Who we are and what Makes Us and what Makes who we are

As we journey through life, may of us question who we are and what makes us and what makes who we are. We wonder what defines each of us and what makes us the same individual from one second in time to the next. The notion of self identifies the essence of one’s existence. Identity makes us who we are and distinguishes us from others. No two of us are inherently alike. To define our existence we must examine the concept of mind and body, memory, and perceptions. Rene Descartes and David Hume were two of the greatest philosophers of their time. They contemplated and theorized on the questions; Who am I ? and How do my personal experiences affect my understanding of myself ? The question, who am I, assumes the existence of I. Descartes and Hume proposed their own theory on personal identity after a thorough study of the perceptions of their minds. As it was, their theories were not in agreeable. They offer opposing views regarding the origination of all ideas. Hume’s theory rejects the notion of self. He argued that all ideas are copies of impressions which come from sensation. Descartes, through a very systematic approach, determined that the existence of the cogito, or self, undoubtedly exists. He utilized this notion as a starting point in his philosophy. He argued that in order to obtain knowledge, there must be a rational method for acquiring it and the senses are not a steadfast source.

Hume’s A Treatise of Human Nature is an in depth work on the theory of personal identity. Hume was a philosopher who applied methods of observation to expand on the influential movement of empiricism. Empiricism is a philosophical theory that states that knowledge and truth come from sense-based experiences. It emphasizes that learning is based on observations and perceptions. Hume categorized perceptions into two groups. He labeled them ideas and impressions. By way of sense perceptions or impressions the powerful mind has the uncanny ability to create ideas.

Realistic and clear experiences, that are produced by our sense, are called impressions. Our knowledges the result of sense experiences. this leads one to ask how someone can have an idea of an imaginary thing, such as a mermaid for example. Hume would argue that we have an idea of a woman and a fish from experience. Our creative mind then combines the pieces of knowledge to create an image of a mermaid.Impressions are distinguishable. Perceptions are connected only in our minds.There are three principles as to how separate ideas may be brought together; contiguity, resemblance, and causation or cause and effect. These are the same connections we apply to the assertion that there exists idea of a self or an identity. Hume states that impressions that lead to the concept of self is one that “ must continue invariably the same, thro the whole course of our lives; since self is supposed to exist after that manner.” [2] If an integrated continuous self were comprised by impressions, then a continuous impression routinely would be experienced a life time despite the changes that one encounters along the way. Hume argues against the idea of the self and asserts the self is “nothing but a bundle or collection of different perceptions, which succeed each other with an inconceivable rapidity, and are in a perpetual flux and movement.” [4] Our perceptions change as our view changes, but not as much as our thoughts. Therefore, he asserts that the self is a collection of changing perceptions. He would argue a book is more than a collection of all its intrinsic properties.

out of the three principles that join ideas, resemblance and causation gives us the semblance of an identity. Hume states that resemblance forces a sameness between separate but ensuing perceptions resulting in convincing us that a series of impressions are only one consistent identity. Therefore, memories are not identical to each other. Since the mind can recall images as if unending, it appears that there is an unending mind that is seeming to remember. “Had we no memory, we never should have any notion of causation, nor consequently of that chain of causes and effects, which constitutes our self or person.” [20]

Hume emphasizes the importance of memory in our conceptualization of personal identity. Memory is vital to personal identity.It allows us the impression of a progression of perceptions and the idea of causation. Once memory has done its job, personal identical be expanded to forgotten moments. Memory does not generate or uncover personal identity. Identity relies on the relation of ideas by way of the effortless transition they generate.

Hume tells us that there are different factors that cause us to be less likely to believe that a minute variation in things can totally disrupt its identity. Our perceptions are continually changing . However, we do not perceive drastic change when the changes happen in an effortless transformation. Due to changes, our senses can recognize something as different. However if the changes are minimal in respect to the proportion to the whole, it cannot be detected. So, the alterations will fail to make an object noticeably dissimilar. This lack of perception does not mean the object is in reality the same. Hume explored another likelihood. When changes are great, in respect to the proportion of the whole, it still is not obvious when the changes emerge gradually over time. These changes go unnoticed. However, when the object is observed before and after its transition the changes are obvious. Hume gives the example of an acorn growing into a magnificent oak tree. The tree in no way resembles the acorn, yet we call it the same plant. We assign to them a singled constant identity that it had thirty years or so ago or one minute ago.

Hume’s arguments focus on his empiricist views. He says that it is one impression that gives rise to every real idea. From our impression we conclude that the self is a bundle of different perceptions. The traditional idea of a personal identity is fictitious. Hume is committed to saying that something exists only if it can be perceived by our senses. He states that “ there is properly no simplicity in the idea of self in it at one time, nor identity in different; [4] He believes that if an idea is not real, then the only conclusion we can reach is that it must be a fiction. Lastly, Hume argues that our thoughts resemble and cause one another, with effortless transitions between the assorted types of perceptions.

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