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Author Topic: Personal Identity and the Hereafter  (Read 2005 times) Average Rating: 0
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EkhristosAnesti
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« on: March 28, 2006, 08:36:46 AM »

As an excercise in my philosophy class we were asked to construct a philosophical dialogue between two people on the issue of personal identity and the after life, based on certain prescribed reading material. I wanted to share my condensed version of an extended form of dialogue, here, in order to elicit some philosophically sound Orthodox criticisms and positions on the points my two fictional characters argue. Pat is on her deathbed; she believes that personal identity is intrinsically related to bodily identity, whilst Robert is attempting to comfort her with the idea that her personal identity (the definition of which he changes in the course of the argument) may possibly survive her bodily death:

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Rob: Well, looks like you’re going to die anytime soon now.

Pat:  Don’t you have anything a little more comforting to say?

Rob: How can I hope to comfort you with the prospect of life after death when I know you’ll regard it as having no probability whatsoever?

Pat: Hope provides comfort, and hope does not always require probability. But we must at least believe that what we hope for is at least possible. Here, I mean possible only in the weakest sense — of being conceivable, given the unavoidable facts that this body will die and rot away soon enough. Try and prove to me the mere possibility that I will survive my death, which, if accomplished, shall provide me with the comfort of anticipation. To do this, however, you will have to prove the conceivable possibility, that sometime in the future after my death, there will be a person who will experience, and at the very least think and remember, and that this person will be me i.e. I will be related to this person in such a way that it’s correct for me to anticipate her experiences as my own future experiences. The only relationship thus, between me now, and this future person, must be one of identity. We must be identical, however not in the way that identical twins are identical (for here the term identical denotes ‘exact similarity’), but rather identical in a sense that that identity constitutes the condition of memory and correct anticipation.

Rob: Well, consider the proposition that what is fundamentally you, is not your body, but rather your soul/self/mind. Recall Descartes’ distinction between the immaterial soul and the body in which the soul is lodged. Though the two are intimately related, they are not identical; they are distinct. What concerns your survival is the continued existence of your immaterial soul subsequent to the death of your body, and all throughout its process of rotting.

Pat: If my fundamental personal identity is related to my immaterial soul, which you can neither see, hear, touch etc. then how do you know that the person you are speaking to now, is the same person you played tennis with last week?

Rob: Well, I see the same body before me, and I know full well that the same soul is connected with the body that was connected with it before me; same body, same self. However, I must make the qualification that I do not extend this principle, which I find reliable here on earth (by virtue of the fact it’s a well-confirmed reality rather than it being something I deduce a priori), to the Afterlife. The principle simply works in the circumstances here on earth; it doesn’t make it inconceivable that it won’t apply in vastly altered circumstances as that which would exist in the hereafter.

Pat: Until you provide a valid and reasonable foundation for this “same body, same self” principle, you are nonetheless begging the question. How is it that you can judge the soul that was in my body last week during tennis, to be the same as that which is in my body now as we speak, if it is immaterial; you simply have no way of testing your hypothesis that sameness of body, in these earthly circumstances, means sameness of personal identity.
Rob: Well, we can establish an intermediary link between the observable physical body and the non-observable soul, through observable psychological characteristics e.g. person’s beliefs, attitudes, memories, prejudices etc.

Pat: You’ve simply evaded the circular “same body, same self” argument, for a nonetheless circular “same psychology, same self” argument. How do you know for example, that my soul (which you identify with my self), is not consistently being replaced with another soul which simply possesses a similar psychology?

Rob: Well, I can observe the correlation in my own personal case, and then generalise with respect to the every other person. Since there is nothing particularly special about my case, then I assume the arrangement that observe introspectively is universally applied, until given reason to believe otherwise.

Pat: I will grant you the argument, that introspectively you can discern the fact that you have a single personal identity that has consistently been associated with your body since you were born; the personal identity who begins a particular thought in you, is the same person that completes that thought, and the person who acts upon that thought is the same person who initiated and completed that thought. The question is, upon what basis do you identify that single personal identity with a single immaterial soul? How do you know for example, that there is not a constant flux of souls within my body all possessing similar psychological states? If the soul is immaterial, then judgments made concerning it are mysterious, and if our immaterial and mysterious soul be identified with our personal identity, than our personal identity must be mysterious too. However, our personal identity is evidently not mysterious; rather, it is the most secure knowledge we have, the foundation of all reason and action.

Rob: Well, your position that our person is to be identified with our live bodies does not fare any better, I must say. One obvious example that evidences this, is the fact that when a person starts to wake up from their sleep, such that their conscious, albeit their eyes are still closed and they are yet able to recognise their own bodies, they are at least able to recognise their own personal identity. One is clearly able to make personal judgments, based on their beliefs, experiences etc. without having to make any judgments whatsoever regarding their body.

Pat: Well, fair enough, but where exactly does this leave your ‘sameness of the immaterial soul’ theory?

Rob: I admit that I will have to redefine my conception of the soul in order to coherently defend its direct and identical correlation to the person. Instead of the soul being some sort of an underlying immaterial substance, I would like you to think of it in terms of “person-stages” i.e. a stretch of conscious.

I thus posit the following conceivable possibility regarding the survival of your personal identity. Consider X to be the person you are now and Y to be a being in heaven. As long as Y is in a state of consciousness that is appropriately related to X, then X and Y are the same personal identity. The relationship is thus one of memory.

Pat: I don’t think memory suffices in establishing an appropriate relationship in terms of personal identity, for it is possible for example that Y only apparently remembers the experiences of X, as opposed to actually remembering the experiences of X. This distinction can be expressed via the following example: assume A and B to be person here on earth. B is hypnotised to think that he is A, and that he has experienced and thought all that A has experienced. B thus apparently remembers the experiences of A, whereas A who actually experienced those experiences, thus actually remembers such experiences.

Rob: I admit that this distinction must be made. I don’t see what problem it poses though; you would simply be the one who actually remembers.

Pat: So the real rememberer (i.e. me) is the one who really remembers? Don’t you think that’s begging the question?

Rob: If we base the distinction between the real rememberer (i.e. you) and the apparent rememberer (i.e. the imposter) according to the fact that the memories of the former were caused the correct way i.e. by actual earlier experiences that are the subject of the memories in question, whereas the memories of the latter were imposed, then we have not appealed to personal identity to draw a conclusion on personal identity, and thus we have not begged the question.

Pat: There is still a problem here. In ordinary memory, the causal chain from remembered event to memory of it never leads us outside the confines of a single body. Indeed, the normal process of which you speak surely involves storage of information somehow in the brain. How can the states of my brain when I die, influence in the appropriate way the apparent memories of the heavenly person you take me to be?

Rob: Well, in the case of the heavenly being who is in fact you, God would have created her with the very exact brain states that you had at the moment of your death.

Pat: Well if that was so, then God could also create another person with those exact same brain states i.e. designed exactly after me. However, if both of these persons are me, then they must hence be eachother, which is a blatant contradiction. Thus, either God is limited to creating only one of me, or your definition of personal identity is flawed since in creating one with the exact same brain-states as I, God is merely creating an exact replica of me i.e. another person who is exactly similar to me. Since I doubt you would want to put limitations on God, then we can assume the latter, and hence your analysis of memory is incorrect or it is simply not sufficient for personal identity.

Rob: Wait a second, do you remember your initial request? You wanted me to prove the mere possibility of survival; isn’t acknowledging the possibility that God will only create one of you, sufficient in fulfilling this request?

Pat: So you implicitly admit that memory isn’t sufficient for personal identity, and that there is in fact another vitally relevant factor involved, namely, the lack of competition. The identity of this heavenly being is now something that is dependent on something wholly extrinsic to it, for it is not only on the state of that persons mind in relation to the state of mind of that persons “earthly counterpart”, but also the existence or non-existence of other people. This seems rather ad hoc.

Rob: True it is that there is something ad hoc about it, but maybe that’s simply how the concept operates; the concept nonetheless remains coherent until you can elicit an inherent contradiction.

Pat: An infinite pile of absurdities, which can easily be generated from your account, has the same effect as a contradiction. As one example, if God can create such a heavenly duplicate of me, then surely He can create one in Melbourne City, here on earth. There is nothing in your theory to favour the person physically presented before you now, as the real me; in fact, your theory implies that if God were to create such a person, that the person before you now would in effect cease to be me; I would have no right to my name, my car keys, my bank account etc. This is evidently nonsense; I would certainly not cease to be me. Therefore in this, and an infinite number of other possible circumstances, your theory gives the wrong answer, and thus it is wrong.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Forgive any typos.
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« Reply #1 on: March 29, 2006, 07:33:56 AM »

Anyone?
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« Reply #2 on: March 30, 2006, 06:17:47 AM »

.
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« Reply #3 on: March 30, 2006, 04:58:09 PM »

You gota give people time to digest man.  Plus some of us suck at philosophy... Grin

Can you maybe be more specific as to what you are looking for.  Is it just an Orthodox philosophical point of view on the dialogue, pertaining to life after death??

If its not please help me understand.  Thanks!  
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« Reply #4 on: March 30, 2006, 07:47:40 PM »

Sorry if i'm being pushy, it's just that we're dealing with new topics every week; topics that i've never seen or heard discussed within an Orthodox framework. Although I feel quite capable of just arguing along the lines of whatever it is that makes most sense to me, i'd like to at least know in the back of my mind, how compatible the arguments posited and discussed are with the Orthodox perspective of the subjects in question.

Take for example Rob's first line of argument in the dialogue I typed up in the first post, where he equates one's personal identity with their immaterial soul. It just hit me yesterday actually, that such an argument has grave implications to Orthodox Christology, for if the human soul is to be identified with one's personal identity, then Christ must have possessed a human person by virtue of his possession of a human soul. So obviously, an Orthodox Christian would not be able to employ this argument simply for the sake of philosophically proving the possibility of a nonetheless Orthodox principle i.e. the continued surivival of one's personal identity after their bodily death.

In essence, all I am looking for, is philosophically sound arguments in favour of, against, or in modification of the arguments made in the dialogue of the OP, that are compatible with Orthodox anthropology, Christology, eschatology etc.

 
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« Reply #5 on: March 31, 2006, 10:00:00 AM »

I'm not really equiped for apologetics my friend.  I can give you personal opinion couched with orthodox understanding.  But I think you're looking for more firepower than that.  

Sorry that i'm no help.... Smiley
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« Reply #6 on: April 01, 2006, 02:45:54 AM »

Quote
I can give you personal opinion couched with orthodox understanding.

Go for it man. Any food for thought would be appreciated.
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« Reply #7 on: April 01, 2006, 02:06:59 PM »



Take for example Rob's first line of argument in the dialogue I typed up in the first post, where he equates one's personal identity with their immaterial soul. It just hit me yesterday actually, that such an argument has grave implications to Orthodox Christology, for if the human soul is to be identified with one's personal identity, then Christ must have possessed a human person by virtue of his possession of a human soul. So obviously, an Orthodox Christian would not be able to employ this argument simply for the sake of philosophically proving the possibility of a nonetheless Orthodox principle i.e. the continued surivival of one's personal identity after their bodily death.
 

Well I would say that the soul and personal identity ARE two different things.  Yet they are intrinsically united in the actual PERSON.  

Example:  To progres in your life you can do any number of psychological steps, grow and form relationships, ascend new heights of understanding yourself as a PERSON.  "who am I" type stuff.

To progress your SPIRIT (soul) you can also do any number of steps.  Fasting, prayer, ascetics, pilgrimages.  

Now if these spiritual steps change you as a person, that's great!  But they don't necessarily have to, unless your conscious actually works... Grin

Same thing goes for your person.  If you grow personally that doesn't necessarily mean that your spirit (soul) is growing as well.  

However, you can't say that they are TOTALLY unconnected.  Human beings arn't like that.  If a spiritual thing happens to you (i.e. miracle) then that type of action HAS to change you as a person.  If not for the good, then for the bad.  Same thing with personal life.  If a personal thing happens to you (like a car accident) then your soul is changed too (you get closer or further from spiritual life by relying on God, etc.)  
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« Reply #8 on: April 01, 2006, 02:10:05 PM »

Maybe another example is that "God knows us by our names"  

No matter what we do in life, whether we go from a prep-school to being a punk-rocker, we still have the same name.  We're still the same essential person.  

However when we CHANGE our names, then we are distancing ourselves from ourselves.  We are making a fundamental change to WHO WE ARE.  (i.e. many lesbians change their names to more masculine forms...not trying to be polemical, this is the best example I could think of since one of my friends just recently did this).  

You are fundamentally seperating yourself from who you are by changing your name.  Even as kids, we have different nick-names for different periods of our lives, as we progress and mature.  Our names symbolize who we are, when, etc.  Yet, God knows us by our names.  No matter how much we change, we are still fundamentally the same.  

Is this any good?  
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« Reply #9 on: April 02, 2006, 09:47:06 AM »

Quote
Well I would say that the soul and personal identity ARE two different things.  Yet they are intrinsically united in the actual PERSON.  


I’m a bit confused; are you regarding the terms “personal identity” and “person” to refer to two different things (since you state the former is united with the soul in the latter)? I’ve been using the terms synonymously. If I have understood you correctly, can you please explain to me what the essential difference between one’s person and personal identity is?

Quote
Example:  To progres in your life you can do any number of psychological steps, grow and form relationships, ascend new heights of understanding yourself as a PERSON.  "who am I" type stuff.

To progress your SPIRIT (soul) you can also do any number of steps.  Fasting, prayer, ascetics, pilgrimages.  

However, you can't say that they are TOTALLY unconnected.  Human beings arn't like that.  If a spiritual thing happens to you (i.e. miracle) then that type of action HAS to change you as a person.  If not for the good, then for the bad.  Same thing with personal life.  If a personal thing happens to you (like a car accident) then your soul is changed too (you get closer or further from spiritual life by relying on God, etc.)  


That sounds like a good distinction. So we can at least conclude that the nature of one’s person and the nature of one’s soul, are contingent upon distinct sets of factors (e.g. the nature of one’s person is contingent upon external environment factors, such as social context etc.), yet because one’s person and soul are intrinsically related, the factors relevant to one ultimately influence the nature of the other (e.g. if the social context involves lots of partying and drinking etc. this will ultimately have a detrimental affect on one’s soul).

But the essential problem that Pat (our dying atheist friend in the dialogue of the OP) has, is not solved; she wants re-assurance of the possibility that her person will survive, and to accomplish that we must first decide on a definition of what a person is. What do you think of Rob’s alternative suggestion? That instead of equating one’s person with their soul, that we understand one’s person as a stretch of consciousness - consciousness of experiences both past (i.e. memories) and present.

Quote
However when we CHANGE our names, then we are distancing ourselves from ourselves.  We are making a fundamental change to WHO WE ARE.

I’d say that’s a pretty wild claim there! I would consider a name to simply be an external reference to our person, but changing that external reference doesn’t change who we are anymore than painting our skin a different colour does. To use your example of the Lesbian, I think it is the homosexual disposition that is related to a Lesbian’s personal identity, however that orientation is not influenced by what her name is. Whether her name is Natalie or Nathan, she is still a Lesbian with Lesbian desires and inclinations; she may want to change her name to better reflect her personal identity, but her personal identity is not contingent upon what her name is.

We’d have to agree on a reasonable Orthodox definition of the human person before proceeding any further.
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« Reply #10 on: April 02, 2006, 10:22:44 AM »

Quote
would consider a name to simply be an external reference to our person,

Ahh, but what does the Bible say? Every name change mentioned in the Bible was made at a point in which someone had their life changed significantly. The name change happened when lowly and tricky Jakub was becoming revered Israel; the name change happened when lowly and dense Peter was really starting to learn to be the leader of the twelve Apostles and let the Holy Spirit speak through him. Name changes are never peripheral or merely external (like a color of paint on our skin).
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« Reply #11 on: April 02, 2006, 10:53:40 AM »

Quote
Name changes are never peripheral or merely external (like a color of paint on our skin).

I maintain that they are. The examples you brought up are analogous to the example serb1389 brought up regarding the lesbian (which I addressed), since they both refer to an external change undergone for the purpose of reflecting one’s personal identity. One can also change the colour of their skin for this purpose; I seem to recall, for example, a lady who got her skin surgically leopard-ised, in order to reflect her personal fascination with cats. But then again, one can change their name for reasons irrelevant to their true personal identity (e.g. for matters of convenience or even crime), just as they can change the colour of their skin for reasons irrelevant to their true personal identity (e.g. just to be weird — like MJ).

Quote
Every name change mentioned in the Bible was made at a point in which someone had their life changed significantly. The name change happened when lowly and tricky Jakub was becoming revered Israel; the name change happened when lowly and dense Peter was really starting to learn to be the leader of the twelve Apostles and let the Holy Spirit speak through him.

Peter’s personal identity was not contingent upon his name being changed (which is the only and essential point that I was making in my response to serb1389); his name was simply changed to better reflect the person he had progressed to be at that particular point in time. Had Simon Bar-Jonah remained Simon Bar-Jonah, there would have been no difference with respect to the personal identity trait that so instigated his name change i.e. his rock solid faith in Christ as Son of the Living God. In fact, the name change occurred after he revealed this personal identity trait that called for the name change in the first place, which goes to further prove the very simple point i'm making here i.e. that one's name may reflect their personal identity, but it is not intrinsically related to their personal identity so as to influence that very personal identity.
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« Reply #12 on: April 02, 2006, 09:46:33 PM »

Just so you know I wasn't too happy with the name-change example either.  But I thought that it was a good point to bring up.  My understanding would be closer to what Asterikos said.  I believe that there IS a fundamental change when a person changes their name.  I can't really explain it well...so i'm just going to leave it there.  


I’m a bit confused; are you regarding the terms “personal identity” and “person” to refer to two different things (since you state the former is united with the soul in the latter)? I’ve been using the terms synonymously. If I have understood you correctly, can you please explain to me what the essential difference between one’s person and personal identity is?


Here is how I look at this question:

1) just look at the terms.  Personal identity means to me YOUR personal understanding of who YOU are.  Hence personal understanding.  

Person is who you fundamentally are in your being.  This means body, mind and soul.  So a more wholistic approach at defining "person" than what "personal identity" would mean.  

This doesn't necessarily HAVE to be true, just how I have chosen to look at it.

2)  Personal identity can also mean something similar to classification.  You can IDENTIFY with something in your personality.  Like brusqueness, joviality, calmness, logical, basically adjectives.

Your Person, however, is not characterizations.  Even if they WERE characterizatios they would involve what I would refer to (again) as a wholistic outlook.  Body, mind and soul.  If I were to identify with something, it would be one thing.  

If I were a person, then I would be much more than one thing.  


That sounds like a good distinction. So we can at least conclude that the nature of one’s person and the nature of one’s soul, are contingent upon distinct sets of factors (e.g. the nature of one’s person is contingent upon external environment factors, such as social context etc.), yet because one’s person and soul are intrinsically related, the factors relevant to one ultimately influence the nature of the other (e.g. if the social context involves lots of partying and drinking etc. this will ultimately have a detrimental affect on one’s soul).

But the essential problem that Pat (our dying atheist friend in the dialogue of the OP) has, is not solved; she wants re-assurance of the possibility that her person will survive, and to accomplish that we must first decide on a definition of what a person is. What do you think of Rob’s alternative suggestion? That instead of equating one’s person with their soul, that we understand one’s person as a stretch of consciousness - consciousness of experiences both past (i.e. memories) and present.

We’d have to agree on a reasonable Orthodox definition of the human person before proceeding any further.


1) If we agree on the definition of the person as i have laid out.  In a wholistic manner, body, mind and soul....then we can say that Pat has a better hope for the future (whether with God or on earth).  

2)  In my opinion her person WILL survive, because her person is an intrinsic part of her soul, which is the part that will be struggling to get to heaven after her death.  yet her body was part of the struggle here on EARTH, which is why its a wholistic approach.  We struggle both with our souls and with our bodies.  Hence the idea that the person is approaching God.  Not just one distinct aspect (i.e. the soul).

3. The soul contains all of the parts of the person and personality.  I was going to mention this earlier but I couldn't remember the details.  I still can't but i'll try to present it.  

The soul, according to many fathers, such as St. Macarios, St. Dyonisios, and others that I can't think of right now, had many formulas that explained the soul.  The most common was a tri-part split of the soul.  

Imagine a heart shape, split in three ways.  Two on top and a larger part on the bottomn.  The two top parts would be seen as a left and right part, and the bottomn being the bottomn.  

The bottomn of the heart would be called the "spiritual" part.  

The left part would be called the "logical" part, and the

right part would be called the "irrascible" part, or the part with cravings.  

(everything except for the irascible I had to piece together.  This means that I'm only 100% sure about the irrascible" part.  I "made up" the rest in order to make it easier to understand.)

When I look at the soul in this analytical manner, I begin to see the soul as containing all of the parts of the PERSON.  Their logical, spiritual and even their temptations and sins.  If this doesn't define a person, i'd love to hear another theory.  
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« Reply #13 on: April 03, 2006, 07:52:48 AM »

In my reading of St. Cyril of Alexandria (for our other discussion) I found this:

From "Unity of Christ" translated by John McGuckin (SVS Press).  

" Cyril, however, would refuse to reduce the notion of person to those psychic experiences.  For him, personhood (either in the case of Jesus, or in the case of humans in general) was not a product of material based consciousness but, on the contrary, consciousness was the effect of a divinely created personhood.  Modern psychology finds this perspective a difficult one to assimilate, but Cyril was adamant in rejecting the Aristotelian empiricist view that identity was reduced to brain act.  He approached personhood as a god-given and transcendent mystery, with the full destiny of such an identity lying in another age and another condition: the Kingdom of God" (41)


This is McGuckin's summary.  
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« Reply #14 on: April 03, 2006, 08:29:56 AM »

If we were to adopt St Cyril's view, then I guess we would fail in our ability to grant hope to Pat, since by virtue of personal identity being a "transcendent mystery" it is beyond the scope of philosophical investigation. Accordingly, the only hope for Pat is faith. That's obviously not something I could argue in my final examination though.

Interestingly, Pat above rejects the notion that our person is to be identified with the mysterious soul, upon the basis that one's person is allegedly self-evidently not a mystery, but rather "it is the most secure knowledge we have, the foundation of all reason and action".

I'll get back to your initial response once i've had time to properly consider it.
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"Philosophy is the imitation by a man of what is better, according to what is possible" - St Severus
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