Keys to questioning Human Identity

Photo Credit: Janet Donahoe
Photo Credit: Janet Donahoe

Inspired by the enlightening discussion provided by UWG’s Philosophy department, questions of what human identity truly consist of are, in fact, at the core of this issue. The discussion itself was a conversational journey through the depths of perception, commentary provided by – Aristotle, David Hume, Gilles Deleuze, Paul Ricoeur, Judith Butler, and Michel Foucault.

Now, the question may seem easy enough to debunk, if given enough time to discuss; however, not everything is as it seems to be. The discussion was not a ‘how come’ conversation on how we as a species have transitioned through the times. The focus is rather an explanation of what makes us individuals – if we are each truly individuals.

Answers to the questions about human identity have become more apparent now, than at any other point in our brief history as modern humans. For instance, we are now capable of feats unimaginable to our ancestors and we will continue – if all conditions remain static – to reach even higher potential.

In order to get to the bottom of it all, the most expansive of all questions we must ask is: What exactly is human identity? Is it merely a definition of us as a collective species? Or could human identity also find itself encapsulated within each and every human being on Earth?

Aristotle explains in his opening remarks: “To discuss human identity is to discuss two distinct concepts. The first is the concept of human identity as it applies to humanity as a whole or in other words, what makes us human? The second is a concept of human identity as it applies to each individual, or what and how individuality exists.”

Establishing an all-encompassing definition for what identity means in this context is paramount. But, for the sake of further unpacking the idea let’s agree that human identity can simply be defined as: human experience and perception of those experiences.

Each person throughout their lives will have many experiences; some experiences may be similar in ways but, not identical. These experiences in one’s lifespan, coupled with other factors play a role in perceiving experiences, which cultivate one’s identity.

English philosopher, David Hume says: “The self is merely a bundle of perception screwed together in such a way as to provide us with a presumably identifiable person.”

In layman’s terms, two women can each be label as mother’s because of the role they play in society, however, not all mothers are exactly alike. The subtle differences are what create a person’s identity. Without differences we would in part be the same persons with separate bodies.

This statement alone also begs even more questions, if we could capture individual human identity, how could one represent its subtle differences from others? And should these experiences be expressed in a first person account, could they not be manipulated – possibly unknowingly – by the factors that create perception of the trials that one has overcome.

Michel Foucault explains the role of perception or discourses in development of perception: “We are constructed by the discourses around us; discourses of our educational system, our mental and physical health systems, our penal systems, and our economic system. We think that these discourses create who we are and who we conceive ourselves to be.”

In order to completely identify a person, the account of experiences must be left unbothered by the ego, perspective and all bias which exist in the human mind. Which brings us back to the advanced age of now; with technology at the forefront of society it is now foreseeable that we may possibly circumvent the influences of human ego and bias.

The actual idea of human identity is deeply shrouded in its own dynamic features, which make it nearly impossible for fellow humans to take on this responsibility. Therefore, it is a forgone conclusion of if or when we or technology may be able to receive a true definition of a human identity.



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