What Shapes Your Personal Identity?

 

Personal identity is considered by many to comprise of many facets and has a huge range of definitions. The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy defines personal identity as ‘consisting of what makes you unique as an individual and different from others, the way you see or define yourself, or the network of values and convictions that structure your life’, (2010). Ultimately this means that each person holds unique beliefs, ideals or values that impact on how they represent themselves and how they conduct themselves in society. Yet people are continually growing and changing.

The ideals and way in which you view yourself may change as you age or progress through life. Just as time influences you, so will your experiences both present and past. If change is a consistent factor then the argument of individuals’ beliefs or values would change to match. How does a given person make decisions related to what they believe in, what they will stand up for and how they will live their life? Perhaps from family influences, yet it may also be from the experiences you have had previously.  Therefore, what shapes your beliefs or perhaps your whole identity is the experiences you have, and your ability to recall these events.

The memory theory of personal identity states that memory is key in defining a person, (Siegel, 1999) Memory itself is defined as, ‘what we can consciously recall about past events and the way in which past events affect future function’, (Rowlands, 2005). We often use our memories to describe previous events to others, memories that have helped to shape who you are as a person today. But can you really trust your own memory?

Continuing along this thread, if then, your memory is the link to shaping your personal identity, how would you be without your own memories? Or a more complex dilemma of how can you trust your own memories? If your memories are part of what shapes your personal identity, what would be the result if they could be altered, erased or imagined, and therefore not your own? This is the main philosophical theme present in Michel Gondry’s film, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, (2004). This film follows the lives of two people, Joel and Clementine whose relationship ends in chaotically and prompts Clementine to erase all her memories of Joel and their life together.

 

Joel & Clementine

 

The company which makes this possible is Lucana Inc., who have developed a system/ technique whereby they can erase specific memories from an individual and allow them to begin life afresh. When Joel discovers what Clementine has done in order to move on, he makes the decision to follow suit. However during the process, he realizes just how much those memories of Clementine have worked to make him the man is he. This realization, that he wants to retain all his memories, enables him to begin to fight the progression of erasure.

When exploring this philosophical theme present in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Rowlands helps to define the theory of change related to personal identity. Accidental change theory is defined as a change that is not important enough to end the existence of the thing that changes. Compared to essential change whereby if something undergoes an essential change, or changes essentially, then that thing ceases to exist, (Rowlands, 2005). In the film, the change which Joel and Clementine undergo is an accidental change and therefore both will continue to exist remaining essentially the same as they were before meeting the other.

Despite the bizarre circumstances and a somewhat confusing storyline, the underpinning theme is one which all can relate to. Many factors contribute to developing a unique identity and being able to withstand change. In the words of Rowlands, (2005), ‘Just because you are changing all the time does not mean there is no you.’ (p 93), because really, all experiences will work to change you as a person.

 

 

References


Rowlands. M. (2005). The Philosopher at the end of the Universe – Philosophy explained through Science Fictions Films.  London: Elbury Press.

Siegel, D.J. (1999). The Developing Mind. NEW YORK: Guilford Press.

Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy. (2010). Personal Identity. Retrieved May 25, 2011, from: http://plato.stanford.edu/search/searcher.py?query=personal+identity

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A Fictitious Take on Reality

 

Imagine you wake one ordinary morning, yet there is something not quite right. There is a voice that you keep hearing. A voice that is describing your every move. Welcome to Harold Crick’s world.  Harold, the main character of this comedy, allows the viewer to explore the concept of reality. Harold believes that his world is the reality, yet how can this be when he has his own personal narrator capable of ending his story and life simply by stating it. The film, Stranger than Fiction, (2006), addresses the philosophical issue of epistemology, which is defined as questioning one’s knowledge of the world and what is perceived as reality, (Falzon, 2002). It explores questions that are hard to answer and explore concepts and themes that many would rather leave alone.

Initially, all seems well. Harold goes about his life is the usual fashion. He has a firm grasp and understanding of his own reality. Harold Crick is an IRS auditor who appears to lead an ordinary yet mundane life. As stated earlier, Harold’s routine based life is interrupted one morning when he wakes to discover that his every move, action and thought is narrated to him in advance. He soon discovers that this narrator is none other than a fictional novel writer on the path to finishing her book. However, by finishing the book, she sets out to end her character and therefore Harold’s life.

 

How do you judge what is real?

 

Throughout this whole production, Harold becomes aware of how the course of events he experiences are leading him to the perceived end of his life. He is forced to consider his choices and the impact on his quality of life. This discovery also forces a change to occur in regard to his perception and knowledge of his reality.

Harold’s realization of his non-reality and the knowledge he gains can be argued as being a deliberate construction by the author of his life story, Karen Eiffel. With this is mind, the film Stranger than Fiction provides audiences with an example of the conflict between ‘what is thought to be known, and what is actually known’, (Rowlands, 2005). Harold Crick’s perception of the story is what is thought to be known, while the author Karen Eiffel has the knowledge of what is actually going to happen.

Stranger than Fiction, portrays two realities to the audience. On the one hand Harold Crick perceives his world and life as the reality, yet so too does author Karen Eiffel. It brings to light questions of reality, how do you judge what is real? As well as questioning one’s own reality, are you dreaming or is it real? This philosophical theme can also be linked into ethics; through an exploration into questions such as can you be held responsible for your actions in a society where you cannot judge facts from imagined circumstances? What steps would you take to alter your life path? Could your actions truly change the future? Despite being a rather inexplicable plot line, the overall theme of the film hits home. What changes or choices would you make if you were to discover exactly how your life would unfold?

 

References

Falzon. C. (2002). Philosophy goes to the Movies – An Introduction to Philosophy. London: Routledge.

Rowlands. M. (2005). The Philosopher at the end of the Universe – Philosophy explained through Science Fictions Films.  London: Elbury Press.

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The living vs. non-living predicament

 

What factors distinguish and classify something as living? This issue is the cause of much discussion. If something is classified as living, some factors may include something that breathes, has a heart and can feel emotions.  Yet, the factors are not limited to these, if something feels emotions then it too must have a conscious. “You are a person, I am a person, Vladimir Kramnik is a person… (Yet)… My coffee cup is not a person. My telephone is not a person.  (Litch, 2010, p.98). You can see how this topic brings out the debate in certain circles. Consider also who makes the ultimate decisions on what is living? Who or What gave them the power to do so? All of these questions poised are perhaps some of the most important questions to consider, and as Rowlands states, “What is the mind?” (2005). Rowlands considers this to be the utmost important question regarding philosophy and he refers to it as the mind-body problem, (2005, p. 57).

The Mind-Body problem as described by Rowlands, ‘the view from the inside versus the view from the outside’, (p. 59). What is meant by this is that there is two conflicting views, the outside view versus the inside viewpoint. The inside, is of course the mind, whereas the outside view is the body, perhaps the most deceptive. The body is able, to a certain point, disguise intentions to others. This is the focus of many science fiction films which are set in the future where ‘machines’ or robots endeavour to live peacefully in society. Yet, these films also depict the machines rebelling against society, bringing to light the conflict between living and non-living.

 

Robot or Man?

 

One such film is James Cameron’s 1984 film The Terminator. This film is set in the year 2029, it is a future where machines are the majority and humans live in fear. In this society a machine called the terminator has been sent back in time to carry out a mission. The terminator is human-looking, apparently unstoppable cyborg and its only mission is to kill Sarah Connor. The human resistance of the future sends Kyle Reese, a soldier to stop it. These early introductions into the film lead the audience to view the terminator/ machines as non-living, unable to show or feel emotions. In comparison, the future of the human race and their plight is shown. The definition between living and non-living is made clear to the audience.

However, during the course of the film, one character inquires of Reese why he didn’t bring any weaponry from the future to use against the terminator. Reese’s response is somewhat baffling, ‘only living materials will go through the time portal’. This statement sends the message to the audience that the terminator is a living being and contradicts the earlier message defining the living and non-living. Which is correct? Is the machine which looks like, acts like, and thinks intelligently living? Or is the fact that it is essentially a man-made, computer functioning machine categorise it into the non-living? Who makes these decisions? Would you like to be responsible for it?

 

References

Litch. M. M. (2010). Philosophy through Film. (2nd ed). New York: Routledge.

Rowlands. M. (2005). The Philosopher at the end of the Universe – Philosophy explained through Science Fictions Films.  London: Elbury Press.

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What compels you to act Morally?

Imagine for a moment if you live in a world where lying had not yet been invented, a world where you could say and do whatever you like. Would you? What is stopping you from doing as you please, from lying to improve your life stance and enjoyment in life? Well, for many, the ideals and beliefs, which they hold, may prevent them from doing so, or at least make them think about their choices. Consider the same scenario from the perspective of a person who does not have a moral conscious. In order to do so, you must first have an understanding of the concept of morals and ethics.

For the majority of people, these terms, morals and ethics are interchangeable; however there are in fact slight variances in the definitions of each. Ethics is defined by categorising it into three main headings; metaethics, normative ethics and applied ethics. In the film, The Invention of Lying, (2009), the two forms of ethics which are most relevant are metaethics and applied ethics. Metaethics is concerned with the moral principles one has and how they are used to inform moral judgements, specifically looking into what is deemed “right” versus “wrong”, (Gensler, 2011). Whereas applied ethics ‘studies specific moral issues like abortion or lying’, (Gensler, 2011, p. 3).

 

Enrichment of their lives through lying...

 

From comparing the two, there is a continual theme, that of considering a dystopian society where no-one contemplates the ethical perspective.  Society, and how society interacts together regarding others perspectives, is why the social contract theory put forward by Rowlands is a key point to explore. Rowlands states that the ‘social contract theory of morality is an implicit contract made by members of society that works to govern the actions of the rational egoists’, (2005, p. 162). In dissecting this statement, the term egoist refers to persons who think only of themselves, (Stanford Encyclopaedia, 2010). In this dystopian society, all persons would be egoists, and therefore allow all members of society act as ‘each to his own’ as the saying goes.

The Invention of Lying, a comedy directed by Matthew Robinson and Ricky Gervias, who also stars in the film, focuses very clearly on this philosophical theme.  Unhappy in what life has given him, the main character discovers that he alone has the ability to lie. In this film, all people tell the truth 100 percent of the time. He continues to use this unique ability to better his life in all aspects. Yet it ultimately leads him to weave a web of lies, which crumble as the film progresses. This plot line brings to light questions such as, in a society where no one knows how to lie, should you exploit them? Does it depend on what you lie about? If the lying, allows you to lead the life of your dreams, is it right? Often what we believe is morally right does not coincide with what we want, and so does not coincide with our prudential reasons for acting at all, (Rowlands, 2005). This accurately states the main reasons why people lie, and why some will continue to lie in order to get what they wish out of life.

References
Gensler. H.J. (2011). Ethics – A Contemporary Introduction. (2nd Ed). New York: Routledge.

Rowlands. M. (2005). The Philosopher at the end of the Universe – Philosophy explained through Science Fictions Films.  London: Elbury Press.

Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy. (2010). Egoist. Retrieved May 25, 2011, from: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/egoism/

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Philosophy in Films

Welcome to my blog. Hopefully my writing on a few films and their underlying philosophical themes will no bore you.

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