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Philosophers Main View about Consciousness, The Self, and Personal Identity

Date:  2021-05-24 06:34:46
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According to Descartes, personal identity has to do with various philosophical questions about individuals that arise by us being People. In his second Meditation, Descartes argues that in the very act of thinking, identity must be implicit because it is an idea that is not based on sensation. Therefore, we persist under psychological continuity. Conversely, other philosophers, such as Bertrand Russell oppose that brute physical facts determine our tenacity, and therefore renders psychology as irrelevant. The common questions that often occur to almost all of us are: What am I? When did I begin? What will happen to me when I die?

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Many philosophers give consciousness a significant role in answering the questions of personal identity. Many of these are nothing but a question of unity and continuity of knowledge, they say. Others oppose that consciousness is not germane to the issue of personal identity and thus, self is considered as a protean term used to describe personal identity. Self is in the sense that myself is simply me and no other senses of the word person. At no given time, have there been problems of personal identity but rather a broad range of connected questions. Some of the persistently asked questions include: What it takes for a person to survive from one time to another? What adventures a person survives? What events may bring your existence to an end? What determines the past and the future in you? Therefore personal identity deals with philosophical questions that build upon the fact that we consider ourselves as being people (Olson).

In regard to the issue of self-being different from the brain or mind, Rene Descartes states that he doubts whether he has a body and affirms that a body is as a result of perceptual experience and conversely believes that he has a mind since he thinks. From this, he concludes that it is possible for him to exist without a body due to the fact that he essentially believes to have a mind and not a body.

Rene Descartes is referred to as the father of modern philosophy; he helped establish the modern rationalism. He is most recognized for his statement, "Cogito, Ergo Sum," translated to mean "I think, therefore I am." He argued that when humans in doubt, they still think and so they can always know that they exist. This, thus, developed into what is known as Cartesian Dualism. Descartes invented the system of Cartesian coordinates which allows the geometric statement to be expressed in algebraic form.

On the other hand, Bertrand Russell explores some of the greatest challenges facing philosophers. In The Problems of Philosophy, he urges us to take a closer look to what we refer to as the collective sense of reality. He uses the table to explain the main problems faced by philosophers. He explains that when you look at a table, we will have our perception of what it is. When we look at the table, we perceive it to be a particular color, texture, and shape. He, therefore, argues that when you look at a table from a distance you will conclude it is oval, brown and the surface to be smooth but when you switch your position you will realize that the table is light brown, round and is rough. Conversely, in his concept the Cartesian Doubt, Descartes focuses on stripping all knowledge that is held as certain to arrive at the absolute certainty (Carey). Descartes determines that because his senses can be fooled, he finds it difficult to believe in the existence of the external world or even that his own body exists. He proposes that reality may be a dream and that he would have no way of knowing whether he was dreaming. He uses the analogy of wax that changes shapes and appears to be something else yet still remains to be wax (Descartes). This, in essence, leads to his affirmation that for one to doubt, there must be a doubting thing and later concludes with the phrase that "I think therefore I am."

Directly quoting Descartes's theory and view, he states that I term that 'clear' which is present and apparent to an attentive mind, in the same way that we see objects clearly when, being present to the regarding eye, they operate upon it with sufficient strength. But the 'distinct' is that which is so precise and different from all other objects that it contains within itself nothing but what is clear ... Perceptions may be clear, without being distinct, but cannot be distinct without also being clear" (Descartes).

In Descartess Concept on Dualism, there is the analogy that although the mind and the brain interact, the two are completely separate from each other. Conversely, in his concept of reality and appearance Bertrand Russell identifies that the colors, textures, and shapes are not the reality of an object, but are sense-data. These are the things you know without learning. Russell, therefore, poses the question If the reality is not what appears, have we have we any means of knowing whether there is any reality at all? And if so, have we any means of finding out what it is like?

Relating to consciousness, it is the faculty that perceives that which exists. Descartes hold that consciousness is an obvious reason being that you cannot deny your mind existence at the same time as using your mind to do the denying. On the other hand, Descartes argues that the mind is conscious while the body is not aware. He states that something cannot be both conscious and unconscious, extended and unextended. On the Self, He commences with an argument known as cogito. He later reckons that if he is in doubt, then he must be existing. With this, he concludes with his common phrase that, I exist because I think "Cogito ergo sum." Personal identity is a theory the philosophical conflict of our own existence: who are we? Is there life after death? On personal identity, Descartes argues that a person is immaterial souls. People have bodies so that they can live after bodily death.

According to Russell, we are "conscious" of anything we perceive. He further gives examples to explain his view that when you hear a donkey bray, you not only realizes it is noise but you also not that it is a donkey. When you look at a table, you not only note its color, but you also realize that the surface is hard. We all start from a particular point 'naive realism', i.e., the belief that things are what they look like. We think that water is colorless, that sand is brown, and that snow is white. But physics assures us that the color of the grass, the hardness of the stones, and the coldness of the snow, are not in their respective color and state that we know in our own experience, but something unique. The spectator, when he seems to himself to be observing a stone, is real, if physics is to be accepted, noticing the result of the stone upon himself. Thus science seems to be contradicting itself: when it most means to be objective, it finds itself plunged into subjectivity against its will. Naive realism leads to physics, and physics, if true, shows that naive realism is false. Therefore naive realism, if true, is false; therefore it is false (Russell).

Contrast is exemplified in the two philosophers main views in the sense that, while Descartes holds that consciousness is an axiomatic reason since you cannot deny the existence of your mind and at the same time as use it in denying this fact. He also adds that the mind is conscious while the body is not conscious. On the contrary, Bertrand Russell believes that we are "conscious" of anything that we perceive.

The principle function of the I' is to perform logical operations, which include association, inference, and deductions. All of these are variables of thinking. Deductions include the mathematical way we think. For example, one can state that X causes Y, and Y causes Z. Therefore X causes Z. The inference is the act of processing information. Lastly, association involves the ability to associate previously known ideas and to link them with new or old ideas. These three operations make up what thinking is, which altogether sums up what Descartes explains the I' of a person to be.

In my opinion, I tend to oppose Descartes use of the I' in his meditations. When he uses the word I, he is using it from a third persons perspective and when speaking of one's self in the form of the third party, the name given to such a person should be used. Moreover, upon considerations on the counter arguments to my point, I do understand that one may say that he is only using the word I' as a name for this thinking thing; however, this is an improper use of Language. Thus the most acceptable title for this thinking thing is mind, soul or intellect.

Asymmetrically, I agree with Bertrand Russell in his argument that we are indeed conscious of what we perceive. This is due to the fact that we always start evaluating from the point of knowing and asses a table as brown, oval and smooth from a distance. Additionally, we have it in our subconscious mind that the grass is green, a stone is hard, and snow is cold and white. Thus, we are incapable of evaluating things from the point of experience until we change the angle at which we perceive them, and it is then, that we realize things are not as we perceived them to be.

Works Cited

Carey, Rosalind. "Russell, Bertrand: Metaphysics | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy." Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy | An Encyclopedia of Philosophy Articles Written by Professional Philosophers, 2013,

Descartes, Rene. "SparkNotes: Meditations on First Philosophy: Second Meditation, Part 2: the Wax Argument." SparkNotes: Today's Most Popular Study Guides,

Olson, Eric T. "Personal Identity (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)." Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 9 July 2015, Accessed 29 Oct. 2016.

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