Is there an enduring self? John Locke believed, the enduring self is defined by a person’s memory. With memory there is an enduring self, and without it there is no self at all. I believe there is an enduring self, but it is a little more complicated than that. Even if a person encounters a dramatic change to his/her life, they are still the same self, the same person. I believe memory is not the only factor that defines the self.
Many things form this enduring self, and these things work together to form an identity, to form who you are now. These things are your memories, your experiences and your personality. You may change and grow over time as you are exposed to new experiences, but under it all you are still …. you. But is a person the same after 20 years? 30 years? Yes and no. He/she is the same PLUS the experiences and knowledge of the additional passage of time….. as we percieve it. More on “time” in a bit.
The philosopher Rene Descartes argues that the, “soul makes a person remain the same person as time passes,” arguing that it is the continuity of his thinking soul that makes him the same person, without which one would cease to exist. However, others question Descartes’ theory because they point out to the obvious fact that we can know that a person is the same person they were before without having to see or feel his/her soul! Others who have criticized the certain fallacies of Descartes’theory such as the Philosopher John Locke.
Lock was of the opinion that it is the memory that is the source of the enduring self. However, Locke’s theory also faces a fallacy of its own and as the Scottish Philosopher Thomas Reid correctly pointed out that based on Locke’s theory, “if one can remember at 20 that they were 10 and remember at 30 they were 20, then at 30 one cannot be the same person at 10 since they don’t remember it. ” I think that we all have an innate core that is steadfast, based on our genetics — our own personality, our own talents, our own shortcomings.
However, our environment has a huge influence on how we develop (and suppress) ourselves. I am, essentially, the same person I’ve always been (and my memories go back to age two ). Hopefully I’ve honed the good points and dulled the bad points in the last few decades, but really … at my core … I’m the same. I just don’t think people, at their very core, change that dramatically. Someone who commits a heinous crime (intentionally, not accidentally) always has that innate potential to do it again, IMHO. At any age.
Another way of looking at it is to think about cooking. Think of yourself as a base or main ingredient. The more ingriendients you add will affect the taste, consistency, color and even taste, but no matter how many other ingredients you add, the main ingredient is still …. you. Time for more on time. With this being said, there is something else I’ve been curious about. It could argued that our common-sense notion of endurance through time is incorrect. That this mistaken self-conception lead us to experience the passage of time. If so, this would be illusory no?
And if this enduring ‘me’ is an illusion then so is the passage of time. In other words, if the enduring ‘me’ is an illusion, then so is the passage of time. Ceasing to think of myself as an enduring subject should result in my ceasing to experience the passage of time no? Coming to think of myself as permanent should result in my coming to experience different temporal parts of myself at different moments, but no “enduring self” past which those moments can flow. Again, Descartes believed that the self was a continuing entity, the same throughout life.
Descartes stated, “I think, therefore I am,” indicating that reason was the source of all knowledge and that the application of reason alone demonstrated that the enduring self was a real entity. Doesn’t then, this concept become bound with issues of perception? Descartes placed the source of all perceptions in reason, while others saw all knowledge as perceptual, perceived only through the senses, and therefore not trustworthy because the senses can be wrong. Descartes believed in the enduring self because he could reason that the self he knew endured in the same form at all times. Maybe this is a discussion best left for journal 9.