent on a functioning coporeal vehicle), and therefore what exists of one's identity after death is some lesser form of what existed before.
I know that isn't a huge revelation, but I think this argument would value from some skepticism on the part of those putting forth ideas.

Anonymous said...

I have to disagree that the natures of mind and identity are amenable, so to speak, to the sentiment of taste. Your point, however, is well taken as these wild speculations are merely definitions, that nothing may follow from, inspired by fictionalized narratives no different than the conclusion made at the end of "Ring of Bright Water" - that the family of otters happening upon Midge's pool had to be Midge's. I'm afraid that, bereft of any philosophy on the subject, the sentiment of taste will fill that vacuum:

“Among a thousand different opinions which men may entertain of the same subject, there is one, and but one, that is just and true, and the only difficulty is to fix and ascertain it. On the contrary, a thousand different sentiments excited by the same object are all right, because no sentiment represents what is really in the object. It only marks a certain conformity of relation between the object and the organs or faculties of the mind, and if that conformity did not really exist, the sentiment could never possibly have being. Beauty is no quality in things themselves; it exists merely in the mind which contemplates them...

Many of the beauties of poetry and even of eloquence are founded on falsehood and fiction, on hyperboles, metaphors, and an abuse or perversion of terms from their natural meaning. To check the sallies of the imagination and to reduce every expression to geometrical truth and exactness would be the most contrary to the laws of criticism, because it would produce a work which, by universal experience, has been found the most insipid and disagreeable...

Not to mention that there is a species of beauty which, as it is florid and superficial, pleases at first, but being found incompatible with a just expression either of reason or passion soon palls upon the taste, and is rejected with disdain, [or] at least rated at a much lower value.”

- David Hume, On the Sentiment of Taste

Anonymous said...

Imagine watching "The Exorcist" and laboring over the concrete metaphysics while missing completely the character, disposition and circumstances of everyone involved.

Annalee Galston said...

I think that if you are going to pursue this topic then you would need to account for the mind-body relationship. It seems that while we are alive our body and our psychology can both constitute our identity and that while they are distinct, they are also interacting. There are times when an individual can be in the same body and take on a new identity (social death, sex transitions). While these objections are outside of religion, you may need to consider the idea that our psychologies can constitute our living identity as well and how that affects identity in terms of the philosophy of religion.

Annalee Galston said...

I like your argument. However, it begs the question: does psychology define our personal identity while alive? If you think psychology only defines our existence after death and not whole we're physically alive, then you'll want to clarify why.

isaac scott said...

Is anyone else confused/annoyed by the anonymous bloggers? Anyway, I agree with Andrew that the conclusions we come to of life after death, moral responsibility, and identity only follow from our definitions of "person". I also agree there isn't any objective fact of the matter about what we truly are. Having said that, one's view shouldn't be completely arbitrary because it is important that one's view is consistent with the other views that one would hold. I think what Talia is going for, is defining the self as the sum total of how one appears in the minds of everyone. For example, Bob's true self or Bob the person is actually how Bob appears in his own psyche and also how he appears in everyone else's psyche simultaneously. In this way one could say that Bob's essence is still psychological after he dies, but that existence is not necessarily exist in Bob's psyche.

Andrea Manthei said...

When I think of identity, the account that makes the most sense to me is one with the mind being the engine of the soul and is housed within the body. I think its important to connect the mind with the soul because the mind controls thoughts, perceptions, information intake, understanding, etc and bodily functions, but isn’t solely the soul itself. I don’t think all of who you are, the soul, is only the mind.
So, like it was mentioned before, I would be careful using the tissue box example because its an inanimate object. The tissue box may have more of an essence, but soul is a stretch, for me at least because I think it needs to be sufficiently connected to a mind. Our bodies change everyday when our cells die and rebuild, and I think still have the same soul. In Ancient Greece, they used the example of a ship. Little by little, over time, pieces of the ship were damaged or old and replaced. When it comes to the point that every piece was replaced, does that ship still belong to the same person? Is it considered a new ship? Or still the ship of the original owner?