According to Theodore Sider, self-identity is the concept of maintaining one's identity over time. This can be seen in the defining factors that make up a person at any given moment, such as their earliest memory influencing their current self. However, it is improbable for someone to remain entirely unchanged from who they were just a week ago.
According to John Locke's Memory Theory, our conscious selves retain memories from the previous day when we sleep and wake up (Crashcourse). Self-identity is composed of individual values, inclinations, and temperament. Imagine being in a month-long relationship where you are still getting to know each other. At this point, you might ask the question, "What do you like most about me?" A response solely focused on physical appearance, such as "I admire your long legs," would not be enough. Instead, one would expect to hear about the person's character...
and what sets them apart as an individual. However, this raises the question of what shapes these characteristics and influences our actions. Throughout history, philosophers and scientists have engaged in ongoing debates concerning the explanation of self and self-identity.
Various theories have been proposed regarding personal identity, including the Body Theory, which suggests that switching brains wouldn't change an individual's identity. Another theory focuses on the brain and its ability to generate independent thoughts. This paper, however, examines John Locke's Memory Theory as it argues that personal identity is determined by memory and consciousness. According to Locke, one's sense of self is limited to their own consciousness. The Memory Theory combines both memory and consciousness to shape one's identity based on past experiences.
The earliest memory a person has plays a
crucial role in shaping their identity. According to Locke's An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, the person's identity extends as far back as their consciousness can reach. Therefore, who they are in the present is influenced by the thoughts and actions that constituted them in the past. Let's now delve into the concept of a chain of memories. Whenever memory 'A' occurs, one recalls experience 'X', which was the experience at that specific moment. Similarly, when memory 'B' takes place, one experiences 'Y' while still remembering experience 'X'.
Then comes memory 'C' and one undergoes 'Z', but can only recall what occurred during 'Y'. The recollection of experience 'X' is no longer available. The chain of memories is integral to Locke's explanation of his thesis, as one's identity is shaped by personal experiences. As mentioned earlier, once the past experience and one's qualities are forgotten, so is the individual. Conversely, there are numerous philosophers who dissent from Locke's perspective, such as Thomas Reid.
According to Reid, the pain one has experienced in the past does not determine one's current identity. As he explains, "The pain I feel today is not the same individual pain that I felt yesterday..." (Reid, 140). For example, if someone was bitten by a shark and felt intense pain on a specific day, undergoing surgery and subsequent healing would change their experience.
Despite the fact that one may bear a scar and vividly recall the day it happened, the pain felt at that exact moment will not be present anymore. Reid challenges Locke's viewpoint on how experiences define an individual. It is true that one may have a large scar and no longer
possess the body part that was injured that day, but can that singular experience truly shape the person one has become today? Another instance could be going to see a newly released movie at the theater yesterday and taking home some popcorn from the concession stand.
The fact that one does not remember going to the movies the night before does not change the reality that they did, as evidenced by the presence of popcorn on the counter from last night. Reid also provides an example of a Brave Officer who was flogged at school and later becomes a general. Despite not recalling the incident, the Brave Officer remains the same person. However, this raises the question of whether the Brave Officer can truly be identified with the boy who was beaten at school. Reid disagrees with Locke and argues that if the general cannot remember being beaten at school, he cannot be identical with the boy who was beaten. As a result, the Memory Theory is caught in a contradiction by asserting that the General is both identical and not identical to the boy. (Reid).
Another philosopher, similar to David Hume, challenges Locke's view by asserting that identity is an illusion. According to this philosopher, individuals depend increasingly on their senses as they mature, leading to a constantly evolving self. To illustrate this point, imagine a scenario where someone commits a murder in December 2016 but the case remains unsolved until 2018. When accused of the crime, this person would have to defend themselves in court and all evidence would indicate their guilt.
According to Hume in his book A Treatise of Human Nature, memory plays a
crucial role in understanding personal identity. Despite not remembering specific details of past experiences, Hume argues that the present self can be considered the same as the past self. Memory helps us discover personal identity by revealing cause and effect relationships among our perceptions. This argument supports the idea that one should not be charged with murder based on the belief that they are a completely different person now (Hume).
Similarly, Derek Parfit agrees with Hume but emphasizes that personal identity also involves psychological connectedness. While one may not be the same person from the start of reading this essay to the present moment, every experience changes us and contributes to our sense of self. According to Parfit, even though physical body and preferences change over time, there will always be a part of us that remains consistent because we have survived these transformations.
In addition to Hume and Parfit's views, Ted Sider's perspective aligns with Locke's.
At a specific moment, when I was 10 years old, there are certain memories I can recall. Despite the differences in my beliefs, friends, and aspirations at that time, I remember fondly how much I enjoyed playing with barbies or skateboards. Nevertheless, I still consider myself to be the same individual as that young child of ten. Frequently, I ponder over how it is feasible for me to remain unchanged from my 10-year-old self. The explanation lies in having the same numerical age and an unbroken sense of identity.
According to Sider, "Although you are qualitatively very different, you are numerically the same person you were a baby." This supports the argument that one's identity remains constant despite changes in qualities. Questions
arise from this argument, such as the impact of memory on one's identity and what happens when memory starts to fade. Does losing memory mean one is no longer the same person, even if physically unchanged? Additionally, the concept of false memories arises when one recalls events that either occurred in dreams or never actually happened. It is also impossible for one to remember the moment of their own birth.
In summary, a person's true development begins with their earliest memory. Ultimately, our current selves are shaped by the memories and experiences of our past. Despite lingering questions, it is logical to consider that our identity is formed by these memories and experiences. Even if we undergo drastic changes within a specific time frame, such as committing a murder between December 2016 and December 2018, we should still be held accountable for our actions. The fact remains that we committed the act, thus consequences are necessary. Furthermore, simply waking up one day feeling like a different person does not negate our obligations and responsibilities including work, marriage, children, etc.
According to John Locke's Memory Theory, important things are remembered based on one's experiences and memories. This theory suggests that it is more reasonable to attribute differences in individuals to the aging of their body rather than any other factor.