Friday, 13 December 2019

If my Essence is an Enduring Self

Throughout our lives, our interests, demeanour, and intelligence and so on will gradually change. Just contrast ourselves as we are now to when we were children.  And even on a day to day basis, and perhaps even from one hour to the next, our moods will change. But, despite this, speaking for myself I cannot help thinking of myself as an enduring being. That is to say, I cannot help thinking that I am the very same person that has undergone all these changes. If I am in a despondent mood, but then hear some good news and my mood consequently undergoes a vast improvement, it seems to me that I am the very same self that experiences these differing moods.

If this is correct than I am not to be equated with these various differing moods, thoughts, or other psychological states. Rather I am a self that underlies and undergoes these differing psychological states. That is to say, I am not the mere sum of various experiences, I am the author or experiencer of all these various experiences. My psychological states constantly change, but I remain the very same self throughout these differing psychological states.

This even extends back to when I was a child.  Despite the fact that as a child I had differing pre-occupations, interests, intelligence and so on compared to now, I still feel I am that very same self.

I suggest that this is simply the commonsensical conception of the self. After all, we don't assume we cease to exist after drinking a few beers due to the consequent change in our emotions and cognitive abilities, only for our selves to return when we become sober.

It may seem here I am belabouring the obvious.  But, in fact, most philosophers and scientists, since they are materialists, do not believe in such an unchanging self.  They do not deny that we have a sense of self and a sense that our selves are enduring.  But, they think that this is simply an illusion.  They believe that a person's "self"  is cashed out entirely by their psychological states.  And since our psychological states constantly change, we must quite literally not survive from one mood to the next, or indeed, strictly speaking, not even survive from one second to the next (see an essay by me here where I attempt to demonstrate materialists are obliged to deny the existence of an enduring/persisting self).

Is such an enduring self consistent with the notion that the brain somehow produces this self? Consider that my brain changes all the time. My psychological states also change all the time. So perhaps we might suppose my brain creates my psychological states. But if my self underlying these psychological states remains unaltered i.e I am the very same self despite my thoughts, emotions etc all changing, can the brain still create such a self?

I do think there is a difficulty here.  Yet I'm sure that the vast majority of subscribe to such an enduring self, yet also think it's commonsensical to suppose we simply cease to exist when we die.  Are they being consistent though?

Edited to add:  I was doing a search on the net on this issue, and I note that Bernardo Kastrup has penned some similar thoughts in the following article:

Conquering the fear of oblivion


  1. I'm not much into the "essence" idea.

    I'm inclined to say that your self is a category that is broad enough to accommodate the varying moods. Perhaps multiple personality disorder is what happens when a person divides that category into subcategories.

  2. Not sure what is meant by saying "[the] self is a category that is broad enough to accommodate the varying moods". You appear to be agreeing with me that one's psychological states can change without literally being a differing self. But if it's not psychological states that fix identity, it would have to be that which underlies such psychological states. Namely the self or experiencer; which is what I mean by essence.

    Incidentally, if you haven't already done so, I would highly recommend you read Bernardo Kastrup's article that I link to. He perhaps puts it more clearly than I do.


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