Establishing Personal Identity Essay

1790 words - 7 pages

All through life people strive to become someone with a specific identity; to be classified as a “somebody” rather than a “nobody”. This classification is most noted amongst high school students. Often youth identities are developed through the activities they participate in, the jock, the cheerleader, the nerd, the band geek. Yet, people are not the activities they participated in in high school. People graduate, go to college, work toward a career, have children. Then at the ten year reunion, those same high school jocks, cheerleaders, nerds, and band geeks gather once again to reminisce over the past. These people are no longer the high school activities of the past nor are these people the activities they participate in currently. The personal identities of these people now, at this reunion, are judged by something different. The peers at the reunion do not look the same, but such qualitative identity is not important; a person does not have to look specifically the same to be the same person. Yet, how do peers judge a person’s identity, know James is still the same James and has survived time, besides the name tag he wears? Arguably, the most sufficient response to this question of personal identity is the use of the body criterion.

The problem of personal identity is based around the issue created in the high school reunion scenario. Indentifying a specific person as the same person from the events of the past can sometimes be difficult. Nevertheless, personal identity is important because personal relationships and often legal disputes are built around definite identity. In order to completely identify that a person who existed ten years ago or even yesterday is the same person who exists at this moment, a criterion which demonstrates the elements which can be used in the decision of personal identity needs to be defined. Three criteria which have been suggested and developed for defining personal identity are the soul criterion, the memory/psychological criterion, and the body criterion.

The soul criterion suggests the soul should be the main element which defines personal identity. In the case of the high school reunion, the soul criterion suggests peers use James’ soul to delineate numerical identity and survival through the ten years since high school. The dilemma which the soul criterion then places on the peers is the ability to identify the soul, which is an immaterial entity. Similar to the mind/body problem of dualism, the soul is said to exist in an immaterial world, yet mankind exists in a material world. As a result, an objection arises exposing the difficulty which resides in the interaction of the immaterial soul and the material man. The peers of the high school reunion are unable to interact and perceive James’ immaterial soul and therefore are left without the ability to determine identity. Although the body, memories, and mind of a person may resemble the person of ten years ago, the soul may have been...

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