What defines us?

I have often marvelled over what actually defines me. I came across an interesting paradox while reading the book Philosophy 101 by Paul Kleinman. Explaining the metaphysics of identity, the ship of Theseus paradox first appeared in the writings of the Ancient Greek philosopher Plutarch. He wrote about Theseus (the founder-king of Athens) returning from a long voyage at sea. During this voyage, the old and decayed planks of wood the ship was made of was replaced by brand new and strong planks of wood. So by the end of the voyage, every piece of wood the ship was made of initially, had been replaced. The philosophical idea generated from this scenario is: is this ship still the same ship that Theseus started his voyage on? Or, if the ship Theseus began his journey on is A, and the ship Theseus ended his journey on is B, then does A=B?

This paradox surely goes beyond a problem about ships. It leads us to thinking about identity and what makes us the people that we are. I am going to change as I grow older, and parts of me are going to change as years are going to go by. But even when I turn sixty, I’m still going to call myself Saania- I’ll still consider myself to be the very same person.

Is identity related to my structure and the way I am made? If this is the case, I wouldn’t be me if I were to shave all my hair off. Some philosophers say that “we are our body”. But as we grow older, a lot of changes take place in our bodies. As teenagers, we may change our looks, our style when it comes to clothing, our hairstyles, and so much more. And as we grow even older, we get gray hair and wrinkles by our eyes. We may even develop health troubles or we may modify the food we take into our body. So many of our cells keep replacing themselves too, and some even die. So our body is definitely not a permanent fixture.

Is identity related to my mind and my feelings? If this is the case, I wouldn’t be me if I ever replaced my heart, or lost my memory. Many philosophers say that our mind is what gives us our identity. Yet, our outlook on life changes over time. I am starting to think differently as I am growing older, as compared to the things I believe in when I was much younger. I may gain a lot of knowledge. I may change my beliefs. I may find religion, or lose it. This change is inevitable, and so very constant.

I believe there is no right or wrong answer for these mind-boggling questions. What this paradox does tell us, however, is that although we see identity as a fixed and solid structure, it is actually very thin, malleable, and ever-changing. The ship of Theseus and its implications about what identity really is are still discussed today. It does, indeed, leave me with quite a lot of food for thought…

– SaaniaSparkle🧚🏻‍♀️

210 thoughts on “What defines us?

  1. Another intriguing article Saania ….. you must impress your teachers with your philosophy? Are you home schooled or private or comprehensive equivalent?

    The defining and definition of us is always a fascinating read and topic as there are so many variables in consideration.

    How people and society define us, our parents and our peers, our educators too all take part defining who we are.

    My personal opinion is that nothing defines us and yet everything does.

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  2. Good work Saania! a reflective article,well-articulated. True our identity is constantly changing… nay, it’s evolving and will be till our last breath. Mind is one part of our wholesome identity.

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  3. Wow Saania! You really know how create an engaging discussion, I am often timid to read philosophy because I feel I will be overwhelmed but I enjoyed your post very much. ☺️

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  4. A very interesting concept. Identity is a complex topic and is not something passive, but it is something that tends to change with the passage of time. Certain characteristics remain unchanged but others change and always evolve. As Heraclitus said, Panta rei, everything flows. We are never the same as a few minutes ago, everything moves and changes even if imperceptibly. This type of philosophy has always fascinated me.

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  5. Ever changing we are. We either grow or disintergrate. My beliefs we are our spirit. Our soul. My belief is when we die we don’t take our personal things to heaven, or wherever we go. Whatever that is or where ever that is. We all have our own opinions. But we do take our soul. Our spirit. That’s my opinion. Another great post Sannia. Saania, I love the way you write. If you have time can you please send me a request on Facebook if you have the time. I have a few questions for you. You can find me by typing in Jamie Recycle in your search bar. Thanks Saania

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  6. When I was at uni. I came across another.
    If one catches the 0845 to Brighton every morning,is this the same train even when its engine is a different one? Both yes and no and why?

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  7. Bonjour mon Amie SANIA

    Ce matin je passe sur ton blog avec
    Des paroles de douceur, qui en fera pour moi et toi des moments de bonheur

    Ce sont de simples écris et des mots trouvés, qui te mettra des étoiles dans les yeux
    Prenons ensemble le temps et la joie d avoir des matins heureux

    Qu’ils fait bon se réveiller au petit matin de suivre en joie son chemin
    D’avoir eu des rêves plein le cœur

    Ce matin pense à aimer et oublier , les blessures du passé
    Pense juste la magie de la beauté du jour d’avoir une belle vie pour toujours

    Je viens juste te souhaiter une bonne journée par ces quelques lignes

    Bisous avec toute mon amitié
    Bernard

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  8. Very Buddhist. Law of change. You can never step into the same stream twice. Some people seem more open to accept change than others. I think to some extent it depends on whether or not a person is willing to consider new data. New data can change opinions and worldviews.

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  9. It’s the DNA of the ship that is the ship, and in the case of the sensual being, the sense of self despite the complete cellular shedding and replacement, remains the self. Memories, if intact, keep the thinking person connected to the past, but still the senses make the being self-conscious. Without sense, you only have a ship of fools.

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  10. Só de ter 15 anos e gostar de filosofia, você já demonstra ser sábia… Parabéns.
    Obrigado por seguir o Blog Sabedoria do Amor…. Apenas uma inversão ao estilo Emmanuel Lévinas: ótimo amar o saber, mas, melhor ainda, saber amar… Paz e Bem!

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  11. The question actually begs us to answer “what do we consider to be the self?”

    Yes, it is true that our cells die and replace themselves often in a given timespan, but are we defined by our cells? Yes, our views on religion and society changes, but are we defined by our views?

    I like to think that we are simply defined by our personal identity. Our views and beliefs may change, but ultimately we view everything according to a lens of how we are as people. Lifetime experiences mould us, and adaptive reasoning changes us. The one thing that never (or rarely) changes is why we feel as we do and how we feel as we do.

    The idea that we are just a vesicle is a bit stifling. TA better analogy would be a river. Is the water the same all the way down? No. But the “name” for the lake stays the same.

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  12. Bonjour ou bonsoir SANIA

    Notre amitié elle est importante pour moi
    Tes petits messages déposés sur mon blog
    C’est comme une flamme d’un feu de bois
    Qui dans mon cœur me met de la joie
    Cette amitié je la regarde comme le soleil ou une étoile qui brille dans le ciel
    Elle reste éternelle
    En attendant je te dis bonne journée ou belle soirée
    Bisous amicales

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  13. What is certain is that nothing on this earth defines us, including ourselves. The only reference we can draw from is the one who created us, he has our blueprint. Which I believe that outside of natural body changes, if I proactively do something different to myself such as cut off my hair or change it’s color, then I am not me, I am changing my identity. Many times I see so many changes happen both physical and mental and then we have to stop and look at ourselves because we are confused and ask who are we and who are we trying to be? The sad thing about life definition is we don’t want directions even though it’s a 100% chance we’re going to get lost.

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