A philosophical history of the Identity

From the Ancients to the Renaissance: an identity dominated by God

Indeed, according to the Moderns, man lived under the hand of God, his creator. Existence was not a problem. It was necessary to live according to the rites of his religion and to accept the fate that was his. What man was, his being, was also not problematic. As a creature of God, our origin was known. Only the metaphysical worries of theodicy, of original sin, or even of salvation-which certainly was not nothing-subsisted. But it is with modern philosophy that man began to stand out from the cup of God. If man is still the creature of God in Descartes, he nevertheless possesses a freedom which will make him autonomous, responsible for himself. And this freedom will open the future of man to all possible, in particular to the epistemological construction of identity. It is in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries that we find for the first time the use of the “I” in literature, with Montaigne then Rousseau. Perhaps we can understand the urgency with which Pascal wrote his Thoughts-many fragments of which are answers addressed to Descartes and Montaigne-in the sense that it was necessary to repeat what Descartes had maltreated, that is to say To rescue the man drowned in dereliction and to make him recover a certain stability in existence. With the criticism of scholasticism by the Moderns, man has entered into a phase of anguish in which the truth about his existence is no longer as assured. That is why Pascal writes in the bundle Contrarietes that “man is inconceivable to himself without the aid of faith.” It is not for Pascal to prove the truth of the Scriptures, but only to emphasize the help of faith, when our whole soul turned towards the existentially absurd truths proposed by science, is doomed to know that modern anxiety which ‘Is dereliction.

The break of the Enlightenment: an identity in crisis

Thus, this crisis of identity begun at the beginning of the seventeenth century continued evidently during the French Revolution, when man became a citizen. “A century apart separates the man of yesterday from that of the morrow,” Condorcet announced in 1792 about 1789. Leaving the secular system of castes, the peasant, the nobleman and the bourgeoisie all met under the confused category of citizen . Even today, as the term citizen is not clearly defined, it is difficult to recognize oneself as a citizen. Being no longer the son of God, being no longer assigned to a caste that defines it perfectly, the “I” seems to be today a project made to itself. The freedom declared by man in man has, it seems, caused him to lose his tranquility.

One can feel it, language and literature have a great importance in the discovery of oneself. The poet is the one who awakens our consciousness to the world. And by the fact that to exist means to be in relation with others and the world, the poet awakens us to ourselves as an existent-in-the-world. The poet is a seer, he experiences the world by “the disorder of all the senses” and then exposes it to us. Behind this revelation of the world, there is the specter of madness underlying. Artists brush against madness when they do not sink completely into it. This is what will make Rimbaud say: “I am another”. Now who, if not a fool, could say that?

In order for us to think of identity, there must be something in us that is immutable to which we could relate to verify that it is always we who speak when we speak. In a way, the ὑποκείμενον (hypokeimenon) of the Greeks allows us to find ourselves in the midst of the constant mutation of our character and our appearance. But the thing that allows this agglomeration of attributes in the same subject is not clear. How can we imagine this ὑποκείμενον? It should be sought in the mind, in reason, or in the soul, which are all synonymous here. Indeed, all changes that are likely to affect our identity, affect us within. When we cut our hair our identity as such is not altered by this physical transformation alone. But on the other hand, if we cut our hair we risk being transformed into the way we look at ourselves, and that’s where cutting your hair can affect our identity, affectation that happens through the Will we say.
It seems, then, that the substance discussed by the Greeks is really our reason, the reflective consciousness which will interpret itself and its world. This is precisely the approach of Descartes when he presents the Cogito as the capacity of man to apprehend himself. Since thought has the capacity to think itself, man becomes transparent to himself. Thus the subject would be in immediate relation with himself, and there would be no determinism at work between his being and his existence which would lead him to be someone whose contours he would be unaware of. Finally, the “I” is not another, and rationalization allows us to find it. This requires going beyond appearances.

The Deregulation of Identity: The Case of Madness

When even the world all around us could be an illusion, our thought For it can not, for to doubt what surrounds us, our thought must exist did. On the other hand, to know what this reason is, to know what our singular identity is requires More complex work. At most, reason takes charge of our identity, defining us then As pure thinking substance. It is what allows the identity, the smallest singularity of a
Subject, as a result of which a man without reason could not have identity.With this overvaluation of reason, the temptation is great to place the world at a distance. But above all, through this process of rationalization, reason will discuss what is reasonable from what is not reasonable and run the risk of going beyond its scope. Typically, what is unreasonable is the figure of madness. The one who has no identity by not being reasonable is the madman. Thus, since Descartes tells us Foucault, we no longer seek to understand madness, but we seek to cure it, correct it, and make it sensible. Now, who is  esignated “other” if not the madman? The madman, in so far as he is not conforming to the schema of reason, is placed at a distance, he is pointed out. One can not imagine not being oneself, not belonging to oneself. In short, lacking reason is inhuman because to be a man you have to have an identity, you have to be able to say “I”. We can emphasize that to say “I is another” clearly bears a mark of madness. It is clearly madness to affirm not to be self, to declare oneself to be mad. How could I be any other than myself? The reason being one, we can only possess one identity at a time. Thus one who wishes to be something other than himself would run the risk of being nobody, that is, of being all at once, that is, of acting under the madness ; To be crazy is to be everywhere at once, and by the fact that being everywhere means to be nowhere, the madman is absent from the world and from himself. Schizophrenia, which would be the incarnation of this double in identity, is precisely understood as a pathology.

Perhaps we can now specify the place occupied in the history of the Ideas by the theme of madness, hanging on to that of identity which is irremediably associated with it. To deal with madness is to deal with identity. These two notions seem to function as the two faces of the same coin. What a fool if not someone who would have been dispossessed of his identity. And what is the biggest mark of self-consciousness other than the gap that one takes in relation to madness? However, this bipolarity does not seem convincing, at least it is not so categorical. One could very well imagine being mad while being perfectly one, unique, identical in relation to oneself; At the word we should say idiot. Etymologically, ἰδιώτης means unique, specific to oneself. To be an idiot is to be unique, to be particular, hence the common idea that the idiot is necessarily different from others. From a biological sense this term has escaped towards the field of morality. It would be interesting to return to the first meaning, that is to say that there are not two like me, by dismissing all moral judgment from our thought.

It is in this sense that one must understand the phrase of Deleuze saying of the philosophers that they never ceased to make the idiots. Who are the philosophers? They are men who have never done anything but discuss evidences. In this first sense, in the moral sense, philosophers are then idiots. Did not Socrates repeat to envy, “What I know is that I know nothing”?

The search for identity, the end of the philosopher

But more fundamentally, philosophers are those men who try to get as close as possible to their singularity. Again Socrates taught us that we must know ourselves. Since then, every philosopher has repeatedly reiterated the same precept, with certainly different words and phrases, always telling us a little more about how to make one with oneself. Thus, in this more essential sense, in this biological sense, philosophers are idiots to indulge with frenzy in their peculiarities, in their particularisms, which common men, that is to say, in a hurry, refuse to see Nor to hear.

How, then, am I to find myself in the midst of this apparent chaos represented by an existence? Reason alone is not enough to understand us. If it has the merit of certifying our existence in Descartes, at least for the time when it is thought, it does not explain the permanent change with which each man is affected. It would be a question of finding a way of explaining, of telling a life, in the manner of a book that one discovers page after page. Reason, the foundation of being, would be represented here by the cover of the book, such as our transcendental identity to speak as Kant, that which allows identity to be structured, but actual identity, Daily would be translatable by the sentences outlined in this book. Consequently, we will say that literature, and more specifically language, constitute this privileged method of apprehending the “I”. It was in the nineteenth century that psychoanalysis took charge of taking up this theme of madness in an attempt to understand it. It is not a matter of refuting the Cartesian Cogito, but of developing it.

 

The pitfall of solipsism

In the first place one can criticize the solipsist thought conferred by the latter. One must accept to lose oneself in things in order to hope to find oneself. A man locked up in jail will not be the same, will not think the same way as if he were seated as a family around a good dish. Identity is traversed by the environment in which it moves, and it is precisely through language that man possesses the faculty of connecting with others and with his world. Without another to listen to him telling himself, the “I” could not be interpreted himself. Language is a door on others and hence on itself, as wide as it is reduced, for it is well to use it in order not to spoil the world and itself with false perceptions. It is a necessary tool to understand but whose use can be both delicate and dangerous. We must look for the appearance of things beyond words. We arrive at nearly the same conclusion as Descartes, except that this time we do not flee the world, but we want on the contrary entirely to penetrate it, letting ourselves be completely penetrated by it.
The mastery of language is therefore an essential quality that man must acquire. Among men there are certain persons who have become masters in the art of language; It is the poets, the novelists, the playwrights, & c. The role of literature is essential, as we have said. Its role is to make us marvel at the very real nature around us to which we belong, and to make us aware of the social fiction that is played around us. It is therefore not surprising that this quotation, “I am another”, is that of a poet.

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