In contemporary metaphysics, personal identity is a diachronic issue. This is because it raises questions about one’s own self-characterization. So, what exactly is a person’s personal identity? Personal identity is defined in philosophical terms as the concept you develop about yourself over the course of your life. Parts of our identity are sometimes expressed through what we wear, eat, and say. In other cases, we chose to keep parts of our identities hidden (Setiya). Different aspects of one’s identity are present in varying degrees and magnitudes. It consists, in the end, of elements over which we have accepted but have no control, such as our race, tribe, and skin color. These are characteristics about yourself that you cannot change. They form part of the permanent self-identity. On the other hand, it includes choices that you make in life, like how you spend your time, your friends and your political affiliations.
Questions such as who am I? Whom do I want to be when I grow up? These are facets of the question of what is personal identity. It is evident all these issues have the concept of persistence embedded in their cores (Trout). Persistence means our existence over time and how we can be able to prove it. Since we earlier mentioned that, the question of personal identity is a diachronic problem in metaphysics philosophers such as Rene Descartes and Plato suggested that our existence is embedded in the fact that we possess a soul. The soul is that which is left even after we die; we no longer exist. Descartes was more concerned in explaining this enduring self through the use of scientific and rational arguments. He promoted the view that the mind and body were different and distinct. This is what is encompassed in what we currently refer to as mind-body dualism.
Personal identity is not constant, and it develops over time. Same reason for the fact that the person you are today is not necessarily the person you will be tomorrow or the other day. The events happening around us tend to shape our identity. You may be into football today, but forty years from now, you hate football (Setiya). The two articles we read try to explain the concept of personal identity, philosophy of personal identity and how we develop personal identity albeit in different ways. The problem with living in the present by Kieran Setiya tries to show us how façade is the argument that one should only be concerned by the present. Many people have been on the rise advocating for living in the present disregarding the future. Kieran, in particular, tries to counter this argument by classifying our activities into two subcategories telic activities and atelic activities. On the other hand, why we invented monsters by Paul a trout seek in shedding light regarding the concept of personal identity by using ‘monster’ tales. Paul, in particular, goes on in explaining the genesis of monsters and concluding by showing how humans turned to be the real monsters. It is particularly insightful.
Kieran satiya in ‘The Problem with Living in the Present’ tries to expound the concept of personal identity by attaching an allegorical meaning to the living in the present example. As earlier mentioned, he is particularly interested in disregarding the popular notion of living in the present. For instance, he says how many wishes they would have lived in the past and not now or future (Trout). This he attributes to a myriad of reasons such as political uncertainty, fear and rapid technological advancements, which will later culminate in unemployment. To explain the concept well, he borrows heavily from the Aristotle school of thought. Aristotle proposed that we should neither be concerned about the future nor present but what we are doing. This could be thought as if Aristotle was only concerned with how one develops his identity and not the effects.
Using terminology from linguistics he first distinguishes between two activities: telic and atelic activities. Telic activities are aimed at a particular terminal state. Reaching the end of a telic action brings satisfaction. On the other hand, atelic actions do not have final states. There is not a point where you will reach and say you have had enough of them. For instance, you will never have enough of spending time with your loved ones or family. However, activities such as reading for exams have a terminal state (Setiya). Once you do the exam and pass well, you have achieved satiety of the event and you are done with it. You can only repeat the activity. Aristotle noted that not all actions are telic or atelic.It is a blend of the two. This is particularly important in the concept of personal identity. We earlier said that the environment in which we are in and the activities we engage in primarily influence our personal identities.
In his Metaphysics Aristotle wrote that “When you are learning, you have not at the same time learned.” Activities such as walking, swimming, and reading for a test culminate into a terminal state. Their exhaustibility leads to their subversion. On the other hand, atelic activities do not have exhaustibility. This is important in that in that it completely disregards the notion of living in the present. At the same time, one is seeing and has seen, one is understanding and has understood, one is thinking and has thought. By merely engaging in atelic activities one is already there. As such, this helps in developing our identity in that we know our hard work say in the case of telic events will always result in us being in a particular terminal state. On the other hand like earlier mentioned in the case of atelic activities we are already where we want to be. So for example engaging in political demonstrations is thought as the only better options available to help us advance to the terminal state we wish to. The reason proposed by Kieran is essential in that it gives us an entirely different view of what is the meaning of to live in the present, which consequently helps shape our identity.
The monster comes from the Latin word monstrare, which means to show, and monere, which means to warn. It is a combination of the two words. In the article why we invented Monsters by Paul a Trout, the concept of personal identity is indirectly explained by referring to monsters. Paul acknowledges the existence of unicorns by looking at various mythical stories regarding monsters (Trout). Similar to all mythological stories, a beast is thought as a superhuman being that is capable of feeding on humans and then later excreting the human as feces. The concept of monsters is shown to have existed in humans for a long time. It was seen to cause fear on the part of humans. Humans or individual members of the genus homo observed these monsters for a long time. They studied them. Through studying their behaviors, they were able to come up with mechanisms and ways to which they could be able to kill the monsters. As a result, in fact, Paul concludes by acknowledging that humans are the real monsters currently.
The monster narrative tries to explain personal identity by showing how it can be developed due to fear. Humans, in particular, come up with mechanisms about themselves through which they can get rid of the cause of anxiety. The ability to study the behavior of monsters and use crude tools can be classified as a personal identity of these humans. They come up with means, which will ensure their survival (Setiya). The survival themes demonstrate how personal identity continually evolves over the entire course of life.
In conclusion, we have seen how the two authors in their works try to explain the concept of personal identity. Although different in their approaches both of them try to show us how personal identity develops and philosophy behind it.
Setiya, Kieran. “Opinion | The Problem Of ‘Living In The Present.'” Nytimes.Com, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/11/opinion/the-problem-of-living-in-the-present.html.
Trout, Paul. “Why We Invented Monsters.” Salon, 2011, https://www.salon.com/2011/12/03/the_evolution_of_monsters/.