Our personalities differ from one another. While our societies may have moral guidelines that help us differentiate between right and wrong, that have been passed onto us from our ancestors, each of our personal identities is far more complicated than these sociological postulations. This is one of the reasons why starting from a philosophical standpoint can be a great way to discover our authentic selves!
One of the aims of philosophy is to learn about different schools of thought so that we can form our own understanding of the world and create a strong sense of personal identity. Philosophy is all about asking questions in critical and academic ways, using frameworks and descriptions that have already been defined to ensure our thought processes are grounded in logic.
In terms of how philosophy relates to everybody’s sense of personal identity, there are many different pieces of wisdom available, from many different places. Let’s talk about a few of these schools of thought and what they can mean to us and our sense of identity!
What Is Personal Identity?
Personal identity refers to how we identify ourselves and how others may identify us. In philosophy, this region of thought covers our motivations, perceptions, where we come from, what we do, and who we are. Before we start delving into it, it needs to be said that the philosophy of personal identity is an expansive field, full of ideas that are sometimes difficult to pin down. For instance, the question at the heart of it all, “Who am I?” can have innumerable answers. Take me, for example: am I a writer, a son, a friend, a good person, a moral person, or even just a man living in Scotland? Personal identity is constantly changing and adapting based on many different factors, so it can be hard to define ourselves, not that we shouldn’t try.
How do I Recognize My Personal Identity?
In the act of discovering or maybe even creating our personal identities, philosophy can give us loads of food for thought. It can seem like a pretty daunting task, considering that philosophers have been mulling this idea over for centuries.
This is why we thought it would be good to share some insights that have been bouncing around the philosophical community throughout history!
I’m sure many people have heard the idiom, “The glass is half full”. In philosophical terms, this is the heart of idealism. Idealists tend to be optimistic about the world. This philosophy has been proven time and again to be a popular one, and it could be argued that if a lot of people in a society identified with idealism, then we’d flourish and conditions would improve for all. Positive thinking is considered by some to be the key to a happy and fulfilling life, but idealism isn’t without its problems. Some may call idealists naïve, and not philosophically critical if they always expect the best to happen. Plus, a society made up entirely of idealists wouldn’t necessarily work because not everyone’s “ideal” is the same.
Ever seen a meme about having an “existential crisis”? It’s often a joke; for instance, someone may claim to have had an existential crisis over something like the existence of pasta straws. This is a little hint at what this area of philosophy is all about. An existential crisis is an inner conflict about the purpose and meaning of life, and existentialism is the philosophical discussion of these things. Someone who considers themselves an existentialist may believe that each person is alone, that life is inherently meaningless, and that each person is responsible for their actions and decisions. This may seem a dismal view of the world, but an existentialist could argue that believing in these things can make people more accepting of the reality of the world and that they can find meaning and happiness in their individuality, their own definitions of morality, and their personal freedom.
This is a big one and an incredibly important piece of modern philosophy and ethics. At its core, it’s quite simple. It’s all about how we morally define actions. In utilitarianism, how we define an action as morally good is based on figuring out which action will cause the most good for the most people. Say, you and your friends all want to go out for food, but it’s up to you to book the table. You know that most people prefer Italian, so choosing Italian is morally correct, at least in terms of utilitarianism. In terms of personal identity, a utilitarianist is someone who believes that it’s always important to look at the big picture, not counting anyone more valuable than anyone else, which sounds like a very practical philosophy on paper. However, there are some debates about utilitarianism. Who decides what’s best for the majority? Is a mildly good thing for a lot of people worth an extremely bad thing for a small number? In the real world, not everything weighs exactly one way or another.
Like all concepts in philosophy, this one has a wide variety of different uses. At its most basic, dualism is concerned with the existence of opposites throughout life. For instance, believing that both good and evil exist is an example of dualism. It hinges on the idea that there are dual, opposing forces in just about everything. As you can imagine, millions of examples of this have been discussed one way or another, but when it comes to personal identity, one of the most interesting questions in dualism is known as the “Mind-Body” discussion. This focuses on the relationship between our bodies and our minds.
In terms of holistic health, we know that the state of our bodies is bound to influence our minds, in that pain or physical needs can affect our mental state, and vice versa. However, dualism says that the mind and the body are distinct and separate things. In terms of personal identity, a lot of questions arise: if the mind is not the body, which one am I? Am I the sum of my thoughts and experiences, or am I my physical body and all of its experiences? Am I a bit of both? And that’s just one region of dualism. Dualists say that countless opposing forces can make up our psyches and personal identities – happiness and sadness, strength and weakness, maturity, and youthfulness. Do these forces change throughout our lives, and what does that mean for our overall view of ourselves?
One of the best things about philosophy is that since it’s such a vast field, we can choose what we like and what we don’t like and use those parts that we do like to think about how they relate to concepts like our personal identities.
This brings us to our final philosophical idea, introspection. To be introspective is to learn simply by thinking. No area of philosophy is completely right or wrong, and it’s up to us to learn about these things and then decide who we are introspectively. It can take a lifetime, but the journey and the questions are the most important things here, not the destinations or the answers. So instead of asking “why do I feel like this?” we could ask “what is it that is making me feel this way?”
Philosophy isn’t just a bunch of people thinking about other people’s thoughts. It’s entirely up to us to take what we will from it, and decide how we want to use it to define different aspects of ourselves. What we consider moral and immoral, what we think our purpose in life is, how we view the world, and how we decide we fit into it all.
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