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Thread: Personal Identity

  1. #1
    a.w.o.l
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    Default Personal Identity

    I think I've written on this before but I wanted to revive the debate.

    In several courses this semester my professors in various fields (anthropology, philosophy to name two) have stressed that the concept of personal identity doesn't work. That it is fundamentally flawed when you consider all the facts.

    The argument is as follows: Personal identity implies that there is SOMETHING about your mind (Note: We are going to leave the concept of the human body aside for a bit) which remains constant from the day you're born till the day you die.

    It then asks people "What remains constant"? And what you find is that all of the logical answers rely on socially constructed ideas.

    Someone raised in isolation of society would still have the cognitive tools of memory, of thought etc. But they would never claim that these things remain constant over time and lead to a conception of "personal identity" on their own. Im not sure about this, but it is my belief that someone raised apart from society would never think to themselves, "I want food" or "I'm hungry". They would simply be hungry and get food. Feel free to disagree... but support your position please.

    Once you start realizing that individuals are really just collections of actions and systems which change over time your entire perspective on life dramatically changes.
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  2. #2
    Tassadar
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    Default Re: Personal Identity

    You are trying to simplify something which is not only beyond traditional comprehension but highly debatable (albeit not scientifically) with regard to a spirit or soul in the religious sense. If we are to ignore the unscientific religious debates, we are still left trying to ascertain the actual existence of the autonomous mind versus the psychical brain.

    Assuming that the mind is an extinguishable flame, that is non-transferable, we can conclude that it is indeed unique, thus perpetuating the idea of an identity. While an isolated individual may never utter or imagine the phrase "I'm hungry," this does not negate the individuality of the act. If you stop to think about your thoughts for a moment, you would realize that you talk to yourself constantly. You constantly ask yourself questions. "Is this a wise choice?" "Am I going to enjoy this food?" "I wonder if that female likes me?" Whether or not you make the verbal association in your brain, you are indeed making the correlation to your own identity/persona.

    Imagine trying to date a girl. Do you wish for that female to simply engage you in co-marital relations for the sake of reproduction, or do you want to connect with her on a deeper level of intellectual stimulation? If you possessed no identity, why would you be concerned about the thoughts of others? Why would you want to please another? And let's not even get started with love.

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Personal Identity

    Quote Quote
    While an isolated individual may never utter or imagine the phrase "I'm hungry," this does not negate the individuality of the act.
    Many experts would argue that it is the exact ability to say "I'm hungry" which enables you to think it. If you don't say it, you won't think it. Thats a bit simplified.. what I mean is... You can only have a conception of your own thoughts if you can have a conception of other peoples thoughts. And you can only have a conception of other peoples thoughts through language.

    Quote Quote
    Imagine trying to date a girl. Do you wish for that female to simply engage you in co-marital relations for the sake of reproduction, or do you want to connect with her on a deeper level of intellectual stimulation? If you possessed no identity, why would you be concerned about the thoughts of others? Why would you want to please another? And let's not even get started with love.
    I think that the socially constructed concept of a personal identity has its benefits, and I think thost benefits are justifcation for the concept in and of itself.

    However, the difficulty is that people have begun to universally apply this personal identity in order to be consistent and failed to see that in many cases its not as beneficial as one thinks. [I just made a very similar argument about the concept of truth in the God debate thread]

    Take the whole "Do what benefits you the most" philosophy that a lot of people on this board seem to subscibe to.

    I havn't formed a coherent argument about the specific relation between the concept of a lack of personal identity and a belief that one should always do what benefits their personal identity the most...

    but I think in the end, if you follow the arguments to their logical conclusions, you might wind up with the following assertion:

    "One should not do what benefits one the most... one should do what is most beneficial"

    Edit: After some reflection I think i'd change the above statement to:

    "Sometimes one should do what benefits one the most... and sometimes one should do what is most beneficial".

    Funny how if you really think about things they often turn out to simply support what you were doing all along.
    Last edited by Luther Stark; 04-26-2007 at 10:59 AM.
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  4. #4
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    Default Re: Personal Identity

    This is a sweet thread, and stuff that I've thought a lot about. Unfortunately I don't have enough time to post in here right now. But keep this thread going for a week and hopefully by then I can contribute
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  5. #5
    Nixon in '72!
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    Default Re: Personal Identity

    I can conceive of myself as a being which is seperate from other beings and from my environment. I can also conceive of everyone who is posting in this thread as other beings, both seperate from the environment and from myself.

    Therefore, I have a personal identity. Since personal identity is a fact, and not an idea or doctrine which is argued for, it cannot be "flawed" in the sense that I think you mean. Even if it is not a fact of our biology it is an inescapable fact of our mind (possible support for Cartesian mind-body dualism?)
    Last edited by Lasagna; 04-26-2007 at 04:30 PM.
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  6. #6
    a.w.o.l
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    Default Re: Personal Identity

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    I can conceive of myself as a being which is seperate from other beings and from my environment. I can also conceive of everyone who is posting in this thread as other beings, both seperate from the environment and from myself.
    You can only concieve that because you were raised in an enviroment with other beings which demanded you percieve yourself in this way. You would not be able to, according to some complicated logic and a whole field of professionals, to do so in the absence of other people.

    But what does this mean?

    I acknowledge that the concept of an identity exists just as much as the concept of the color red exists. But we both know there is no "Red" in the objective world and we also both know there is no "I" in the objective world. All that there is are a bunch of different actions performed but a bunch of seperate brain structures which are linked. And I can assure you, having just spent a semester studying neuroscience, that there is no "whole is greater then the parts" effect in regards to the brain. The whole of the mind is equal to the whole of the brain. As soon as you start subtracting parts of the brain, you start subtracting parts of the Person. Lesion in the prefrontal cortex? No more working memory! etc. etc.

    Therefore, because the concept of an individual only exists in our head, it is worthwhile to understand why we have that concept, and not to missuse it as people have been doing for centuries now.

    Quote Quote
    Therefore, I have a personal identity. Since personal identity is a fact, and not an idea or doctrine which is argued for, it cannot be "flawed" in the sense that I think you mean.
    I don't know where you get off on making assertions that fly in the face of centuries of anthropological, philosophical, and linguistical thought (to name a few). At least I give support for my argument that is greater than, "I can concieve of a personal identity so therfore it is a fact and not a conception".
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  7. #7
    Nixon in '72!
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    Default Re: Personal Identity

    Quote Quote
    You can only concieve that because you were raised in an enviroment with other beings which demanded you percieve yourself in this way. You would not be able to, according to some complicated logic and a whole field of professionals, to do so in the absence of other people.

    But what does this mean?

    I acknowledge that the concept of an identity exists just as much as the concept of the color red exists. But we both know there is no "Red" in the objective world and we also both know there is no "I" in the objective world. All that there is are a bunch of different actions performed but a bunch of seperate brain structures which are linked. And I can assure you, having just spent a semester studying neuroscience, that there is no "whole is greater then the parts" effect in regards to the brain. The whole of the mind is equal to the whole of the brain. As soon as you start subtracting parts of the brain, you start subtracting parts of the Person. Lesion in the prefrontal cortex? No more working memory! etc. etc.

    Therefore, because the concept of an individual only exists in our head, it is worthwhile to understand why we have that concept, and not to missuse it as people have been doing for centuries now.
    Society is part of human instinct. We are pack creatures. One may as well say that a bull would not have horns if a bull did not have horns. Suggesting that the human mind is equal to the sum of it parts does not suggest that there is no human self. Nothing in the former contradicts the latter. Btw your theory of "red' and the mind specifically is explained in Aristotle's theory of substance.

    Quote Quote
    I don't know where you get off on making assertions that fly in the face of centuries of anthropological, philosophical, and linguistical thought (to name a few). At least I give support for my argument that is greater than, "I can concieve of a personal identity so therfore it is a fact and not a conception".
    Perhaps you should have read the rest of the post.

    Quote Quote
    Even if it is not a fact of our biology it is an inescapable fact of our mind (possible support for Cartesian mind-body dualism?)
    Last edited by Lasagna; 04-26-2007 at 05:13 PM.
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  8. #8
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    Default Re: Personal Identity

    Of course we have personal identity. It cannot be proven with empiricism, but then many things cannot.

    With no personal identity, no soul, no personality, we are little more than last year's hamburgers and digested French Fries.
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