Self-identity, as stated by Theodore Sider is, ‘[W]hat makes persons numerically same over time…” (Sider). What makes up who is one is at any given moment? Is the defining point of the first memory one remembers that shapes who one has become in the present? Is one the same person one was last week? To answer that question, probably not. John Locke explains in his Memory Theory, ‘[W]e go to sleep every day, but when we wake up, our conscious selves remember who we were the day before”(Crashcourse).
Self-identity is made up of one’s individual values, inclinations, and temperament. Imagine dating someone for a month now and are still getting to know each other. Now, one’s at the point of the relationship where one asks the question: ‘What is it that you like about me the most?”. Someone would not respond, ‘I just really love your long legs.” One is expecting a different answer; desiring to hear about their character and about what makes them who one is as a person. However, what is it that makes the person acquire those characteristics? What makes the person act the way one is? Many philosophers and scientists have disputed throughout history over to explain the idea of self and of self-identity. Different theories have been proposed, such as that one has the same body but has switched brains with someone that self would still be the same, the Body Theory. Some believe the brain works in mysterious ways, having its own magic and having thoughts of its own. Countless philosophers have made theories such as this one, but the prominent theory discussed in this paper is John Locke’s premise of the Memory Theory.
John Locke proposes the idea that one’s memory dictates the makeup of the self by saying, ‘[One’s] personal identity extends only so far as [one’s] own consciousness.” Combining consciousness, which Locke refers to in the same way as he refers to the idea of memory, is where he gets The Memory Theory (Piccirillo).
What makes up a person and their consciousness is the past experience that person in one’s lifetime. The earliest memory a person has had plays an immense role in who that person is at any given moment. Locke stated in his work An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, ‘[A]s far as consciousness can be extended [back] to any past action or thought, so far reaches the identity of that person; it is the same self now as it was then; and it is by the same self with this present one that now reflects on it, that that action was done” (Locke). Who one is in any given moment is the person comprised of every thought and action that comprised us in the past.
Now we go to the discussion of the of a chain of memories, whenever memory ?A’ happens one remembers ?X’ because that is the experience that happened at that moment. Then whenever memory ?B’ happens one experiences ?Y’ and still remember experience ?X’. Then memory ?C’ happens and one experiences ?Z’ but one can only remember what happened during experience ?Y’ now. One no longer really remembers anything from experience ?X’. The chain of memories is a vital part of how Locke is trying to explain his thesis. One can only be oneself based upon one’s experiences. As stated before, once the experience from the past is forgotten and what one’s characteristics were, one is forgotten.
On the other hand, there are many other philosophers that do not quite agree with what Locke has to say like Thomas Reid. Reid believes that what was experienced in the past such as pain cannot define who one is today. As he states, ‘The pain I feel today is not the same
individual pain that I felt yesterday…” (Reid, 140). Being that if a shark bit one, one felt a lot of pain at that moment on that day. Soon after got surgery and their wombs were healed.
Although, one may be a scar and one remember exactly that day like it was yesterday. One will absolutely not feel that same pain one felt that day at that time. Reid disagrees with Locke with how experiences make someone who is. Yes, one may have a big scar and no longer have that part of their body like one had that day; but how is that certain experience going to completely shape the person one is today. Another example could be one went to the movies yesterday and watched a new movie that just came out and brought the popcorn from the movies home. One may not remember going to the movies the night before, but the popcorn is sitting on the counter from last night so it does not change the fact that one went to the movies the night before just because one does not remember. Reid also uses the example of the Brave Officer that was flogged at school and had taken the enemies flag, he then later becomes a general. The Brave Officer is the same person that was before, but what if the Brave Officer does not recall being flogged at school. As Reid later states disagreeing with Locke, ‘If the general cannot remember being beaten at school, he cannot be identical with the boy who was beaten. Thus, the Memory Theory has committed to mutually incompatible theses: that the General is identical with the boy and that he is not.” (Reid).
Another philosopher like David Hume also disagrees with Locke. He believes that identity is basically an allusion. Since one uses its senses the most as one grows one’s senses are chaining, therefore one is always changing and never the same. It also said that if one murdered someone in December 2016 and it is now 2018 and ones are barely able to solve the case and then one is accused of murder. One must present one’s self in court and all of the evidence is against one and it shows that one committed that murder. As Hume states in his book of A Treatise of Human Nature, ‘For how few of our past actions are there, of which we have any memory? Who can tell me, for instance, what were his thoughts and actions on the 1st of January 1715, the 11th of March 1719, and the 3rd of August 1733? Or will he affirm, because he has entirely forgotten the incidents of these days, that the present self is not the same person with the self of that time; and by that means overturn all the most established notions of personal identity? In this view, therefore, memory does not so much produce as discover personal identity, by showing us the relation of cause and effect among our different perceptions.” supporting the evidence of the argument that one should not get charged of murder since once is a completely different person now (Hume).
Derek Parfit also agrees with what Hume has to say but he believes that Hume left out a big part of this argument. Sure one may not be the same person whenever they started reading this essay to this point, but since every experience changes one, one will always have that part of them that will be them because they survive. This is because one is psychologically connected. He also argues that the person one was whenever they were born is completely different of the person on is today because one’s physical body changes over time also their preferences.
Furthermore, one also has Ted Sider’s views and how he agrees with Locke. At one point one was 10 years old and one can remember one or two things from that time. One may remember how much they enjoyed playing with barbies or skateboards. Just because that 10 years old one had different beliefs, different friends, and different goals and aspirations than one does. Moreover, one still feels as if one is still the same person as that ten-year-old kid. One may think how can one be the same self as one was when they were 10. To answer that it, one has the same numerical and sameness. As Sider states to support this argument, ‘You are numerically the same person you were a baby, although you are qualitatively very different.” (Sider).
More questions can be asked from all of this like if memory really shapes who one is today, what happens when one starts losing their memory? Is one no longer the same person one was although one has the same body. What if one swears they remember something happening, but all in actuality it happened in one’s dream or it never really happened. Then it is a false memory. It is also impossible for one to actually remember when one was born. So one really did not start developing who one is until they recall their earliest memory.
In conclusion, itself is the person that one is today based upon the memories and experiences based from the past. Although, a lot of questions are still left with questioning it makes more sense to think that one is the person they are today based upon memories and experiences. Just because one is a different person from December 2016 to December 2018 in committing the murder, one should still get charged for what one did. One STILL did it, so based upon’s one’s actions things should be done. Also, just because one wakes up one night and supposedly they are not the person they were the night before, one is different it does not change the fact one has a job, spouse, children, and responsibilities. Based upon experiences and memories one remembers these important things. The Memory Theory by John Locke is the one that makes more sense than to just say one is different because their body is old now.
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