Sec 6: Personal Identity

SEC 6: PERSONAL IDENTITY

  • Some philosophers imagine:
    • that we are always intimately conscious of our self,
    • that we feel its existence and its continuance, 
    • that we are certain of its perfect identity and simplicity.
  • They say that the strongest sensation, the most violent passion instead of distracting us from the self, only:
    • fixes it the more intensely,
    • makes us consider their influence on the self by their pain or pleasure.
  • To attempt further prove this is to weaken its evidence, since no proof can be derived from any fact, which we are so intimately conscious of.
    • If we doubt this then we cannot be certain of anything.
  • Unluckily all these positive assertions are contrary to that very experience, which is pleaded for them.
    • Nor do we have any idea of the self, in the manner explained here.
    • For from what impression could this idea be derived?
  • This question is impossible to answer without a contradiction and absurdity.
    • Yet it is a question which must be answered for the self to be a clear and intelligible idea.
    • Every real idea comes from an impression.
  • But the self or person is not any one impression.
    • It is an impression to which our several impressions and ideas are supposed to have a reference.
    • If any impression causes the idea of self, that impression must continue invariably the same through the whole course of our lives, since the self is supposed to exist after that manner.
  • But no impression is constant and invariable.
    • Pain and pleasure, grief and joy, passions and sensations succeed each other.
    • They never all exist at the same time.
  • Therefore, the idea of the self cannot be derived from any impressions.
    • Consequently, there is no such idea.
  • What must become of all our perceptions on this hypothesis?
    • All these are different, distinguishable, separable from each other, and may be separately considered, and may exist separately, and have no Deed of tiny thing to support their existence.
    • How do they belong to the self?
    • How are they connected with it?
  • When I enter most intimately into myself, I always stumble on some perception of heat or cold, light or shade, love or hatred, pain or pleasure.
    • I can never:
      • catch myself at anytime without a perception, nor
      • observe anything but the perception.
  • When my perceptions are removed for any time, as by sound sleep, I may truly be said not to exist as long as I am insensible of myself.
    • I would be entirely annihilated if:
      • all my perceptions were removed by death, and
      • I could neither think, feel, see, love, nor hate after the dissolution of my body,
      • I could not conceive what is needed to make me a perfect non-entity.
  • If anyone seriously thinks he has a different notion of himself, then I cannot reason with him.
    • He may be correct, just as I am correct.
    • But we are essentially different in this.
      • He may perceive something simple and continued, which he calls himself.
      • Though I am certain there is no such principle in me.
  • The rest of mankind is nothing but a bundle or collection of different perceptions which:
    • succeed each other with an inconceivable rapidity, and
    • are in a perpetual flux and movement.
  • Our eyes cannot turn in their sockets without varying our perceptions.
    • Our thought is still more variable than our sight.
    • All our other senses and faculties contribute to this change.
    • There is no single power of the soul which remains unalterably the same, perhaps for one moment.
  • The mind is a kind of theatre where several perceptions successively make their appearance.
    • Perceptions pass, re-pass, glide away, and mingle in an infinite variety of postures and situations.
    • There is no simplicity in it at one time.
    • There is no identity in different times, whatever natural propension we may have to imagine that simplicity and identity.
  • The comparison of the theatre must not mislead us.
    • They are the successive perceptions only that constitute the mind.
    • We do not have the most distant notion of:
      • the place where these scenes are represented,
      • the materials it is composed of.
  • What then gives us so great a propension to:
    • ascribe an identity to these successive perceptions, and
    • suppose ourselves having an invariable and uninterrupted existence through our lives?
  • To answer this question, we must distinguish between personal identity regarding our:
    1. thought or imagination, and
    2. passions or the concern we take in ourselves.
  • The first is our present subject.
  • To explain it perfectly, we must take the matter pretty deep and account for that identity, which we attribute to plants and animals.
  • There is a great analogy between it and the identity of a self or person.
  • We have a distinct idea of an object that remains invariable and uninterrupted through time.
    • We call this idea ‘identity’ or ‘sameness’.
  • We also have a distinct idea of several different objects existing in succession and connected together by a close relation.
    • This gives us a perfect a notion of diversity, as if there was no manner of relation among the objects.
  • These two ideas of identity and a succession of related objects, are in themselves:
    • perfectly distinct, and
    • even contrary.
      • Yet in our common way of thinking, they are confounded with each other.
  • That imagination’s action, by which we consider the uninterrupted and invariable object, and that by which we reflect on the succession of related objects, are almost the same to the feeling.
    • There much more effort of thought required in the latter case than in the former.
    • The relation:
      • facilitates the mind’s transition from one object to another, and
      • renders its passage as smooth as if it contemplated one continued object.
        • This resemblance is the cause of the confusion and mistake.
        • It makes us substitute the notion of identity, instead of the notion of related objects.
  • However, at one instant we may consider the related succession as variable or interrupted.
    • In the next instant, we:
      • ascribe a perfect identity to the succession, and
      • regard it as enviable and uninterrupted.
  • Our propensity to this mistake is so great from the above-mentioned resemblance.
    • We fall into it before we are aware.
    • Though we incessantly correct ourselves by reflection and return to a more accurate method of thinking, yet we cannot long sustain our philosophy, or take off this bias from the imagination.
  • Our last resource is to yield to it.
    • We boldly assert that these different related objects are in effect the same, however interrupted and variable.
    • In order to justify this absurdity to ourselves, we often feign some new and unintelligible principle that:
      • connects the objects together, and
      • prevents their interruption or variation.
  • Thus, we feign the continued existence of the perceptions of our senses, to remove the interruption.
  • We run into the notion of a soul, self, and substance to disguise the variation.
    • Where we do not give rise to such a fiction, our propension to confound identity with relation is so great.
      • We imagine [Footnote 10] something unknown and mysterious, connecting the parts, beside their relation.
      • This is the case with the identity that we ascribe to plants.
  • Even when this does not take place, we still feel a propensity to confound these ideas.
    • Though we:
      • are not able fully to satisfy ourselves in that, nor
      • can we find anything invariable and uninterrupted to justify our notion of identity.

 

Footnote 10.

  • If the reader wants to see how a great genius may be influenced by these seemingly trivial and vulgar principles of the imagination, let him read my Lord SHAFTSBURYS reasonings on:
    • the universe’s uniting principle
    • the identity of plants and animals. (See his MORALISTS: or PHILOSOPHICAL RHAPSODY)

 

  • Thus the controversy on identity is not merely a dispute of words.
    • When we improperly attribute identity to variable or interrupted objects, our mistake is not confined to the expression.
    • It is commonly attended with a fiction of something:
      • invariable and uninterrupted, or
      • mysterious and inexplicable, or
      • at least with a propensity to such fictions.
  • This hypothesis is proven by showing from daily experience that the variable or interrupted objects, but continuing the same, are only those that have a succession of parts connected together by resemblance, contiguity, or causation.
    • For as such a succession answers evidently to our notion of diversity, it can only be by mistake we ascribe to it an identity.
    • The relation of parts which leads us into this mistake, is really nothing but:
      • a quality which produces an association of ideas, and
      • an easy transition of the imagination from one to another.
    • The error arises only because of the resemblance which this act of the mind bears to the act of contemplating one continued object.
  • Our chief business then must be to prove that all objects, to which we ascribe identity, without observing their invariableness and uninterruptedness, are those that have a succession of related objects.
  • To do this, suppose any mass of matter with contiguous and connected parts, is placed before us.
    • We attribute a perfect identity to this mass, provided all the parts continue uninterruptedly and invariably the same, whatever motion or change of place it has as a whole or in any of the parts.
    • But if some very small part were added to or subtracted from the mass, it would absolutely destroy the whole’s identity, strictly speaking.
      • Yet we seldom think so accurately.
      • We say the mass to be the same if we find so trivial an alteration.
  • The passage of the thought from the object before the change to the object after it, is so smooth and easy.
    • We scarce perceive the transition.
    • We imagine that it is just a continued survey of the same object.
  • A very remarkable circumstance attends this experiment.
    • The change of any considerable part in a mass of matter destroys the whole identity.
    • But we must measure the greatness of the part by its proportion to the whole, and not absolutely.
  • The addition or reduction of a mountain would not be enough to produce a diversity in a planet.
    • Though the change of a very few inches can destroy the identity of some bodies.
  • It is possible to account for this only by reflecting that objects:
    • operate on the mind, and
    • break or interrupt the continuity of its actions not according to their real greatness, but according to their proportion to each other.
  • Therefore, since this interruption makes an object cease to appear the same, it must be the uninterrupted progress of the thought which constitutes the imperfect identity.
  • This may be confirmed by another phenomenon.
    • A change in any considerable part of a body destroys its identity.
    • But it is remarkable that where the change is produced gradually and insensibly, we are less apt to ascribe to it the same effect.
  • The only reason is that the mind, in following the successive changes of the body:
    • feels an easy passage from surveying its condition in one moment to the view it in another
    • at no time perceives any interruption in its actions.
  • From this continued perception, it ascribes a continued existence and identity to the object.
  • We might use precautions in:
    • introducing the changes gradually
    • making them proportional to the whole.
  • We make a scruple of ascribing identity to such different objects, when the changes finally become considerable.
    • We may induce the imagination to advance a step further by producing a:
      • reference of the parts to each other
      • combination to some common end or purpose.
  • A ship, with a big part changed by frequent repairs, is still the same ship.
    • The difference of the materials does not hinder us from ascribing an identity to it.
  • The common end, in which the parts conspire:
    • is the same under all their variations
    • affords an easy transition of the imagination from one bodily situation to another.
  • But this is still more remarkable when we:
    • add a sympathy of parts to their common end
    • suppose that they bear to each other the reciprocal relation of cause and effect in all their actions and operations.
  • This is the case with all animals and vegetables.
    • Their several parts have a:
      • reference to some general purpose
      • mutual dependence on, and connection with each other.
  • The effect of so strong a relation is that though every one must allow, that in a very few years both vegetables and animals endure a total change, yet we still attribute identity to them, while their form, size, and substance are entirely altered.
    • An oak that grows from a small plant to a large tree is still the same oak.
      • Though none of its parts are the same.
  • An infant becomes a man.
    • He is sometimes fat or lean without any change in his identity.
  • The two phenomena below are remarkable.
    1. We are commonly able to distinguish between numerical and specific identity.
      • Yet sometimes we confound them.
        • In our thinking and reasoning, we employ the one for the other.
      • A man who bears a noise that is frequently interrupted and renewed, says that it is still the same noise.
        • Though the sounds have only a specific identity or resemblance.
        • There is nothing numerically the same, but the cause which produced them.
      • A church formerly of brick falls to ruin.
        • The parish rebuilds the same church of free-stone, according to modern architecture.
        • The form and materials are not the same.
        • The only common to the two objects is their relation to the inhabitants of the parish.
        • Yet this alone is sufficient to make us call them the same.
  • In these cases, the first object is annihilated before the second comes into existence.
    • In this way, we are never presented in any one point of time with the idea of difference and multiplicity.
    • For that reason, we are less scrupulous in calling them the same.
  1. Secondly, in a succession of related objects, the change of parts should not be sudden nor entire, to preserve the identity.
    • Yet where the objects are in their nature changeable and inconstant, we admit of a more sudden transition, than would otherwise be consistent with that relation.
    • Thus, the nature of a river consists in the motion and change of parts.
    • Though in less than 24 hours, these are totally altered.
    • This does not hinder the river from continuing the same during several ages.
    • What is natural and essential to anything is expected.
    • What is expected makes less impression.
    • It appears of less moment, than what is unusual and extraordinary.
    • A considerable change of the former kind seems really less to the imagination, than the most trivial alteration of the latter.
    • By breaking less the continuity of the thought, has less influence in destroying the identity.
  • We now proceed to explain the nature of personal identity.
    • This has become so great a question ill philosophy, especially of recent years in England, where all the more abstruse sciences are studied with ardour and application.
  • The same method of reasoning must be continued which has so successfully explained the identity of plants, animals, ships, houses, and of all the compounded and changeable productions of art or nature.
  • The identity we ascribe to the mind of man, is only a fictitious one.
    • It is of a like kind with the identity which we ascribe to vegetables and animals.
  • Therefore, it cannot have a different origin.
    • It must proceed from a like operation of the imagination on like objects.
  • But lest this argument should not convince the reader.
    • Though in my opinion perfectly decisive; let him weigh the following reasoning, which is still closer and more immediate.
  • The identity which we attribute to the human mind, however perfect we may imagine it to be, is not able to:
    • run the several different perceptions into one
    • make them lose their characters of distinction and difference, which are essential to them.
  • It is still true that every distinct perception which enters into the mind’s composition is a distinct existence.
    • It is different, distinguishable, and separable from every other perception, either contemporary or successive.
  • A question naturally arises concerning this relation of identity when we suppose the whole train of perceptions to be united by identity.
    • Whether it is something that really binds our several perceptions together or only associates their ideas in the imagination.
    • That is, in other words, whether in pronouncing concerning the identity of a person, we observe some real bond among his perceptions, or only feel one among the ideas we form of them.
  • We can easily answer this question if we recollect what has been already proud at large, that:
    • the understanding never observes any real connection among objects
    • even the union of cause and effect, when strictly examined, resolves itself into a customary association of ideas.
  • It evidently follows that identity is nothing really belonging to these different perceptions and uniting them together.
    • It is merely a quality which we attribute to them, because of the union of their ideas in the imagination, when we reflect on them.
  • Now the only qualities which can give ideas an union in the imagination, are these three relations above-mentioned.
  • There are the uniting principles in the ideal world.
    • Without them, every distinct object is:
      • separable by the mind
      • may be separately considered
      • appears not to have any more connection with any other object, than if disjoined by the greatest difference and remoteness.
  • Therefore, it is on some of these three relations of resemblance, contiguity and causation, that identity depends.
    • The very essence of these relations consists in their producing an easy transition of ideas.
    • 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, according to the principles above-explained.
  • The only question which remains is by what relations this uninterrupted progress of our thought is produced, when we consider the successive existence of a mind or thinking person.
  • We must:
    • confine ourselves to resemblance and causation
    • drop contiguity, which has little or no influence in the present case.
  • To begin with resemblance, suppose we could:
    • see clearly into the breast of another
    • observe that succession of perceptions in his mind
    • suppose that he always preserves the memory of most of past perceptions
  • It is evident that nothing could more contribute to the bestowing a relation on this succession amidst all its variations.
  • The memory is but a faculty by which we raise the images of past perceptions.
    • An image necessarily resembles its object.
    • The frequent placing of these resembling perceptions in the chain of thought, convey the imagination more easily from one link to another.
    • It makes the whole seem like the continuance of one object.
  • The memory discovers the identity.
    • It also contributes to the production of the identity by producing the relation of resemblance among the perceptions.
    • The case is the same whether we consider ourselves or others.
  • The true idea of the human mind is to consider causation as a system of different perceptions or existences.
    • These perceptions are linked together by the relation of cause and effect.
    • They mutually produce, destroy, influence, and modify each other.
      • Our impressions give rise to their correspondent ideas.
      • These ideas in turn produce other impressions.
  • One thought chases another and draws after it a third, by which it is expelled in its turn.
  • I can only compare the soul to a republic with several members united by the reciprocal ties of government and subordination.
    • This gives rise to other persons who propagate the same republic in the incessant changes of its parts.
    • The same republic may change its members, laws, and constitutions.
  • In like manner, the same person may vary his character, disposition, impressions and ideas, without losing his identity.
    • Whatever changes he endures, his several parts are still connected by the relation of causation.
    • Our identity, with regard to the passions, corroborates our identity with regard to the imagination by:
      • making our distant perceptions influence each other
      • giving us a present concern for our past or future pains or pleasures.
  • A memory alone acquaints us with the continuance and extent of this succession of perceptions.
    • Memory is the source of personal identity.
    • Had we no memory we would never have any notion of:
      • causation or
      • consequently, that chain of causes and effects which constitute our self or person.
  • After we have acquired this notion of causation from the memory, we can:
    • extend:
      • the same chain of causes
      • consequently, the identity of car persons beyond our memory.
    • comprehend times, circumstances, and actions, which have existed but we have entirely forgotten.
  • How few of our past actions can we remember?
    • Who can tell me what were his thoughts and actions on the January 1, 1715, March 11, 1719, and the August 3, 1733?
    • Will he affirm that the present self is not the same person with the self of those times because he has entirely forgotten the incidents of these days?
      • He will overturn all the established notions of personal identity if he does this.
  • Therefore, memory does not so much produce as discover personal identity, by showing us the relation of cause and effect among our different perceptions.
    • Those who affirm that memory produces entirely our personal identity, should explain why we can extend our identity beyond our memory.
  • This whole doctrine leads us to a very important conclusion that all the nice and subtle questions on personal identity can never possibly be answered.
    • They are more grammatical than philosophical difficulties.
  • Identity depends on the relations of ideas.
    • These relations produce identity through that easy transition.
  • The relations and the transition’s easiness may reduce by insensible degrees.
    • We have no just standard to decide any dispute on the time, when they acquire or lose a title to the name of identity.
  • All the disputes on the identity of connected objects are merely verbal, except so far as the relation of parts gives rise to some fiction or imaginary principle of union.
  • The first origin and uncertainty of our notion of the human mind’s identity, may be extended with little or no variation to the origin of simplicity.
    • An object, whose different co-existent parts are bound together by a close relation:
      • operates on the imagination in the same way as one perfectly simple and indivisible
      • does not require a much greater stretch of thought to its conception.
  • From this similarity of operation we:
    • attribute a simplicity to it
    • feign a principle of union as:
      • the support of this simplicity
      • the center of all the different parts and qualities of the object.
  • We have finished our examination of the philosophical systems of the intellectual and natural world.
  • In our miscellaneous way of reasoning, we have been led into several topics.
    • These will:
      • illustrate and confirm some preceding part of this discourse, or
      • prepare the way for our following opinions.
  • We will now:
    • return to a closer examination of our subject
    • proceed in the accurate anatomy of human nature, having fully explained the nature of our judgment and understandings.

Words: 3860

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