Identity In David Hume’s Definition Of Personal Identity Essay

Many people; especially philosophers find themselves contradicting with the subject matter known as ‘SELF’. What is the actually and truthful definition of the word itself and does it change or not? If it does change, then who can truly experience and notice it? Among many philosophers, Hume confidently states that personal identity depends on three relations of such as resemblance, contiguity and causation. He agrees that identity is a bundle of memories or perceptions; meaning that they all interconnect; or that these perceptions “succeed each other with an inconceivable rapidity, and are in a perpetual flux and movement” (2).

It is hard to maintain and to say that one is exactly in that personality forever because he is always changing or evolving. Pain and pleasure, grief and joy, passions and sensations succeed each other, and never all exist at the same time, as Hume notes (1). One cannot have pleasure without pain and vice versa. Hence, there is something that causes either one of these sensations which automatically reveals the opposite at a certain point of life. There we can see, as an individual is grieving, this person is moody, shallow, sorrow and manifest many other types of feelings momentarily.

At this time of grievance, their self is identified as such. But, is that the actual permanent self? No, it is not because after rain it is sunny; meaning that, joy will manifest itself eventually. And when happiness happens, the self is identified differently. “It cannot, therefore, be from any of these impressions, or from any other, that the idea of self is deriv’d; and consequently there is no such idea”( Hume, 1). In other words, there is not a specific self that one can identify with within themselves with a permanence or everlasting certainty.

Self-identification has to come from a third party. Many people may argue that they know themselves very well and they do not need a ‘stranger’ to tell them who they truly are, what they are manifesting etc. However, Hume refutes this aspect. Can one truly “[distinguish] and [separate their feelings, actions or what so ever] from each other [or even consider to do the separations needed to identify their personality] and have no Deed of tiny thing to support their existence? ” (Hume, 1).

All that he wants to raise awareness to that: ‘is possible to exist separately from your actual oneself? Can someone step outside of their body or self and observe everything about their personality and all, then make their own judgement and walk back in the body; speaking of death or some out of body experience? According to Hume, “if we wou’d have the idea of self-pass for clear and intelligible, It must be someone impression, that gives rise to every real idea. But self or person is not any one impression, but that to which our several impressions and ideas are suppos’d to have a reference. (1)

If that was the case, many people who have remorse of some sort would have been able to stop themselves from committing their faults and make the necessary changes; especially when the outcome known is not favorable. It is just that “the mind is a ‘kind of theatre’ where several perceptions successively make their appearance; pass, re-pass, glide away, and mingle in an infinite variety of postures and situations” (2). Hence, “[we] can [never] catch [ourselves] at any time without a perception, and never can observe anything but the perception” (2).

We do not have an actual knowledge of our personal identity but instead a perception is all that Hume argues for. In addition to that, when we relate an object to something it is similar to, but is not quit exactly it, it is not that we either do it on purpose or by ignorance. Instead, it is because that is the best way for us to remember or relate. For example, “a man, who bears a noise, that is frequently interrupted and renew’d, says, it is still the same noise; tho’ ’tis evident the sounds have only a specific identity or resemblance, and there is nothing numerically the same, but the cause, which produc’d them” (Hume, 5-6).

Hume goes even further to explain this situation by stating that even though we have several distinct ideas of many objects but we “[connect them] together by a close relation; and this … view affords as perfect a notion of diversity, as if there was no manner of relation among the objects. [And that] tho’ these … [identities], and… succession of related objects be in themselves perfectly distinct… [Or different], yet… [In] our common way of thinking they are generally confounded with each other” (3). Furthermore, “[no matter what] precaution we may use in introducing the changes gradually…

There is … another artifice, by which we may induce the imagination to advance a step farther” (Hume, 5). Therefore, it is clearly visible that personal identity is not non-existent neither existent. It just goes through a process of change and evolution or repeat itself over and over again from time to time. All in all, our more desirable way of acquiring information about our identity is through a first person point of view. However, with this desire, we come across many obstacles as stated above through Hume’s lens. With ‘SELF’ biased is strongly present because it is the biggest obstacle.

But, with a third party’s help, we can come to know more than what we can learn about our identity ourselves. As to relating and identifying objects, the tendency of relating these figures to their closest world existent object because that is how our being is. However, even though identity cannot be known through a first person point of view and without relating objects to existing objects in this world, because we are not constantly awake and we do not the out of body experience power, we ought not to conclude that identity is nonexistent. It is present but just cannot be fully experience it in a first person point of view.