Quite Frankly

Have a question you want answered? Submit your quandaries at http://bit.ly/2RFnXfk

Hey Frankie,

Who am I?

Future Philosopher

Dear Philosopher,

Quite frankly, I suspect this was a joke submission. But far be it from me to avoid the big questions in my lowly advice column. Personal identity is one of life’s biggest questions, so here’s my primer on it.

Philosophically speaking, possible answers abound here. You could be the synthesis of your actions and experiences. You might just be a consciousness of things around you, with no kernel of self underneath. You could have an onion of consciousness, even. You might have a soul as well as a brain, or you might not. You could even be a brain in a vat, with all your experiences fed to you by machinery. But these are all really answers to the question “What am I?” or, following American philosopher Daniel Dennett, “Where am I?”

But who are you? That’s a more complex question. It assumes that you are a who to begin with (not everyone will accept this). My mom, Victory Knuckles, the original quality advice-giver, would say that who you are isn’t what you do. But she’s never settled who you are, if that’s not it. When introducing yourself at a party, you start with what you do, because it’s the best angle for fishing around for social commonality. “Tell me about yourself,” the proverbial conversational partner demands. You answer with whatever preoccupations consume most of your mind; maybe that you’re a philosophy major or that you submit things online under the cloak of anonymity just to see how much chaos you can create. These are aspects of who you are, but none of them, no matter how many qualities you list, can encase your entirety of being. Or Being, for my Phenomenology and Existential Thought folks.

As Father John Misty’s enduring existential crisis classic “Holy Shit” states, “No one ever knows the real you/and life is brief.” No one may even include yourself. But that leaves the question: Is there even a “real you?” Or are you simply an amalgamation of others’ conception of you, internalized and hodgepodged with your experiences until you have some idea who you are? And is there even enough time in our brief lives to fully address this question?

The answer is really up to you. Everyone must answer (or choose not to answer) the question of identity for themself. But I hope my response gets you thinking. And if you want to think more, consider taking some philosophy courses. There’s a 105 running in the spring called “Personhood: Subjectivity, Identity, and Difference.” It seems like it’s up your alley.

Best Wishes,
P.S. This should teach you the entailments of messing with philosophy majors with too much free time


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