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as certainly and as strongly control the convictions of men, as the demonstrations of geometry; and not of one man merely, or any particular set of men, but of all mankind; for the few who pretend to reject them in speculation, constantly retract and deny such rejection of them in their practice. And yet they are not the deductions of reasoning, but rather the natural and unfailing concomitants of human nature.— With sufficient reason, also, are the propositions in question called PRIMARY; because, as would seem to follow from the very definition of them, they are the propositions into which all reasoning ultimately resolves itself
, and are necessarily involved and implied in the various investigations of which the mind is capable, whether they relate to the great subject before us or to others. As has been intimated, there cannot possibly be a process of reasoning, without some first principle or admitted truth from which to start.
0 4. Primary truth of personal existence. The PRIMARY TRUTH which we are naturally led to consider first, is that of the reality of our personal existence. The proposition that we exist is a sort of corner-stone to everything else; the foundation of our knowledge; the place and basis from which the edifice must rise. -Without undertaking to prove this fundamental truth, we nevertheless fully recognise and admit it. In other words, it is a proposition antecedent to reasoning, but which, notwithstanding, fully and perfectly secures our belief. If we reason on the subject of personal existence, there is necessarily implied an I, a personal self, by whom the process of reasoning is conducted, and which renders all such reasoning nugatory. If we doubt concerning our personal existence, there is the same implication, since there can be no doubting unless there is some one ta doubt And, of course, there can be no one to doubt where there is no personal existence. That we exist, therefore, is a truth of nature, and not of argumentation. Nothing which comes within the reach of the human mind is more clearly defined to its perception, more thoroughly controlling and operative, and more raised above cavils and skepticism, whether rational or irrational, than this.
Ø 5. Occasions of the origin of the idea or belief of personal existence.
It remains, however, a distinct subject of inquiry, Under what circumstances this elementary belief arises ?And, in answer to this inquiry, we may say with abundant confidence, if it be not the earliest, it is at least among the earliest notions which the mind is capable of forming. A kind Providence has not conceded to a conviction, so essential to our whole mental history, a dilatory and late appearance. But that same Providence has given a place as well as a time, an occasion as well as a period of its formation ; and although it may be impossible for us ever to ascertain that occasion with certainty, we may at least conjecture.
We look, therefore, in our meditations on this topic, at man in the commencement of his existence. We see him suddenly called forth from a state where there was neither form, nor knowledge, nor power, endowed with such capabilities of thought and action, both internal and external, as his Creator saw fit to give. Thus brought into being, and thus fitted up for his destined sphere, we will suppose that some external object is for the first time presented to the senses. The result of this is, that there is an impression made on the senses; and then at once there is a change in the mind, a new thought, a new feeling. Although, as already suggested, there is room for different conjectures here, there is much reason to believe that this is the true occasion of the origin of the belief in question. The first internal experience, the earliest thought or feeling, is immediately followed by the notion of personal or self-existence, as the subject of this new thought or feeling. And this idea or conviction of personal existence, which arises at this very early period, is continually suggested and confirmed in the course of the successive duties, enjoyments, and sufferings of life.
Such has commonly been supposed to be the origin of the belief in question. We may as well suppose it to come into being in connexion with the first act of the mind, as with any subsequent act, although with less distinctness and strength than afterward. But whether this account of the origin of the conviction of our personal existence be the true one or not, we may still hola to the fact of the belief itself as something beyond doubt. We may also regard it as necessarily resulting from our mental constitution, and as wholly inseparable from our being.
§ 6. Primary truth of personal identity. The second of those preliminary truths which we term primary is the proposition of our Personal Identity.-- If the consideration of our personal existence naturally comes first in the order of time, that of the truth now before us is not secondary in point of importance. We cannot dispense with either without unsettling the grounds of inquiry and belief, and barring the access to all knowl. edge whatever.
IDENTITY is synonymous with sameness, and is the name of a simple state of mind. Although, therefore, its meaning is as clear as that of other simple ideas, and everybody is supposed to understand it, it is not susceptible of definition. The term is applied to various objects, and, among others, to men.-The word PERSONAL implies Self, and personal identity is, therefore, the identity of ourselves. But the term self is complex, embracing both mind and matter, and hence we are led to consider the distinct notions of mental and bodily identity.
I. MENTAL IDENTITY.—By this phrase we express the continuance and oneness of the thinking principle merely. The soul of man is truly a unit. It is not like matter, separable into parts. It may bring, from time to time, new susceptibilities into action ; but its essence is unchangeable. That which constitutes it a thinking and sentient principle, in distinction from that which is unthinking and insentient, never deserts it, never ceases to exist, never becomes other than what it originally was.
II. BODILY IDENTITY.-By these expressions we mean the sameness of the bodily shape and organization. This is the only meaning, we can attach to them, since the materials which compose our bodily systems are constantly changing. The body is not a unit in the same sense the soul is. It was a saying of Seneca, that no man bathes twice in the same river; and still we call it the same, although the water within its banks is constant,
!y passing away. And in like manner we ascribe identity to the huinan body, although it is subject to constant changes; meaning by the expressions, as just remarked, merely the sameness of shape and organization.
III. PERSONAL IDENTITY.—This form of expression is more general than either of those which have been mentioned. It has reference to both mind and matter, as we find them combined together in that complex existence which we term man or person. It is equivalent to what is conveyed by he two phrases of mental identity and bodily identity But it is evident we cannot easily separate the two when speaking of men. And accordingly, when it is said that any one is conscious of, knows, or has a certainty of his personal identity, it is meant to be asserted that he is conscious of having formerly possessed the powers of an organized, animated, and rational being, and that he still possesses those powers. He knows that he is a human being now, and that he was a human being yesterday, or last week, or last year.There is no mystery in this. It is so plain, no one is likely to misunderstand it, although we admit our inability to give a definition of identity.
07. Reasons for regarding this a primary truth. If personal identity be a primary truth, it is antecedent to arguinent, and is independent of it.—What grounds are there, then, for regarding it as such?
In the first place, the mere fact that it is constantly implied in those conclusions which we form in respect to the future from the past, and universally in our daily actions, is of itself a decisive reason for reckoning it among
the original and essential intimations of the human intellect. On any other hypothesis we are quite unable to account for that practical recognition of it in the pursuits of men, which is at once so early, so evident, and so universal.
The farmer, for instance, who looks abroad on his cultivated fields, knows that he is the same person who, twenty years before, entered the forest with an axe on his shoulder, and felled the first tree. The aged soldier, who recounts at his fireside the battles of his youth, neve, er once doubts that he was himself the witness of those sanguinary scenes which he delights to relate. It is altogether useless to attempt either to disprove or to confirm to them a proposition which they believe and know, not from the testimony of others or from reasoning, but from the interior and authoritative suggestion of their very nature ; and which, it is sufficiently evident, can never be eradicated from their belief and knowledge until that nature is changed.
A SECOND circumstance in favour of regarding the notion of personal identity as an admitted or primary truth, is, that men cannot prove it by argument if they would ; and, if they do not take it for granted, must for ever be without it. The propriety of this remark will appear on examination. There evidently can be no argument, properly so called, unless there is a succession of distinct propositions. From such a succession of propositions, no conclusion can be drawn by any one, unless he is willing to trust to the evidence of memory. But
involves a notion of the time past; and whoever admits that he has the power of memory, in however small a degree, virtually admits that he has existed the same at some former period as at present.
The considerations which we have now particularly in view, and which are greatly worthy of attention in connexion with the principle under examination, may, with a little variation of terms, be stated thus.
Remembrance, without the admission of our personal identity, is clearly an impossibility. But there can be no process of reasoning without memory. This is evident, because arguments are made up of propositions which are successive to each other, not only in order, but in point of time. It follows, then, that there can be no argument whatever, or on any subject, without the admission of our identity, as a point from which to start. What, then, will it avail to attempt to reason either for or against the views which are here maintained, since, in every argument which is employed, there is necessarily an admission of the very thing which is the subject of inquiry?