The problem of self-identity is one that every single human will face from the moment they are brought into this world. The lack of personal identity is one that can make or break a person, meaning if not found one might not feel as complete as they aim to be. This topic is covered in Chapter 5 of the text from the Rachels in Problems of Philosophy. Throughout the chapter many different theories are thought upon such as the Bundle Theory, Same-Body Theory, and the Memory Theory. They question all arguments surrounding the theories and makes readers align their beliefs with at least one of the theories. Along with the textbook, the article by Bernard-Henri Lévy titled “We Are Not Born Human”, discusses the fact that we gradually become more and more human and that we do not just become it but rather, it is a process.
The Rachels discuss questions such as “is there life after death” and the fact that it is dependent “on what we are” (Rachels and Rachels 52). Some of the things I took from the theories was that they can be argued in many different ways but come to the same destination in terms of what it essentially means. For example, Bundle Theory and Soul Theory are two explanations thoroughly discussed and although the two theories are similar, it boils down to one difference, the existence of a soul.
It’s obvious Soul Theory, with the title having soul in it, is the one that explains there is a soul within each human that carries our inner most self, explained as “Within each person is a kernel that may be called the soul or the ego or the self. It is the subject of all the person’s experiences. It is simple and indivisible. And it is present throughout the person’s life.” On the contrary, the Bundle Theory says that there is no such soul and that what we think of soul is just a “parade of mental items is all that exists” (Rachels and Rachels 54), which can be hard to accept because as David Hume stated, “you feel that, in addition to the various experiences you have, there is the being who has the experiences… you.” (Rachels and Rachels 54).
According to this and experience, Soul Theory is much easier to explain and relate to because most people I know, including myself, define themselves by how they feel in their so called “soul” or their “self/ego” as Hume stated, which is why the phrases “soulless” and “empty soul” are used because many people just do not see themselves only, they also believe in the fact that their soul does indeed exist and it is where their experiences and morals and values and their ultimate true self lies. People who do not have a personal identity or a means of finding it, often use those phrases mentioned, like “empty soul”, because they have not found their purpose or their true personal identity.
This brings me to my next topic of the lack of self-identity which is explained by Jean Paul Sartre, a philosopher who discussed the self-identity and existentialism. He talks about how nothingness can develop within a person’s consciousness causing an internal reflection. Sartre mentions that unity within the self or “soul” is a task for oneself that they should face in order to feel like they are “grounded” in the world and have a purpose. He further explains that the “past corresponds to the facticity of human life” which cannot be changed and that the “future opens up possibilities for… freedom”. This goes to show that growth and being free are factors that go into developing self-identity and something that is a part of human life and is essential in carrying out the processes that make us human.
The article by the French philosopher, Bernard-Henri Lévy is one that tied many of the theories of self-identity in philosophy together but delved into other aspects of the meaning of being human. He starts off by asking the question “What does it mean to be human?” This is an immensely broad question but he explains it by stating that it comes down to one thing which is “Determination is negation”. This was confusing at first because anyone would ask themselves the negation of what? But as he continues in the article he states that the negation of God is one aspect of humanity. Because Christians, Jews and pretty much anyone who follows a religion is known to have “no purpose without God” according to Western tradition.
Even atheists, he states, have the purpose of toppling God from his throne and that “humans come to occupy the space formerly reserved for God alone”. Lévy further develops his argument by explaining that it will be easy to differentiate between the new developments in Artificial Intelligence and determining what is human and what is not because humans have a soul and is thinks things that are intentional and this is what the essence of being a human is. He also states that to be human “is to be part of a society” but he says that we must be careful in order not to be constrained by the walls of a social atmosphere and accept all social laws and norms because this will ultimately be the death of human growth and striving to better oneself. The end of the article delves into the fact that humans have many battles in our lifetime but the end of human life will always be death and no human can escape that.
Self-identity is something that can only truly be granted through self-reflection and growth, as stated in the article by Lévy. His views on death and how it is the end all be all for all human life is something that will make anyone reflect on their life and remember that all this comes to an end eventually. Throughout Chapter 5 many theories were named and discussed but Soul Theory is one that is tied into many other philosopher’s ideas such as Lévy and Sartre that I believe they would agree upon. Everyone is just trying to figure out how to identify themselves and according to the thoughts in the textbook and the two articles no one knows more than the next and self-identity and defining one’s self is completely up to each person because at the end of the day everyone has their ideas and none is proven fact, since this is Philosophy after all.
- Lévy, Bernard-henri. “We Are Not Born Human.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 22 Aug. 2018, www.nytimes.com/2018/08/22/opinion/we-are-not-born-human.html?rref=collection/spotlightcollection/the-big-ideas.
- Onof, Christian J. “Jean Paul Sartre: Existentialism.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, www.iep.utm.edu/sartre-ex/.
- Rachels, James; Rachels, Stuart. Problems from Philosophy. McGraw-Hill, 2011.