This procedure is made more attractive because it has also some affinities (in the prominence accorded to memory for example) with the view I have commended earlier. But however illuminating in these ways the impression is left that the case for the Platonic-Cartesian view as it is commonly named today has been not so much reckoned with as disregarded or thrust out of the picture as of no importance in the concentration on very different aspects of the problem as a whole.
8. Shifts of Emphasis
We have seen earlier in Chapter 6 how some writers sought the answer to the problem of personal identity or at least to what matters when we are concerned about our own identity and persistence in various features of our characters or the course of the kind of experience we have. This was thought to do justice to the insights and sensitivity we have in being concerned about our own future or ‘abiding’ existence. But there are also writers of today who without being much concerned about any insights to be salvaged from the traditional view direct our attention entirely to the identity of persons in the empirical or phenomenalist sense. By this shift of emphasis the claims of the more traditional view of the self as a strict subject of experience are not so much rebutted as abandoned in favour of a different issue although one that is also of great importance in itself. This leaves the impression that all that matters has been fairly investigated.
I turn now to two examples of this particular shift of emphasis. The first is a further paper in the volume of essays in honour of Sir Alfred Ayer. It is by Professor Richard Wollheim and entitled ‘Memory Experiential Memory and Personal Identity’.
Professor Wollheim stays firmly with the declaration that ‘whatever else personal identity resides in it does not reside in a continuing unchanging substance’.1 This he thinks ‘was brilliantly enunciated by Hume’. But in presenting in this context his own account of personal identity Professor Wollheim accords a central place to memory as I do though it is not always clear to me whether memory is invoked in this case as an account of what makes us persons or as a criterion by which we establish our continuity from one state of mind to another.
On the view I have advanced we know what it is essentially to be a person from the way each one knows himself in his own case to be the person he is. Memory is not constitutive of what we are nor of our continuity over a period of time. But it does provide us with the firmest assurance in the case of strict memory of our being the same persons now and in some previous experiences. It seems however that for Professor Wollheim this sort of distinction is not sharply drawn and that it is memory that in fact makes us the continuing and developing persons that we are.
One of Professor Wollheim’s procedures is to dissociate himself very sharply from the view of Professor Ayer who continues to think of memory as essentially cognitive. It is not primarily cognitive for Wollheim and indeed it is not clear that it is cognitive at all. The important feature of memory for any account we have to give of personal identity is certainly not for him a cognitive one. But the most that he explicitly says is that the cognitive view of memory is ‘inadequate at least for one type of memory — and that in the present context the all-important type’.2
I find it very odd that the cognitive feature of memory should be played down in this way. Even if it is wrong to think of memory as Professor Ayer rightly is thought to hold as ‘through and through cognitive’ it is in its cognitive aspect that we normally think of it and it is in that way that it is usually invoked as having prime importance in a sound account of our awareness of our own continuity. To remember something is to become aware in some fashion whatever that may be of something that happened and which we have experienced earlier ourselves to be assured of what was the case on some earlier occasion. This makes memory if not cognitive through and through at least primarily and centrally cognitive.
The main account of memory which Professor Wollheim offers us is a causal one. I have always been a little perplexed as to what a causal account of memory would involve if we think of memory as I think we should as essentially or primarily cognitive. There are of course causal factors in our having memories as there are of any other state of mind. These will not be exhaustively states of our bodies. The nature of thought itself has its part to play as I have stressed earlier. But if the body and especially the brain begins to fail or is damaged then our ability to remember is apt to be impaired sometimes very seriously. It is for reasons such as these that it is sometimes said that our memories are stored in our brains and provided that we realise that this is a very metaphorical way of speaking there is no harm in it. But our memories are not strictly stored. They are either live occasions of recalling the past or in the less strict sense bringing to mind what we have come to know in some other way as when we remember some event we have been told about or discovered for ourselves — or the memory may be the dispositional proclivity or capacity to recall in those ways. Neither of these are things which can properly be thought to be stored. The brain whatever else it is is not a receptacle in which memories least of all live states of mind are stored or housed like birds in the aviary. But subject to this caution we can very properly maintain that there are causal conditions of our being able to remember and that states of our brains and of our bodies generally as affecting these have a very important place among such conditions.
It is for the physiologist and especially those who concentrate on study of the brain to tell how precisely the brain functions in memory. But there is no difference in principle here from the case of other states of mind. It may turn out to be easier in actual fact to ascertain what part or what functioning of the brain is involved in memory by contrast for example with more ratiocinative processes. But in all the experiences we normally have there are bodily conditions and especially states of the brain which are substantially involved in our having the sort of experiences we do have. The part which the body plays in perception for example is peculiarly evident however much it needs the expert to tell the story in its fullness.
But however much we may have to take account of physiological processes in considering how we come to have the experiences we do have it would be quite wrong to suppose that this causal story builds up into an analysis or description of what it is to have those experiences or of what they are in themselves. We do not even in perception give a causal account of what it is to see and hear we only indicate certain conditions of our being able to see and hear conditions which may or may not be thought to be indispensable. There is a sense in which the stimulation of my eye by an external object and thereby the stimulation of my brain brings about the seeing which ensues upon the change in my brain. But the dependence remains a contingent one and we are even told of plausible cases like out-of-the-body experiences where the normal causal processes seem not to be operative. There is no proper explanation of what it is to see in noting the physiological factors which normally bring this about.
This it seems to me holds of all states of mind. We may give an account of the causal factors involved but it would be odd to regard this as offering a causal theory of our states of mind. This seems to me peculiarly true of memory. To indicate the physiological factors involved does not tell us what memory in itself is. This is true whether we think of memory in a dispositional way or as the actual recall of what we have learnt or come to know. It is more obviously the case when we think of live or as I have called it strict instances of remembering as when I remember having my breakfast this morning. I could not in any normal expectation do this if certain things were wrong with my brain as happens in senility. But this does not tell us properly what it is to remember or why we can put reliance as we normally do on such remembering. These are the major philosophical issues about memory and they are little affected by the account we give of the physiological factors involved. If therefore a causal theory of memory involves simply making us aware of the part which our bodies and especially our brains play in our being able to remember there can be no serious objection to it. But it would be very misleading on that account to claim to be offering a causal theory of what it is to remember and of the other central philosophical questions involved such as the reliance we place on our memories. I am quite foxed to know what it would be to offer a causal theory of memory in these central philosophical respects.
This is especially true when we think of memory as we normally do as a way of bringing to mind with assurance certain events which we experienced or in which we participated in the past that is when we take memory to be primarily if not necessarily cognitive. But perhaps something is involved here in the alleged causal theory other than the causal physiological factors. It could be truly said that I could not strictly remember having my breakfast this morning if the latter had not in fact occurred any more than I can be thought to perceive a table if there is no table in the room where I seem to see one. The presence of the table whatever our theory of external objects is a prerequisite of my seeing it. But it would be very odd to say for this reason that the table causes me to see it. In the same way it would be odd to say that my eating my breakfast this morning causes me to remember eating my breakfast if all that is involved in this is that I could not remember eating my breakfast if I had not in fact done so. It is only in a very trivial sense that eating my breakfast causes me to remember doing so. But in what other sense could it be maintained that my eating my breakfast causes or brings about my remembering just that. In short if we think of memory in its proper cognitive sense what sense that is not tautological could there be in offering a causal account of memory other than noting the causal physiological factors involved?
Professor Wollheim does not however have to answer these questions. For it is not with memory in its cognitive form even if he does grant that there is such memory that he is concerned. His concern is with memory in its ‘affective’ form. By this he understands the following. The events which we experience and indeed those of which we come to know in other ways make some impact upon us sometimes slight and sometimes considerable; and this may enter into our dispositional attitudes and proclivities in various ways. This provides for him the basis for a causal view of memory and the way it matters in personal identity. This takes us well beyond the ‘empiricist’ view of memory as simply a relation holding between experiences. This latter ‘parsimonious’ view of memory must be replaced by the notion of memory as a capacity and of persons as the means ‘to house such a disposition’.
The deployment of this view is undertaken in considerable detail and with much subtlety. I shall not attempt to follow the details of Professor Wollheim’s analysis. The main consideration centres on what he calls ‘experiential memory’. This is contrasted with both ‘recollection’ and ‘retention’. In the first of these latter two we come to know the original event at second hand for example by hearing or reading about it. In the second case we first learned about the event at first hand by ourselves seeing or hearing it for instance. In ‘experiential memory’ we came to know of the event ‘from the inside’ in ‘the performance of it or the suffering of it knowingly’.
It is in terms of those distinctions that we must account for what is called here ‘the Goethe case’ that is the situation when we are not quite certain that we remember something because we have been told about it or because we were ourselves involved at the time that is remember it in what I have earlier myself called ‘the strict sense’. The ‘acquisition.condition’ is different in the two cases instanced. When we realise in due course that we do strictly remember ‘we should explain this switch by invoking a change in the relative causal efficacies of the reasons related to the different types of memory’.3
What is of main importance is that in the case of ‘experiential memory’ taken to have much in common with ‘centrál imagining’ as the author elsewhere describes that ‘it is not the case that the satisfier of the acquisition condition is a cognitive state — if this is taken to mean a purely cognitive state’.4 ‘Experiential memory has a distinctive phenomenology’.5 This means that ‘I shall tend to remember both systematically and liberally what I thought and what I felt’6 in the initial doing or suffering at the time; and in addition ‘I shall tend to rethink or refeel those very thoughts and feelings’; the initial state or condition will tend ‘to set itself up afresh in the mind’.7 This is ‘the “affective tendency” of experiential memory’ and ‘the state or condition that results’ is ‘the “affective tone” of experiential memory’.8 The latter is not just an accompaniment to the phenomenon ‘it also shows how the causal history that we assign to experiential memory must differ in an overall way from the causal histories we assign to other types of memory’ it must be the sort that can ‘explain the affective tendency in experiential memory’.9 We not only come to know the initial event ‘from the inside’ but also find ourselves ‘experiencing it from the inside’10 or finding that it modifies ‘at one and the same time the cognitive store and the affective store of the person whose state it was’.11
In fairness we have to entertain at this point the possibility that ‘the affective influence of an event (could) be exerted across persons’;12 and in one sense this seems quite sensible. The ‘affective tone’ of an event as it figures in my own attitudes etc. could be conveyed to others and help to determine their attitudes. But this on the other hand only becomes possible through various ways in which we convey deliberately or otherwise our own situation to others. There is no direct influence of the initial event on the attitudes and capacities of others. This is why although starting with an open mind so as not to beg the question in days when fission and fusion are seriously entertained in fashionable philosophy Professor Wollheim is forced to conclude that while ‘an event can exert an affective influence through experiential memory’ that itself ‘could not initiate the exercise of such an influence across persons’ for ‘the affective tone itself attests to an affective influence already exerted over the person by the event’.13 ‘The original affective influence of an event upon him must be that at the time of the event or what I shall call “the contemporaneous affective store”’.14
The function of memory comes to be thought of in this way as putting us ‘under the influence of a particular piece of the past’15 as this was perceived (recollection) or ‘as this was experienced’ (experiential memory). This is why such memory can have therapeutic value we relive some piece of the past and appreciate some ways in which we succeeded or failed to cope with it. This links us still more closely to the initial event and is thus ‘another reason for thinking that experiential memory cannot run across persons’.16
It is in these ways that all of us ‘can develop into the persons that we become’. And if the deep effect of thus ‘looking out over life’ seems strange ‘we must reflect that we respond not only to the colours and the contours of the scene but also to the feelings and emotions that these familiar objects arouse within us’.17 And thus by abandoning the purely cognitive view we arrive at ‘a truly explanatory account of human identity. At the core of the account is this insight: if experiential memory is criterial of person identity it is so just because it is also creative of personal identity. In experiential memory the past affects us in such a way that we become creatures with a past: creatures that is tied to the past in the way peculiar to persons’.18
There is much besides this in the details of Professor Wollheim’s discussions his account of ‘screen memory’ for instance and the distinction between ways in which these may be branches of a memory path and branches off a memory path as this bears on questions of fusion and fission; but the central contention which concerns us now is the one just made namely that our identity turns especially on the way our reactions to various particular events are perpetuated and extended in ‘the reinforcement of the original impact by later experiential memory of the event’19 the expansion and mediation of the past in present attitudes being made possible by the original impact of the event as this ‘accrues’ to experiential memory. This is the causal way in which memory ensures our identity from one situation to another this memory is constitutive in the way it makes us what we are in essential linkage with our past.
I have little doubt that an analysis along these lines is of great importance for our understanding of ourselves and our identity at a certain level whether or not we follow Professor Wollheim in all the details of his account. But it is still a matter of operating only at one level the level of what I set forth above as the self in the sense in which it may be described. We are still concerned with the psychology and phenomenology of the self with the way I am and become the sort of person which my life has made me with the continuity of my past in the shaping of my dispositions and character. The more insight we have into this process the better but there remain very different questions which cannot be answered in these ways questions which moreover thrust themselves upon us even within the limited scope of the phenomenological study itself. For we have still to ask how the present reaction to some event does in fact perpetuate itself in some capacity or attitude which it makes possible. It may be wrong to suppose that these attitudes continue by inhering in some quasiphysical substance. But neither can we leave them high and dry in some sublime isolation of their own or simply subject to some peculiar mechanism of their own blending and inter-relatedness. There may not be anything we can say about a disposition and its changes and development as such and we are all anxious today not to hypostatise abstractions. It nontheless seems unsatisfactory simply to note our dispositions and tell the story of them. There must be something further which ensures this.
But what can this something further be other than the same consciousness continuing in the awareness of being the consciousness it is and sustaining the influence of its past because it is the same consciousness. I very much stressed above the peculiar involvement of the self as the ultimate subject of experience with the course of its own experience and the development or other changes in our dispositional make-up. The self I stressed is not just appended to character and experience. It is involved in them and this makes it possible for us sometimes to lose sight of the ultimate self altogether we cannot find it as a thing apart. It is nonetheless apprehended by each one in his own case as that without which neither experience nor disposition could have significance. To drop it out of sight in the story we tell about ourselves in terms of experience and character is to forfeit everything which makes that story itself possible and significant.
Even if this were not the case we should hardly come to that conclusion simply on the basis of effectively telling the story of our identity in the describable form of experience and character. The question has at least to be raised of whether there is not some more fundamental sense of our own identity and how this must be conceived. We do not answer this question but simply pass it by in our concentration on how experience continues and character shapes itself. Professor Wollheim may be right in his rejection of some idea of an unchanging substance. But he does nothing to substantiate this by the effectiveness of his dealing with another question. In short the issue as between Hume and Kant or Descartes cannot be wished away in terms of an answer to a quite different question. It must be faced on its own account whichever side we take. Professor Wollheim is simply not addressing himself to the question of self-identity in the form in which that question has been most fundamentally a question with which philosophers have peculiarly concerned themselves. We cannot turn to phenomenology however impressive for an answer to an essentially philosophical question.
The same tendency to raise or seem to raise one sort of question and proceed to answer in terms of another question is even more marked in the work of some other writers of today. I turn now to a further example a much more patent one than Professor Wollheim.
In his address to the Joint Session of the Mind Association and the Aristotelian Society at Swansea the late Professor J. R. Jones begins with a firm and very sharp contrast of his own position with my own. He thought it was ‘senseless’ to suppose that one could assign experiences to an identified owner ‘by simply consulting’ one’s experiences directly. For this would imply he thought ‘that I inwardly scan a number of different consciousnesses’.20 I would be picking out my own experiences as my own in the same way as I would pick my umbrella from a stand or my hat from a peg. There would have to be some peculiarity of the umbrella its location at least and almost certainly much besides to distinguish it from the others.
This submission made by Professor Jones is not so common today as it used to be and it will be evident already how I respond to it. I do indeed know other minds on evidence of some sort even in the case of telepathy if it happens. But what evidence could I seek for my certainty that I am now in pain (if I were so) and that it is me who is in pain or that I am having now these thoughts that I put on paper and that it is myself who is thinking them even if others think along similar lines? All this has been stressed already. Professor Jones made two further moves that I wish to note.
In the first place he had recourse to the now familiar ploy in Wittgensteinian philosophy namely to maintain that where there is no doubt or a possibility of error there can be no point in claiming to know. As Professor Jones himself puts it ‘there can be no ascribing to an identified subject where there is no question of mis-ascribing’.21 I have never understood the appeal of this procedure. If it is a matter of legislating about the use of the word ‘know’ then it may not be as serious as it seems. But since the word ‘know’ is also being used in the way we would normally use it I fail altogether to understand why we cannot be said to know simply because the issue is not in doubt. It may be peculiarly pointless in practice to affirm vigorously or indeed at all something that is evident beyond any question; but if anything that would seem also to make it exceptionally clear that what is pointless to affirm in this way is so because it is so evidently the case and true. The claim of truth is strengthened not weakened in such instances. There may be no point in insisting that the pain I feel is mine but this does not preclude me from being firmly convinced that it is so.
The matter might be different if I could form no opinion as to what it would be like for my belief to be false but when I affirm that I am in pain there is no difficulty at all in understanding what it would be like for this not to be true namely my being comfortable or not in pain. Likewise there is no problem about understanding what it would be like for it to be someone else and not me in pain. None of this is questioned when it is claimed in self-ascription that it is beyond any possible doubt for me that the pain is mine. How could I have an actual pain and not just a possible source of pain without being certain that I had it and what could be more inane in this case than to begin to wonder whether after all it may not be someone else?
But how is this to be understood if it is also the case as Professor Jones maintains that ‘my avowals are not selfascriptions’22 if that is in having no possible doubt about being in pain I am nevertheless not ascribing this pain to an identifiable owner or subject. On the latter score there is no concession it being further stressed in relation to the view that memory might be a criterion of self-identity that whatever may be said about memories ‘they are not memories of past “episodes of consciousness” whatever that might mean’.23 I find Professor Jones’s puzzlement here very strange. It is quite true that my memories are usually at least memories of ‘situations in which this person became involved’.24 I say ‘usually’ as I am not certain what we should say here when we remember a dream or even a train of thought or rumination. There is obviously some sort of situation in a dream or in most dreams. When I dream that I am playing tennis there is much common to this and actually playing the court where I seem to be playing the balls the rackets my companions etc. There is also the actual state of my body in bed but that is not what I remember when I recall my dream nor are the court and the rackets and my friends in this case other than items in my own consciousness in my dream even if I am dreaming about a real court and real people. When I am by contrast with dreams just absorbed in my own thinking it is not likely that I shall be wholly oblivious of the world around me but what I remember especially is the course of my own thinking.
Even in situations which have clearly their outward or physical components and other real people as when I remember having my breakfast this morning a great deal of what I remember is what I myself was thinking or intending — how amused I was by someone’s remark the choices I made from the menu being pleased or displeased at what was set before me my perception of the room or enjoyment of the bright sunshine outside or concern about getting wet later if it is raining hard or the course of an argument I had. I was aware all the time I was having my breakfast I was not eating like a machine sucking something into its maw. It seems to me therefore clear that part of what I remember in this and like instances is certainly my own states of consciousness at the time and I am quite at a loss to understand why this should be thought to be so preposterous.
But if there can be no ascribing of states of mind or ‘episodes of consciousness’ to a subject at a particular time and to the same subject at various times if ‘I have’ in avowals of pain and the like ‘does not express assignation to an identified owner’25 and there can thus in the quotation made with approval from Wittgenstein be ‘no question of recognising a person when I say “I have toothache”’26 what alternative account can we offer in these situations? What is the proper force of ‘I have’ here and of ‘my pain’ and of the absurdity of seeking some evidence for making such avowals? What are we doing in such cases that seems beyond all disputation?
The answer to this is given in terms of the notion of ‘there being the world which death will end’.27 This is a ‘neighbourless world’ and what my pain-avowal communicates is ‘the neighbourless fact that a pain is currently involved in there being the world which will stop existing when I die. Asking how I know I have a toothache is asking how I know this fact and that is what is nonsensical’.28 But have we got rid of the domination of the possessive here have we guarded sufficiently against the ‘intrusion of possessor-level grammar’? What is this world that ends with my death? It is clearly not what we ordinarily mean by ‘the world’. It would be an ‘intolerable paradox’ to say that anyone’s death will end the world in that sense. The world will still go on. What sort of a world then will come to an end? Can we avoid saying ‘the world of my experiences’ or ‘the world as I see it’ or some variation on this? My world will come to an end but now we are back again with the embarrassing possessive which we are trying to exclude. What is the purport of ‘my’ in such a context?
At this point recourse is had to a distinction which Wittgenstein had drawn between two ‘levels of grammatical language’. At one of these the use of ‘I’ is on the same grammatical level as the use of ‘he’ or ‘other people’ and at this level it is replaceable by ‘this body’. At this level Jones insists I am picked out simply as ‘a certain occupant of space’. I know myself at this level simply as ‘a space-occupant’. I seem also however to be more than this but certainly not ‘a bodiless subject’. The latter supposition is conclusively refuted it is thought in Professor Strawson’s insistence that I ascribe predicates to myself in the same way as by observation I ascribe them to others. In the ascription of experiences I am on the same level as other people and Strawson’s account of the primitiveness of the concept of a person is thought to provide ‘substantial corroboration’ of the view that if there is self-ascription at all it must be to me as a body ‘a space-occupant’. But there remains a ‘disquietude’ about this. Everything has not been said. There is some ‘radical asymmetry’29 in the ascriptions to oneself rather than others and Strawson does not allow for this he leaves it ‘prematurely blocked’.30
At the second level I am as Wittgenstein had put it ‘without neighbours’ and cannot therefore identify myself’ ‘there could be no question of my knowing who I am’.31 but that is not all. For there is also as noted ‘the world that will end with my death’. Little is said to indicate precisely how this is to be understood. It is apparently a world of experiences and to that extent not just a bodily world. But even this is unclear for everything seems to be reduced at this stage ‘simply to “the world’s being there”’.32 ‘Wittgenstein contrasts “consciousness physiologically understood or understood from outside” with “consciousness as the very essence of experience the appearance of the world the world”’.33 In my view ‘the world’s being there’ is not enough to cover my apprehension of the world. I do not normally pause to take note of this apprehension. All the same the mere fact of the book’s being on the table is not the same as my perceiving it. I do not even on a Berkeleyan view just perceive a state of my mind. There is moreover much in the world which we never apprehend. It is also very hard to understand what is meant by ‘consciousness physiologically understood’ or ‘all experience is world’.
Undaunted by any perplexity here Professor Jones staying very closely with Wittgenstein insists boldly that when I am not being identified as a body ‘I also no longer know who I am. For there being the world is now all that the use of “I” succeeds in expressing. And there being the world in a sense covers everything. This makes “I” at this level co-extensive with everything’.34 It ‘shrinks’ as Wittgenstein had put it ‘to a point without extension and there remains the reality co-ordinate with it’.35 ‘You cannot know who you are at a level where you are simply reduced to “everything’s being there”’.36 But even so there remains some sense in which we are to refer to the world that ends with my death. My pain is mine simply in the sense of occurring at some point in this world. But now we have the further move of referring us back to the other level the one at which I ‘have neighbours’ and can be identified as one body among others and having the pain is just ‘one of the experiences of this space-occupant. That is what makes it “my pain”’.37
The really serious problems seem to elude us entirely in these curious moves. We cannot be quite certain that what is being offered is straightforward corporealism but what there is beyond this remains most obscure even experiences being equated with ‘the world’s being there’. The most that we have is an alleged new grammatical level; and in that case it is hard to understand the significance of singling out the events that begin with my body being animate and end with my drawing the last breath or whatever the clinical criterion of bodily death may be. Why select this particular series of events and why attach importance to the pain as mine simply because it is one of these? Where there is no recognition that experience itself is not physical it is not strange that the question of experiences being had by a person appears to be pointless. One wonders why so much ingenuity should be wasted upon it.
One wonders also why the terminal point of the bodily series should have so much importance. Why not stay with the identification of persons at the appropriate grammatical level if we must think in those terms in a bodily way? How does the preoccupation with the ending of it at ‘my death’ come about? I suggest that behind all this concern there is more than the attempt to make a particular bodily series specific. There is a profoundly misleading conflation of two very different questions. Both of these concern some sense in which we may come to better understanding of ourselves or who we are. Let me make this plainer.
It is possible that the awareness of our own mortality and having this reflectively in mind may help us to a fuller understanding of the sort of persons we are and what may lie ahead for us. How far if at all this is true I would not care to say. It has been thought to be true by notable persons like John Donne. But this is a quite different phenomenological (or perhaps religious) issue that has nothing whatsoever to do directly with the question of self-identity in the form in which philosophers have been most concerned to examine it the question at issue for instance between Hume and Kant. The fact that we will die appears to be totally irrelevant to this and would not usually be brought into the discussion.
Suppose for example we thought there were celestial beings angels and archangels etc. We might or might not ascribe some quasi-physical form to these. As men in various cultures and religions have pictured them they have some form of that kind but whether they have or not we distinguish one from the other; and they themselves presumably if they exist at all distinguish themselves from one another. Michael would know that he is not Gabriel. All the same it has not usually been supposed that such superior beings would ever die. There may or may not be a reason for such beliefs. But the point is that the supposition that celestial beings were not mortal proved no obstacle to regarding them as distinct beings who would also be aware in each case of the difference between each and the others.
Suppose again to come down to earth we envisage a number of infants stranded on a solitary island as older children were in The Lord of the Flies. Suppose they have lived a very sheltered life before that and had never been told or had anything in their lives to suggest that their lives would end some day. They flourish and grow up on their island on a vegetarian diet and they never encounter the bodies of any dead creatures not even dead fish being washed ashore. It may thus never occur to them that they would not go on for ever. But this would be no bar at all to their distinguishing one from the other. They would presumably remember their names or acquire the equivalent. One would be John and one would be Jane and all this identification of who each of them was would proceed entirely without any thought of their eventual death. If they became sharp enough to reflect philosophically they might wonder what all this involved; is it just a matter of their having different bodies or is there more than this to each one being the one he is? If they cannot raise such questions themselves we could certainly raise them on their behalf and I submit we would do so on the basis of what seems at present the case about them without any regard at all to the fact that they would die some day. The fact that we die however fundamental in other contexts in no way affects the question what makes a person in virtue of what we find ourselves to be the distinct person that he is.
The religious agnostic is not debarred from giving the same sort of answer to the initial question about self-identity as the religious person who has expectation of a future life. We may indeed take this further. Suppose one does believe in God. This is a belief in a spiritual and usually personal being but also one who cannot be thought of as non-existing. He exists it is usually thought by the necessity of his own nature. We have to be cautious when we consider how our talk about such a being should be properly understood and we must not be too anthropomorphic in conceiving of him. All the same it would be strange to say as the Wittgenstein represented in the above discussion would have to say that God who does not die cannot for that reason have the faintest idea who he is.
From the book: