Who Am I?

The question of who we are is a deeply philosophical inquiry which falls under the scope of identity exploration. Identity exploration is a process that belongs to the branch of philosophy, called: Metaphysics. The complex subject of identity is a diachronic ‘problem’ that has troubled many people throughout human history, including not only ordinary citizens but also philosophers and sophists. One of those philosophers was Aristotle, the first historian of Western Philosophy, who claimed that the oldest quandary of philosophy is no other than the metaphysical problem of identity and change. However, although the intricacy of the notion of identity, the first of the three Delphi maxims inscribed on the Temple of Apollo (by the Greek writer Pausanias) fosters self-exploration and active engagement in search of one’s own self: Know Thyself (Ancient Greek: γνῶθι σαὐτόν, Latin: Nosce te Ipsum). But, is complete self-knowledge a target that can easily be achieved? How can one be certain that he/she has achieved self-awareness since self-exploration is a life-long journey?

Source: eirinika.gr

Numerous Ancient Greek philosophers had expressed their thoughts, in the past, regarding the nature of change in relation to identity. Parmenides (aka The Philosopher of Changeless Being), for instance, refuted change altogether, insisting on an incessant, unique Truth, while, on the other hand, Heraclitus argued that change is ubiquitous and inevitable, analogizing everything to the stream of a river: upon those who step into the same rivers, different and again different waters flow. Consequently, one who steps into the same river twice, is no longer the same individual either. If Heraclitus’s analogy were in accordance with reality, that would mean that there is no personal identity over time. That people have no influence or control over elements that cause change. But in reality, it is hard to imagine change without identity. Instead of espousing Heraclitus’s extreme view that ‘all things go and nothing stays’, some are more inclined to support the ‘persistence of identity and unity, despite change’, a thesis which is perfectly illustrated through Plutarch’s story: The Ship of Theseus

Source: Pastillustrator

Widely known as Theseus’s Paradox, this story is a thought experiment which raises the query of whether an object that has had the majority, or all, of its pieces substituted, is in essence the very same object. But, moving beyond concrete items, Theseus’s ship can be analogized to a person’s identity, that is constantly changing over time and yet the individual remains the same. It can be viewed as an allegory that does not solely demonstrate the complexity of the notion of identity, but also suggests that humans are a collection of constantly changing parts: emotions, experiences, knowledge, perspective, beliefs, and abilities. As Sigmund Freud had aptly put it: individuals are constantly being created anew. But this occurs on the basis of one’s own personal identity, because, despite growth and development, some properties remain unchanged, they constitute the essence, the core of ours.

Understanding and acquiring, thus, knowledge about one’s own self is not something that culminates and reaches an endpoint, becoming permanent and stable. Rather, it is something that is under constant flux; it constructs and reconstructs itself; it is an abstract, indefinite notion that comes and goes. Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, is the most prominent instance of identity fluidity, since the young protagonist is in constant doubt and uncertainty about who she really is:

Who are you?’ said the Caterpillar.

           […] ‘I – I hardly know, Sir, just at present – at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then’.

           ‘What do you mean by that?’ said the Caterpillar sternly. ‘Explain yourself!’

           ‘I can’t explain myself, I’m afraid, Sir’, said Alice, ‘because I’m not myself, you see.” (p.58)

Source: Mary Evans Picture Library

The factors, thus, that contribute to identity’s liquid and flexible nature are multiple, including economic, political, social, ideological and many more. But apart from these influences, what significantly affects, changes and distinguishes us from one another is our personal experiences. These are the ones that give rise to personal qualities and characteristics, that do not only make us different, but they also unite us with groups of people (‘sameness’/ ‘identitas’ in Latin). 



Header Image: https://www.liquidlight.co.uk/blog/inspiring-uses-of-illustration-in-web-design/

Carroll, Lewis. (1865). “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass”. MacMillan Collector’s Library. Print.




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Γεννημένη το ’99 και μεγαλωμένη στο γραφικό Μέτσοβο, είμαι πτυχιούχος του τμήματος Αγγλικής Γλώσσας και Φιλολογίας στο ΑΠΘ. Το διάβασμα, η ξενόγλωσση λογοτεχνία, η ζωγραφική και η φυσικά η γραφή εντάσσονται στα έντονα ενδιαφέροντά μου και αποτελούν τις πηγές έμπνευσής μου. Μεταξύ άλλων, επέλεξα να είμαι και συγγραφέας γιατί λατρεύω να αποτυπώνω και να εκφράζω ό,τι μου υπαγορεύει ο νους μου.

Σχετικά θέματα: identity // person // philosophy // psychology // self // talk english to me // tambook // tambook.gr // thoughts

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