20.4 Persons and their identity
The system of discrete degrees that comes from an analysis of theism suggests
a possible solution to the problem of continued personal identity. In Section
6.5 we saw that, within an ontology of multiple generative
levels, there was a sense in which the continued identity of a person could be attributed
to some prior degree, especially if this prior degree were relatively unchanging.
So, if the prior degree were strictly unchanging during a person’s lifetime, then
we would have a means of identifying our personal identity both during our growth
and changes in this life and possibly also after the death of our physical bodies.
There would then be a core in us that would be the basis of our continued existence,
and that could said to be our ‘true self’.
This core, according to our basic theism, is our most fundamental love. For God
this core is the divine love. That is clearly his core and the basis of his continued
divine identity. For us, it is the love that is the most prior generative degree
that can be said to be ‘us’ rather than ‘someone else’. That love is the most constant
underlying disposition in our life. It is like Plato’s ‘self-moving
soul.’20.3Let us call this most constant underlying disposition our principal love. Because
the principal love produces our life, it is recognizable by its effect of producing
a ‘theme of our life’. We agree with Hume that this identity is not immediately
apparent to our introspection, but that does not make it any less real. Along with
dispositions in general, our principal love can be tested by examining skills, character,
and performances when there are few or no external constraints, by examining affections
in action and in the voice, and so on. Just as physicists test dispositions by experiments
and not by mere inspection, so our own identities could be inferred by examining
all our characteristic actions more easily than by introspection.
This concept of personal identity as principal love would be most useful to psychology
and theology if that love were completely unchanged during our lifetime: from birth
to death and even after bodily death. This would require it to keep all the same
intrinsic properties even though its effects and relations may vary. Its relation
to us will certainly vary as we grow up and later die. It would also be most useful
if we could assume that no two people had the same principal love. Then we could
be sure not to confuse any two people. Theistic religions claim that we have some
kind of continued identity that survives bodily death. I offer the concept of principal
love as a candidate for the needed kind of identity.