Can we only be what we have
experienced? To what extent is the statement that ‘we are our memories’ true? Are
we confined by that which we are? Is it possible to come to be more than one
has? This essay will begin with defining and explaining what a personal
identity is. The next part of this essay will show my own standpoint on the
issue in question. I will then
proceed to focus on arguments and theories that support my position. In the next
section of this essay, I will appraise
the strength of these postulations and will try to justify this them. Finally, I will conclude this essay by way of a
short assessment which will function as a summary.
People cannot determine who they
are by will. One cannot decide to understand life from a different social
standing point on a whim. Everything that makes up our worldview is built upon
our own experiences. All that we have come in contact with during our lives and
all that we have come to know. These things form the basis of what we believe
and how we think. They are what we ‘have’. The things that are part of ones
social, economical and cultural
understanding are what one has. Ones understanding can change, not due to ones
self, but because one has acquired new information or come to understand a
point of view previously not encountered (or understood).
Who we are is the echo of our experience, a trail of memories.
All that one has in this sense of
the term forms what one is and all that one has is ones prison. It is certainly possible to expand ones prison with new pieces of information can but
one can never leave it. We are forever trapped and defined by that which we
have. To realise one is imprisoned and limited by this jail is doable. One
could even commit meta-analyses of it and
therefore of ones own limitations.
There persists an idea in
opposition to my theory that there is simply a core ‘you’, that is to say, that
you may acquire knowledge, memories and beliefs as you go through life,
however, these are only part of you and in essence you are the same person you
always were because of this ‘core’, now just with newer, additional parts. This
belief does, however, give an excuse for all actions with the claim that we
cannot change because our ‘core’ cannot change.
The 17th-century philosopher John Locke argued in favour of
my postulation. He was
troubled by the idea of a ‘core self’ due to its moral problems. He suggested
that personal identity (the self) was based upon memory. He thought that we remain the same to the extent that we hold
the same memories. He thought if one suddenly jumped or reincarnated into a different
body one would still remain the person one was as
long as one still had the same
memories, that there was psychological continuity being the same continued
Several philosophers criticised Locks
theory. Amongst them was Joseph Butler. He postulated that to have a memory one
is required to have a personal identity, therefore, memories cannot create an
identity. Thomas Reid was doubtful of Locks idea, too. He found that memory was
insufficient to create a personal identity. He questioned what would happen if
a person, maybe because of old age, forgot a memory. For if one could not remember
something from ones past wouldn’t that mean that one wasn’t identical to that
person and that it was not the same continued consciousness?
I believe that Butler’s and Reid’s
criticisms contain faults. Firstly, Butler wrongly, I think, assumed that a
personal identity is necessary to acquire memory. It is due to memories that we
are even able to create a personal identity in the first place. Secondly, if one
were to lose all of ones memories one would not in fact cease to exist. For those
memories have left imprints within us. We still have desires, goals, beliefs
and intentions. One would not know where they came from but nonetheless they
would be there.
A contemporary British philosopher
Julian Baggini proposes a metaphor. A watch is made up of many different parts –
the chain, the face, the hands – but there is no core essence of the watch. He suggests
to shifts ones thinking from being something that has all the experiences of
life to being a collection of all those experiences.