Who are you, anyway?

At the beginning of his Shakespeare’s Philosophy, Colon McGinn highlights three major philosophical issues of which Shakespeare was concerned: appearance vs. reality, other minds, and most importantly to me, the question of personal identity.

I tend to agree with Shakespeare’s statements that we are actors on a stage playing roles until our time is up.  Those roles seem forced upon us because of social obligation.  I would take it a step or two further.  We create our own narratives and consequently the roles we play in those narratives because that is what we delight in doing.  What sets us apart from other species is that we have these incredible imaginations with the ability to create metaphors that just happen to be apt when dealing with our fellow travelers and our specific physical circumstances.

Montaigne and Shakespeare swam against the tide of philosophical thinking about self identity by positing no central identity and recommending a multiple selves interpretation of the soul instead.  Despite that spectacular thread of thought, philosophy crushed their ideas, unless you count Hume’s famous account of personal identity or get into postmodern times when all interpretation became suspect or relative to the eyes of the beholder.  I think of Whitman too–“do I contradict myself…”

Let’s say I know my roles and the narratives of which they are a part.  Does that constitute the real me?  No.  It’s all going to change tomorrow based on my emotions, circumstances, and the delight I play in making shit up and then trying to make it come true.  I’m many somebodies and nobody at the same time.  Tomorrow, another somebody will be added to the list of players.

A multitude with no discernible organization seems like chaos.  And chaos, at times, seems like nothing at all.

I will die.  No immortal soul will survive me after the event, for that single isolated nonexistent soul–my so called essence–never was.  When I think about that and realize I am many people trapped in one body, yet not just that, but also many people I have created and have yet to create–well–it’s as a jewel sparkling in the sun.

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Published in: on August 14, 2010 at 10:29 pm  Leave a Comment  

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