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ON PERSONAL IDENTITY.
Personal IDENTITY constitutes a problem to the thinking: to the unreflecting it is arrant truism. Circumstances form the detached leaves of our history: this stamps the narrative consistent and unique. Some feel, however, that the tale is broken and incoherent as the Sibylline Books. What distaff can wind a thread of such continuity ? What hand, bending first the mighty bow, can aim the arrow through the disparted rings?
Certain identities belong to constituted nature. Genera and species retain their arrangement. Processes are multiplied with an uniformity which gives them improperly the name of laws, though they are but the operations of unknown laws. “ Nature's copy is eterne.” Human conduct presents the same counterparts,—and the vicissitudes of our history, however striking, the alternations of our character, however violent, obey some great assimilating rule. The pendulum, though agitated, describes but a given are !
" There is a history in all men's lives
Figuring the nature of the times deceas’d :
How any kind of identity can be preserved in a world of incessant change is, indeed, a curious enquiry. If we look into the vegetable kingdom, we may feel it difficult to show how the tree, forming its new barks, its enlarging roots, its widening branches, is in any sense the same with its seed-plant If we look into the animal kingdom, we may feel it difficult to show how the butterfly is, in any manner, the same with the nymph
and the caterpillar. Yet that tree has never been another, a certain oneness has from the first stage of its life belonged to it, it has been itself throughout its growth. Yet the winged and the beautiful insect, though unlike the original reptile, has, throughout its metamorphosis, maintained a continuous being,—the chrysalis constituting a part of it as necessarily as the creeping and the Auttering form.
The thesis evidently confines itself to the identity of man,bis identity through all variety of scene and course. I cannot define what is meant by self. I can say what it is not. Each man is, what no other man can be. We involuntarily conceive the distinction. No man can ask a question upon it for the sake of information.
In the case of Joseph, the subject of the most charming history ever written, this fact is happily illustrated; addressing his brethren, he breaks into this touching appeal : “ And behold your eyes see, and the eyes of my brother Benjamin, that it is my mouth that speaketh unto you." And I would allude to the confession of the blind man who had washed in Siloam : “ The neighbours said, Is not this he that sat and begged ? Some said, This is he; others said, He is like him; but he said, I am he.”
All existence seems to involve, of necessity, the idea of unity. At least what we call the living self is indivisible. Leibnitz in this connection employs his favourite term with good effect: the word monad is most appropriate to the human mind. When we use the term unity in the abstract, we may divide it—as we speak of fractional numbers. Of one, we may conceive ten thousand parts. But when referred to mental substance, unity implies the inalienable, the inseparable ; without any thought of parts, or possible division of elements. We, therefore, call man an individual; whatever is composed of parts may be divided, but man is individual: absolute unity is therefore his. We intend it in the strictest sense. Not as
• Hor: Lib. i. Sat. 3.
when we say in certain computations that such or such shall stand for unity: we believe that nothing so rigidly receives or conveys the idea of unity as human being. The personal pronouns of every language demonstrate that there is a something which I cannot communicate to Thee, which Thou canst not exchange with Me, which we cannot part with to Him, nor He to either of Us. The son of Philip might most safely exclaim, Were I not Alexander, I would be Diogenes. Each man is a unit, an integer,-indivisible and incommunicable. And let these units be however conformable, contiguous, and multiplied, like a thousand or ten thousand parallel lines drawn with the least possible variety and least possible interval, they can never sink into one another. The possessive pronouns connect what is proper with each, -and the meum and tuum are not only good law, but sound philosophy. Even the suum is not far behind.
Individuality is not our exclusive attribute: there is no atom but to which it must ultimately and hypothetically attach. Compounds suppose simples. The infinite divisibility of matter, though axiomatic, is inconceivable. But we contend that no unity is strictly analogous to the propriety of the mind. Infinitesimal fractions are but words. These disintegrations are mere signs or sounds. Chemical experiments may be pushed until there is only a nominal and an inappreciable residuum. Mathematical figures, or rather ideas, may be equally refined away, - solids may be converted into surfaces, surfaces into lines, lines into points, and points, some will say, have position without magnitude, and others, that they are nothing. There is more than this supposititious original in man. And in speaking of the ultimate referee in any act or thing, we say some one ; or of the possible agent we speak,—one does or says so, one is apt to this, or liable to that. To call ourselves Ouris, no one, or nobody, is a most excellent stratagem when we wish to escape from an infuriated Cyclops ; it is quite Ulyssean ; but it is scarcely a worthy experiment to be practised in familiar society, or every-day life. There is an "on dit " for every tale.
Having explained that real unity, which any notion of ONE's-self necessitates, it is proper to examine the signification
of person in this enquiry. It is, in common language, used of the human appearance and figure. We speak of a good person, of improvement in person, of personal requisites or disadvantages. Yet this is but metonymy,—the body, the volumen of the self, being substituted for the self. That appearance and figure do not receive personal ascriptions properly is evident, from their universal refusal to animals. We could not call an animal a person. “ Now that,” says Paley, “which can contrive, which can design, must be a person. These capacities constitute personality; for they imply consciousness and thought. They require that which can perceive an end, or purpose, as well as the power of providing means, and of directing them to their end. They require a centre in which perceptions unite, and from which volitions flow, which is mind. The acts of a mind prove the existence of a mind; and in whatever a mind resides, is a person.” The word perono seems to have a dramatic allusion. It was the subject of debate between Salmasius and Milton. Though not strictly rendered by our term, person,-it might admit such a translation. Johnson cites Juvenal for this purpose. The merit of the controversy, perhaps, is this: Persona, in our sense, is admissible, but not elegant, Latin. With its original acceptation it is still used, when we speak of “ Dramatis Personæ."
Whatever are the essentials of humanity, therefore, constitute the person. The part of a person cannot be conceived. Personality cannot be predicated of any nature inferior to our own. We must not suppose that our body occasions our personal diversities. There is as great a variety of feature, and distinction of form, indeed, as of the real persons :
* The Almighty has throughout
These varieties, however, are mere accidents, and the difference of person (we do not say of character, would subsist though
the human form were cast in one mould. I cannot explain how personage became to notify illustrious, in contradistinction to inferior, individuals ; but I am perfectly edified when I remember that no man can be called a parson without a full recognition of his personality, and of his personality as elevated above ordinary persons ! He is, ex officio—a person !
Identity requires but little simplifying. Personal unity demands the identity of its essence, and identity is but another mode of putting the case. This enters into whatever notion we can entertain of To ev. The Latin word, Idem, seems formed of the roots: Is, Demum: He only. And when we speak of man as identical, we mean not with his species, but with himself. His is the evolution of one continuous being. If the derivation be from the Greek,-lònos, proper or own, and $15 one,—the amount of the term will be the same. But this is more fanciful than just.
Our corporeal identity we abandon as untenable. W must abandon it with the greater reluctance, since we are, in this instance, compelled to differ from the profound Hudibras:
** The beard's the identique beard you knew,
But its proprietor himself.” Like other material substances, our bodies are built of parts. Leibnitz's theory, that each monad through all its changes is but fulfilling its own laws and powers, cannot, even if intelligible, disprove the fact of a change. Many would exhibit in disproof, the fixedness of features, the scars of wounds; but though there be a constant change of parts, nature, in her renovations, bears respect to all the peculiarities of individual structure, and even of structural injury. Others would plead that bodies were the same, from their growth, maturity, and decay; but this only attests the greater strength or weakness of the corporeal functions. A third party would reason from the slowness of the change; but if there be a change, it is as real at the end of ten years as of ten seconds. A fourth class will assert that there must be some rallying principle, some