On Personal Identity

Some years ago, I studied Scottish moral philosophy at St. Andrews University and came across a rather memorable notion of personal identity, courtesy of one David Hume:

‘I may venture to affirm of the rest of mankind, that they are 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. ‘

A Treatise of Human Nature (1739)

Basically, fatty thinks that “we are never intimately conscious of anything but a particular perception; man is a bundle or collection of different perceptions which succeed one another with an inconceivable rapidity and are in perpetual flux and movement”.

A decade ago, I firmly believed fatty (err…Hume) to be wrong on this matter, but in my most recent flirtation with the notion of personal identity, I tend to agree with his denial that there is a distinction between the various features of a person and the mysterious self that supposedly bears those features.

In any case, it’s an interesting thing to think about, and I’ve found it extremely relevant given recent life events, which have rendered me unable to ski, surf, spin, run, or climb – activities which, for all intensive purposes, shape and define me: they are my personal identity.

And so who is one when one is stripped of their identifying features? (insert clever reference to Aristotle’s metaphysics and his notion substance as matter and form here, ha) I do not really know, but I vividly recall confronting these same questions regarding identity when philosophy, which was such a defining element of who I was, was no longer part of my life, part of me.

On personal identity: what is yours?

One thought on “On Personal Identity

  1. Yes, identity is a fabrication, a series of ingrained affectations that people cling to out of fear. Once we realize this, then cultural identity is also a useless sham… On the other hand, how would we function without identity.

    We term people who lack a truly discernible identity, psychopaths. If we didn’t have the anchor of identity, would we be a population of sociopaths just feeding our compulsions, or are we that now?

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