Personal Identity

“‘Twill be incumbent on those, who affirm that memory produces entirely our personal identity, to give a reason why we can this extend our identity beyond our memory.” (pg 328, Hume)

Whilst Descartes presumes the world to be a false reality in which only the essence of your soul can exist for sure, Hume picks his colleague’s theory apart with the “false memory” argument. Everything you know about your self is nothing more than a projection of your perceptions and memories warped by whatever you were feeling. The quote above is making a jab at anyone who considers their “self” to be made up of past experiences and ideals for the future – I feel like it’s really driving his idea that the only you that can exist is the you of the present, the version of yourself currently entertaining this idea as you’re still reeling from the existential crisis Descartes’ threw at you.

Hume is very insistent on this idea of the present self being the only true self. Memory cannot be relied on because these memories can be altered by time, someone else’s recollection of the same memory and the feelings you experienced at the time. A gentle breakup can be warped into a disaster if you felt devastated about it, and the recollection you give to a friend can be as far off from the truth as Neptune from the sun. Or for a personal example, my brother remembers a gash on his leg from childhood as him running into a mirror and shattering it – I remember the same thing as me dropping a heavy mirror near him while he was taking a nap on the living room floor. The distortion of his memory comes from our family telling him how rambunctious and clumsy he was when he was younger. My brother is a cautious and wary young man now, which represents a separation of his past self and his current self which falls in line with Hume’s theory. The memory that one relies on to create this idea of self isn’t reliable because it can change, and one inconsistency can be the difference between an injury from yourself or from someone else.

I agree with Hume that memory isn’t as reliable as one would wish it be, because it changes with time. But so does the person that the memory belongs to, and the idea of self changes just as much. The idea of self is just as unreliable in that sense because it also changes as time goes on. I think that is the major flaw in this philosopher’s argument and what makes me disagree with him. The person I was in the past is very different from the person I am now, and the person I am now will be different from the person I am in the future – that doesn’t make the perception of my “self” to be wrong, it just makes it flux. And isn’t that flux of self what gives self discovery meaning?

Word Count: 500

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