DVD 4, “Is There an Enduring Self?” explores the philosophy of self, specifically in regard to the existence of an eternal and inherent sense of ‘self’.
The DVD begins by establishing the instinctive, perhaps most commonly held assertion, by which there exists an intrinsic and constant element that distinguishes an individual. Yet, when attempting to defend such a position philosophically, difficulties arise: it is challenging to find introspectively this ‘self,’ and it seems paradoxical for one to possess an enduring self whilst simultaneously being in a constant state of change.
Philosophers both historical and contemporary have struggled with the idea of an eternal self. Greek philosopher Socrates held that each day a “new man” is born within an individual and “the old man ceases to exist,” both physically and spiritually; thereby, as components are constantly growing and disappearing within one, an enduring self cannot exist.
Contemporarily, the problem of self has manifested into discussions concerning the legal system? Klaus Barbie, once an SS-Hauptsturmführer and Gestapo member during World War II, was convicted of war crimes forty years after their occurrence; his conviction begs the question “Should an enduring self be non-existent, can one justly be penalized for his past actions?” This issue can be raised in less radical situations as well: if two individuals are to pledge perpetual love to one another, is this promise—and promissory obligations in general—to be held by the individuals after the initial suggestion even if, surely, each individual has developed considerably afterwards?
René Descartes claimed the mind to be a mental substance in and of itself and, thereby, thinking is inseparable from the self—maintaining “Cogito ergo sum,” or “I think, therefore I am.” Hence, by this philosophy, one’s self remains constant as there is continuity in our mind or soul.
Still, English philosopher John Locke contested the Cartesian argument, which relies upon the assumption that the identity of a person as inextricably linked to the identity of an immaterial substance. Rather, the lynchpin...