This is a paper for my metaphysics class. You probably won't want to read the whole thing. You might. It shouldn't be too confusing, except that my writing skills are not quite honed. I'm just putting it here for posterity's sake. We all know how often hard drives crash these days.
Enough. Here it is--
All is Flux: What Change Means for the Persistence of Personal Identity
Change, the becoming different of certain particulars, has posed no small problem in philosophy throughout time. It would seem that “to be” would mean to remain the same, thereby maintaining the same “being,” and persisting in identity. Quickly though, we are posed with a problem when an entity that possesses “being” is “becoming” something else by change of some property. We are left with a few different options to explain such a phenomenon. We can deny change all together; but this option seems counterintuitive, as this discussion would be irrelevant if change wasn't evident all around us. Or, we can affirm that change occurs and that because of this, nothing persists in its identity; but here again, by merely examining this problem over a long period of time, we affirm ability to conceive of, at least, our own existence as persisting mentally. We can explain away change in many different ways to show that the identity of anything with an essence, a mind, or a memory can persist. But, in this paper, I would like to go a step further than this mere explaining away, and explore the paradox of change in light of the Aristotelian notions of material, final, and efficient causation, and its potential to not only destroy persistence of personal identity, but instead, to allow a being to step into a fuller identity.
One of the primary “paradoxes of change” comes in a series of questions about the nature of “Locke's Socks.” In this paradox, socks, and not persons, are the subject, making the problem simpler, but nevertheless, providing a principle that can be abstracted. John Locke wonders about whether, when his sock develops a hole, it is the same sock if he patches it. He wonders further, if this process were to continue until all the material of the sock was entirely replaced, would the sock, lacking all of the original material, be the same sock? Does its identity persist despite lack of identical material substance? I think that in order to “answer” these questions we need to ask another question in response: Can anything be “itself” when it is not fulfilling its purpose? It seems clear that a sock is intimately tied to its purpose, and thus is more itself when it is patched. In Aristotelian terms, this purpose is a “final cause,” the end for which a thing was created. Thus, the sock's “being” is found in fulfillment of that purpose. This not to say that what it is made of, in Aristotelian terms, its “material cause” is unimportant, but to say that materials do, in all cases, deteriorate. This seems to be a reason to assert, to all material causes, the property of deterioration or change, leaving us unsurprised when deteriorating material properties take away the ability to fulfill a purpose.
Upon further reflection, it seems that change is a property that resides above and within the materials themselves, existing as a meta-property. And purpose, or final causation, is a property that we ascribe, by mere creation, to all things, a kind of teleological meta-property. The issue, and where the paradox seems to lie, is where these two meta-properties conflict, the point at which change or deterioration runs against an entity's ability to accomplish its final cause. A decision must be made about whether we consider the teleological property supersedes an entity's deterioration, in this case, a sock's deterioration.
When we attempt to apply what we have learned from the sock to our experience as human beings, we find that the problem becomes much more complicated. Besides a difference in final cause, the sock's situation is distinct from the human person's situation in that for the person there is a conscious volition, whereas the sock, and how its identity will persist, are the conscious choice of not the sock, but the wearer of the sock. It is here that the sock analogy diverges from the true subject of this paper, the persistence of personal identity.
Taking care to be thorough, and fair, we will present this paradox of identity with the human person as the subject of inquiry. Human persons, like socks, possess, at least, the two causes we have spoken of thus far, material and final. The socks, like the human persons, possess a third Aristotelian “cause,” the “efficient cause,” or creator, though this cause is less important when we discuss the sock because of the wide range of efficient causes for the wide range socks we might encounter in the world. It is also important to note that the despite this diversity of socks we find in the world, the final cause of a sock is much more widely agreed upon, making it easier to diagnose a view on how to weigh the teleological property and its intersection with its material meta-property of change in the sock's persistence of identity, though even that is, by no means, a simple task.
With these differences in mind, we will begin to work out a view of identity for human persons. We acknowledge that humans change, sometimes as a result of personal volition and action, sometimes as a result of material deterioration, or sometimes as a result of intervening outside causes. There are, unlike the socks, many ways that a person can change, many of them being immaterial or mental. But, like with the socks, personal material causes will naturally change, according to their meta-property of deterioration or change, which is as persistent as the materials themselves. And before considering other changes that may happen less naturally, or without conscious choice, we must decide on the teleological meta-property of human beings, because, like the socks, whether or not change conforms with a human person's final cause is a determining factor in how personal identity persists. And here there are a variety of highly debated options, but, as with all other material entities, I assert that there is a final cause to the human person, something that many would not do, and that even further, this final cause emanates from the efficient cause, or creator, the God of the Christian Bible, which is, again, one more large step in a direction many would not take. However, on Aristotle's view, the burden of proof is on those who would want to rid his system of final and efficient causes as they pertain to the human person. I will move forward asserting that these causes do not only exist, but highly inform personal identity and its persistence over time.
Thus far I have ascribed to the human person an efficient cause, the God of the Bible; a final cause, or teleological meta-property, found in the purposes of the efficient cause; a material cause, the stuff human persons are made of; and the meta-property of change or deterioration effecting material cause (which may or may not be all material, depending on one's view, but is a discussion outside the scope of this paper). When this point was reached in the analysis of the sock's identity, the teleological meta-property, that a sock would insulate a person's foot, and the meta-property of deterioration of material cause, which caused the sock to have holes, were pointed out as conflicting meta-properties. If the teleological meta-property is seen as most important, then the sock retains its identity, even when patched, and perhaps moves even closer to its original identity when the patch is applied. This patching can even be seen as a reversal of the material deterioration meta-property, a material reclamation property, acknowledging that the material is merely a means to a fulfillment of purpose. However, if the material deterioration meta-property is seen as preeminent, then when it is patched the sock loses its identity. It is also important to note that even without the patch, a sock with holes in it will have an identity devoid of purpose in the end since, even though it is the “same” sock because it has stayed true to it's meta-property of deterioration, it can no longer be the material between foot and shoe, so any clinging onto a strictly material deterioration meta-property as distinct from the teleological meta-property is a denial of persistence of purposeful identity. When we begin to apply this to the human person we see a similar dilemma, where do we place identity? Which of these meta-properties will win out?
For the Christian, it seems that the material cause is quite important. In scripture, an emphasis is placed on the body, mind, and soul—all components that “materially” (this word is used loosely) comprise a human person. It is important, however, to note that in the majority of cases, when scripture speaks to these material causes, it pairs them with efficient and final causes as well. In 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, Paul states, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. Therefore honor God with your body.” He speaks of the material cause, the body, as subject to the final and efficient causes, honoring God and His purposes with the material cause. Paul goes farther, in Romans 12:1-2, when he urges the people “to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Not only is the body subject to this teleological meta-property, but so too with the mind—both are subjugated to the will of God. The whole of scripture speaks to this truth. Man, who is separated from God, is deteriorating on a number of levels, his material cause is subject to the fall, to the meta-property of deterioration. This, for many, is a defining property, and thus, their identity “persists” by a natural deterioration meta-property.
For many, the deterioration of their human mind and soul is something they are not aware of (though most are quite aware of bodily deterioration), and in the search to find and assert a final and efficient causation, people create their own teleological meta-properties to cope with the meta-property of deterioration—as if that is something that can be done, man not having created himself. For the Christian, the problem of deterioration is no less of a problem, but the Christian person, acknowledging the deterioration, also acknowledges a higher meta-property, a teleological meta-property, rooted outside of himself in his final and efficient causes. He asserts the existence and importance of the material cause in one's identity as it conforms to a “renewal,” taking the meta-property of deterioration and flipping it on its head, allowing life and purpose-giving change, in the mind and soul, hoping for this same bodily renewal after death. On the Christian view, the final cause, God, and the efficient cause, his purposes, directly oppose the human material causes, which have fallen out of accord with the former two causes. Paul bemoans this fact in Romans 7:22-24 saying, “For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” The answer, for Paul, and other Christians is found in the person of Christ, who bridged this meta-property gap, and allowed us to say that “In [God, our Final Cause] we live, and move, and have our being.” It is because of Christ that a Christian may not only persist in identity only on the basis the property of deterioration, but, align his material cause with the pursuit of his final cause, often called sanctification, resulting in an even fuller identity.