01 July 2022

Development of Identity


Development of Identity


Topic by Ines

Essay by Lawrence


Dementia, including Alzheimer disease, is probably one of the most distressing form of diseases that destroys personal identity. By the time these diseases wipe out a person’s memory what is left of their identity is a name in an official date a base and the painful memories of family and friends. For our discussion, this implies that we are our brain or rather we are what we have in our brain. And any talk of mind in philosophy and social science is just a language game.


The “development of identity” hints at how human infants develop their identity through their stages in life. I accept that we keep developing our identity throughout our life. This position introduces the question of whether personal identity is a fixed constant state or feature over time or whether personal identity is constantly changing.


If by personal identity we mean “who am I?” who or what is the arbiter able to answer the question. So far, the debate has been more or less focused on the person developing their identity and whatever happens we are just observers. Indeed in our day to day language we speak of a person changing especially after a time of not having seen them. Even many young adults in their teens change completely when they turn 20 years or older.


Indeed one of the early preoccupations with identity is whether the person we knew last week is the same person today. Heraclitus asked whether we can step in the same river, but our concept of personal identity is that irrespective of anything else, the person we knew last week is the same person we see today. And if there is any perceptible change to their personality, we assume something happened to them.


Historically, the debate, both from the point of view of philosophy and social science, has not really associated the development of personal identity with external influences. Surely, the personal identity of a person is influenced first by the family and then by peers. Some young children try to emulate their parents and even adopt personality traits. At school young children proclaim they want to be a good footballer as one of the famous player in their team. The point is that these young children not only identify their own identity with that of someone else but more important they believe that aspects of someone else’s identity can be transferred to themselves.  But this is nothing new because we can easily see changes in the behaviour of others which they picked up from their boss or club members.


Another question we might ask is what is the purpose of personal identity? The short answer is to be different from millions of other people. This might make sense because physically we are all the same; rather our human structure is all the same. This does not mean we all look alike, no we do not, but the biological structure is the same. And that is why we can have medical healthcare. But at the social level we need to know who we are and others know who we are.


But I come back to the theme in the first paragraph of this essay. How do we know that someone’s identity is not the result of some disease or other misfortune? Schizophrenia might be a candidate that influences our identity.


Thus the dilemma here is what is a normal or healthy personal identity? And what should we do with people who do not fit the model? It is fair to say that today medical science can help us along way to distinguish “normal” from “not normal”.  But the issue is that many people do not get medical help or the person themselves and those around them do not recognise that they have a medical problem.


In the enterprise to develop our identity surely we also need to move from “knowing who I am” to the Delphic maxim·”Know ourselves (know thyself)”.


Best and take care



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