Philosophy of Self The philosophy of self-focuses on who we or human beings are, and which is the most real, body or soul. It goes on by touches the topic of what makes us different from other living things, for instance, animals. At the end it makes us wonder who we are as an individual or what shapes our personality. Different philosophers have laid down their opinion about the theory of self. Some of them are Plato- The Republic, Aristotle-on the soul (De Anima), Descartes- Meditations and the like.
Their description of self-gives us different ways of understanding our existence and makes us doubt whatever thought we had about the self. One of the most popular philosophers who had a strong opinion about the self is Rene Descartes. He is known for his most famous quote, “I think, therefore, I am” which is commonly known as the cogito argument. In Descartes opinion, we can never be certain about anything, including our bodies existence.
For instance, I cannot be certain that I am sitting down at the school’s library with my laptop open and writing about the philosophy of self. I certainly also can’t be sure about the existence of the material in front of me. Even in the sense of solving Mathematical problems, I cannot be sure that three plus three is six, because there might be an evil deceiving me into thinking I am right all the time.
But most importantly I can’t be sure if I am awake or dreaming as I am doing all of this because even in my sleep I still think three plus three is six. Descartes conclusion for this is even if we doubt everything in front of us, we cannot doubt the thing that lets us doubt everything around us, which is the mind. Because we think we exist, we do exist, also because we think we are walking, reading, eating, we do walk, read, and eat. This brings us back to, “I think, therefore, I am”. Descartes also believes that the mind and body are two different things. According to Descartes, “I have a clear and distinct idea of myself as something that thinks and isn’t extended, and one of a body as something that is extended and does not think” (Blunden).
In that case for Descartes, the self is the mind which is the nonphysical, immaterial part that lets us think. Desecrates also believes that the mind and body are not related. For example, if I was in a car accident and lost most of my body parts including, my legs, arms, even my eyes, that doesn’t mean I will lose my ability to think, that just means I lost somethings from the physical part.
But even if the mind and body are not related, they are connected in some way. Because the mind needs to be reflected through the body to accomplish an activity. For instance, if I want to turn on my bedroom light, I am going to have to walk to the light switch and turn it on using my hands because it’s impossible to turn it on just by thinking about doing it. At last, the mind and brain are not the same things for Descartes. He believes that the mind is far more complicated to be just the brain.
On the other hand, David Hume has a different opinion about the philosophy of self and human nature. According to Hume, “self or person is not any one impression, but that to which our several impressions and ideas are supposed to have a reference” (Hume). Hume believes that the person we were ten years ago is not the same person we are right now. The chain of actions we accomplish through time makes us a different person from when we were born. This continuous chain will go on by creating a different personality within ourselves, which will leave the old us behind and create a newly structured personality.
For instance, a person who was a bully in elementary school that grows up to become a kind and gentle person doesn’t necessarily mean is still a bully inside. Because that child has grown and changed personally and has adopted a new behavior. For Hume, the self cannot be based on our memories. This is because he believes that memories are not consistent enough which fails us to understand the true meaning of the self. In that case, Hume believes that the self is rather fictional, that cannot be proven.
Based upon the description above, both Descartes and Hume have tried to explain their point of view on the topic of philosophy of self. Each theory comes with its own strength and weakness. Descartes view of the self truly pushes us to look deep into what we always think is right. That is if really the physical world around us is truly there or not. It even pushes us to look deep into our physical body and ask the question whether it truly exists or not.
But the strength of this theory is the mind, as Descartes describes it the true self. Within our mind, we can think, and because we think, we are able to say we exist. This turns our attention away from the physical body we previously thought is the true self and lets us focus on the one thing that drives all our emotions and activates, our ability to think. I think I’m awake and taking shower and brushing my teeth in the morning, therefore I am doing those actives.
But the problem with Descartes theory is its inability to prove that the mind really is the self. The most important question to ask here is what if the same evil that deceives us to think three plus three is six, is the same evil that deceives us into thinking there is a non-physical thing called mind, and within it operates a complex structure of thoughts. What if the self is simply a relationship between the body and the brain that accomplishes an activity through sense perception? On the other hand, Humes belief that the self- does not exist, and our thoughts and beliefs change over time, gives a different understanding of the theory of the self. It might be hard for one to believe that the person they were years ago is different in a lot of ways than the person they are now. That is why it is usually hard for us to recognize a friend we haven’t talked to in a long time.
That is also the reason why we don’t usually end up being our best friends’ brides’ maids as we promised in elementary school. Because as we grow up our interests will change and will end up with different sets of personality. With that under consideration, if we really change over time and become a new us, how do we still love our parents and the people close to us? Is our memory what keeps us moving through time? Or are there specific memories that can never be changed or replaced? And if Hume answers this, does that mean the self is not fictional? I believe that Descartes theory is more relevant because I think I am a thinking thing that is always thinking about something. I can neither rely on my memories, as they can deceive me nor can I believe that the self- does not exist. But because I constantly think I believe that the mind is the true self.
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