In life, there are a million questions that we persistently seek answers to. One of the most pressing and most elusive answers is one that can answer the age-old question; who am I? In more than one way, all our endeavors seek to answer this question. Psychologists study behavior, cosmologists try to understand our universe while biologists are working around to comprehend the evolution theory. It has often emerged that life and science are intrinsically intertwined, with events linking at every other turn. “I think, therefore I am” is one of the most famous Descartes slogans. Descartes strives to establish that if there is one thing that he cannot doubt is his existence. Even though he may doubt, all he is really doing is the act of doubting.
‘Who am I’ leads to issues of personal identity. When one speaks of personal identity, individual unique properties that separate us from others come to mind. The assumption is that we have only one contingency. However, it is possible for one to lose his present identity and acquire a whole new one or even go without one (Stanford University Encyclopedia, 2002). One can also question what he is. However, this discussion elicits less controversy because the likely outcome of this discussion across the board would point to a biological organism.
In one quarter, we are brought up to understand that we are predominately scientific creatures, creatures that have undergone an evolution. Furthermore, there has been an ongoing natural selection that has seen only the fittest survive. We are the most intelligent and most aware of all creatures but at the end of it all, it is all pointless if I as an individual do not know who I am. Who I directly influence who we are as a society (Dawkins, 1988).
Christine M. Korsgaard states that personal identity is central to our existence. She attempts to establish the fundamental foundation of moral obligation and practical reasoning that govern who a rational person is. It is known that moral philosophy is an attempt to comprehend human behavior, which can either be good or bad. Who I am predisposed me to be either good or bad. Korsgaard describes “A good action as one that constitutes its agent as the autonomous and efficacious cause of her own movements”. Who I am is either genetically or socially predisposed. It is unlikely that I can be so evil one day and become the persona of goodness the next day. Unless of course, a divine force was working overtime over me! This then means that the individual actions constitute the personal identities that we ascribe to as individuals. Human beings are rational, and this means that we are in control of our actions.
On the other hand, I am more than a mere scientific creature. There is the being, the soul that determines what kind of a person I am. Inside my brain, there is the interconnectivity of networks that conduct electric impulses which later, I am told are my thoughts, decisions, and feelings. The feeling of self is therefore a mental build-up by the human brain facilitated by social interactions and developed linguistic capabilities (Blackmore, 1992).
Someone once asked me, “What drives you?” And I must admit, that question got me off guard. Why? I do not know. Maybe because I have never really asked myself what drives me. Yes, I rush from one point to the other, trying to prioritize and beat deadlines. The bottom line is something does me from within. Occasionally, I take a breather and take time off to sit back and relax, alone or with some company. Yet another entity, another being, with its own set of values, priorities, goals, and dreams. However, every so often, we meet other beings who resemble our being in many ways, and we get along.
According to Derek Parfait (1986), matters of identity are not important. He discredits Descartes’s conclusion of “I think, therefore I am” because we can never really know if we are in the first place. In fact, he is a reductionist as he relegates identity to the level of nonexistence. He uses examples that are based on teleporting, a concept that is highly glorified in science fiction movies such as Star Trek. He impersonalizes identity and questions whether an individual that exists at present will remain the same. It is possible to establish an entity’s present existence while failing to respond to the question as to whether that entity’s identity is a continued identity. He, therefore, states that identity is not important but rather psychological connectedness such as character and memory are what matter.
What Parfait is telling us about ourselves is that we cannot fully explain life by stating that there is some underlying being to which all consciousness’’ components and life itself belong. He insists that there is no hidden soul that holds our act together. He instead suggests that a person can say that he is what he is first because of the life experiences that he has been exposed two, these events and experiences are connected by a series of causal relations. The most important of these causal relations is the Memory.
He further states that we are no more than mere bodies and brains, which means that our identities cannot be equated to any because, at the end of the day, identities do not matter anyway. However, Parfait admits that his theory is very controversial and fails to relate to everyday life. Interestingly, his theory does stir feelings of curiosity and interest among many. This is because our identities are not definite as society has so often described them to be. To Parfait, the main question that as individuals, should be that if presented with the chance to maintain our given psychological continuity and personal identities, would we retain our present or opt for seemingly better alternatives? Pose that question and you get blank stares in response (Parfait, 1984).
Many a time, people disassociate who they were in the past, who they are now, and more importantly, who they will be in the future. There is a direct correlation between the then me and now me. It is without a doubt that there is a sense that allows us to exist for every living moment; even Parfait does not deny that. The future is entirely dependant on the present, just as the present is a result of the past. Does this, therefore, mean that there is more than the present I? Is the future I a descendant self of I? Are they one and the same? Will the future I ascribe to the beliefs, thoughts, principles, dreams, and ideologies that the present I ascribe to?
He however insists that this is a very superficial way to looking at matters and instead advocates for an investigation into the deeper issues. For example, a club that comes together for the pursuit of common goals has no identity, integrity, or individuality of its own but it is a representative of the people who have formed it and what they want it to represent. The existence of the club is merely nominal because it comprises nothing more than the facts assembled to give it a single name (Parfail, 1984).
In conclusion, the question of who am I is far deeper, far more complicated than ever envisioned. This is because it is a very complex and intertwined matter. However, I am sure that I am a rational being who acts dominantly out of self-interest. I act out of the desires of my heart, and will often go out of my way to achieve what I truly want. The consensus is that only I can be responsible for the outcomes of my life. Occasionally, however, I will be ‘impractical” and set out to do what is in the interests of everyone else. My personal identity, therefore, is important because it implies psychological continuity. The personal identities that I find myself attracted to are entirely dependant on the metaphysical beliefs that I ascribe to. Personal identity is therefore central to an individual’s existence as enables one to confront all questions about his existence as an individual, who he is, and even about the afterlife. While many may suggest that there are no problems as far as personal identities matters go, there are problems; the persistent question of what exactly determines personal identity never seems to go away.
Blackmore S. (1992). The Question Is – Who Am I? 2008. Web.
Dawkins,R. (1986). The Blind Watchmaker. London, Longmans.
Korsgaard Christine (1996). The Sources of Normativity. London: Cambridge University Press.
Parfait D. (1984). Reasons and Reasons. London: Oxford University Press.