Identity and the Humanities

Topics: Philosophy, Mind, Immanuel Kant Pages: 13 (5039 words) Published: September 7, 2013
Personal Identity: The Overall Shaping of Who I am
            When we as a society think about personal identity, we naturally define it in terms of “what we know about the self” (Thiel). We view our own personal identities as characteristics that we feel make us the people that we are—our values, ideas, beliefs, cultures, and uniqueness. While these are not all the characteristics that form a person’s identity, they are, in my opinion, the traits most people associate with the formation of their own identity.

Before we can begin to think about our personal identity and all the factors that comprise it, we must first understand the idea of what a person is. Christian Smith, the author of What is a Person? Rethinking Humanity, Social life, and the Moral Good from the Person Up, defines a person as a “real, objective, albeit emergent entity [who’s developed] a conscious, reflexive, self-transcending center of subjective experience [and] durable identity” (Martin). Smith’s definition of a person is basically someone who has developed themselves physically and mentally by enduring various lifetime experiences and has formed relations with other people in the process. By doing so, this person was able to establish values, ideas, and beliefs that they felt best represented themselves as an individual.

Secondly, when trying to figure out what a person is you must realize that a person must be both rational and understanding. This is the case because according to the early Greeks, men are the only rational animals on earth, and a man’s understanding sets him above all other sensible beings (Adler). Now with the understanding of what a person is, it is necessary that we determine various traits that help to shape an individual’s personal identity. Overall, I think a person’s identity is formed from his or her experiences, actions, and distinction of oneself in a group ownership, but I think identity can be altered by context at any time.              Many people would say it does not really matter how a person acquires his or her identity. They may feel that as long as a person has an identity to claim as his or her own, then what is the point of investigating the specific aspects that contributed to shaping one’s identity. This general, careless viewpoint of people (when it comes to acknowledging how you acquire your personal identity) fit the ideology of one of the first modern philosophers, Rene Descartes.

For Descartes, he didn’t see personal identity as a true problem. Rather, he believed the soul to be an immaterial substance. First, Descartes stated that personal identity consisted in the identity of a mental substance or the soul (Thiel). This mindset represents the view of dualism, which in philosophy is the difference between mind and matter (Calef). Dualists, such as Descartes, viewed the brain as being different from the mind, in that there is a distinction when talking about your mind and body because the two are not a part of one another as it is presumably thought.

Secondly, Descartes said that the identity of mental substances is a direct consequence of its immaterial nature (Thiel).  Because of the irrelevance, or distinction, between the mind and the body, things are not subject to change. Rather, they will remain the same over time. For instance, since my internal thoughts, like love, are deemed separate from my body, which consists of physical aspects, then there will never be a change in what I know about myself (which I stated in the introduction as being the general definition people take personal identity to mean). Overall, Descartes acts in opposition to what I see as an important matter. Since he doesn’t even attempt to come up with aspects that could contribute to shaping an individual’s personal identity, he is the person (out of all the modern philosophers who address identity) I least see myself agreeing with, in terms of his basic philosophy.                The second modern...

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