One's identity is routinely associated with one's body, and most will readily make the claim that they are their body. Their body is the referent for their identity. I'm having a bit of a problem just looking at this construction grammatically. If I say, "I am my body", am I not saying that the first person singular verb to be is equivalent to the genitive of possession? Isn't this grammatically and logically incorrect? If not, why not? If so, then who are we apart from our bodies or our identities?

  • "One's identity is routinely associated with one's body"... highly debatable. See Personal Identity. Maybe I'm ny mind, or my soul, or my "personal history". – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Jan 14 '19 at 20:12
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    When one loses a limb their identity does not change, so it must be something far more abstract than the body itself. The question about grammar is a better fit for English SE. – Conifold Jan 14 '19 at 22:20
  • Was "I am my body" part of a larger debate? If so it may help to elaborate on that. There are several unsettled questions in metaphysics that could impact your answer, but without more context it would be difficult to steer you to the right materials. – christo183 Jan 15 '19 at 8:04
  • It was originally part of a larger debate on proving the existence of God, which would probably offend those who view such topics as inappropriate for this site. The basic idea here is that being and having are not equivalent. One cannot be what they possess. So either they are a body, or they have a body. I'm inclined to go with the latter idea, but that doesn't establish who has the body. Popeye seems to have answered the question most conclusively with, "I am who I am". I was hoping someone here might be able to come up with a more precise answer. – shnarkle Jan 15 '19 at 14:37
  • I'm still learning how to use this site, so my apologies for blindly responding wherever possible. Yes, identity is completely abstract. Identity is an abstract construction, and this is really the core problem for me. I do not see myself as a concept anymore than I see myself as a body. They are both things that one has; they are not who I am. Associating an idea with a body doesn't make them equivalent. Ideas are not bodies, and bodies are not ideas. As closely related as identification is to identity, identification is not identity. I am not my identity. I am not an identity. – shnarkle Jan 15 '19 at 14:49

I want to suggest an answer with two related aspects.

First, in the discussion about personal identity, there is another quite common theory, beside the theory that one’s body constitutes one's identity. The other theory is that one's memories (including habits and character) constitute one's identity. A major consideration in support of the memory theory is that we seem to understand the possibility of a “transmigration of souls” that is that we ourselves lived in different bodies in the past. It is unimportant here whether transmigration of souls actually occurs. Just that it is a coherent possibility. The originator of the memory theory of identity was John Locke.

But though the same immaterial substance or soul does not alone, wherever it be, and in whatsoever state, make the same man; yet it is plain, consciousness, as far as ever it can be extended—should it be to ages past—unites existences and actions very remote in time into the same person, as well as it does the existences and actions of the immediately preceding moment: so that whatever has the consciousness of present and past actions, is the same person to whom they both belong. Had I the same consciousness that I saw the ark and Noah's flood, as that I saw an overflowing of the Thames last winter, or as that I write now, I could no more doubt that I who write this now, that saw the Thames overflowed last winter, and that viewed the flood at the general deluge, was the same self,—place that self in what substance you please. (An Essay Concerning Human Understanding Book 2 Ch 27)

Second, the very question about identity arises only for rational beings. So it also brings into focus this fact, that we are rational beings (although I won't say perfectly rational beings..). That is, beings that perceive, understand, reason, decide, and (sometimes) act on reasons. And there are various contexts, where we think of ourselves primarily as rational beings, and abstract from the fact that we are also material, embodied beings. It is in such contexts, I suggest, that we tend to think of our bodies as something that we have, rather than something that we are. I, a rational being, have this body. This is also the basis for the metaphysical dualism of body and mind of Descartes's, and of Plato's Before him. But we need not accept the metaphysical dualism here, just the dualism of aspects.

The above two aspects naturally combine. When we perceive ourselves as rational, thinking beings, we can relatively easily think of our bodies as ours, rather than who we are. And we also have then available the memory theory of identity, which allows us to imagine ourselves as potentially floating from one body to another.

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    Great answer! +1. Now talk about gender. – elliot svensson Jan 16 '19 at 22:18
  • Thanks for this answer Ram Tobolski, Locke is also conflating who he is with his observations. Consciousness can't be equivalent to what one is conscious of. We are also irrational and non-rational. There is no way to describe a state of being. It's literally a misconception, but this doesn't excuse us from the heresy of this grammatical blasphemy, does it? – shnarkle Jan 18 '19 at 20:06
  • @shnarkle You're welcome. I didn't understand what you take Locke to be conflating. His theory is brilliant, and much discussed until now. As to grammer, it does not seem a very important consideration for philosophy. – Ram Tobolski Jan 18 '19 at 20:41
  • @shnarkle p.s. the fact the we are not completely rational is true, but irrelevant here. I already referred to it in my answer. – Ram Tobolski Jan 19 '19 at 6:31
  • Hi Ram, Locke is conflating the consciousness he has with who he is. His consciousness (subjective genitive) is not who he is(the verb to be). If one use grammar ineffectively, they can never befriend wisdom. One's abilities are not who they are either, so it is integrally related to the topic. One's ability to rationalize are explicitly a function of one's intellect, but one is not an intellect anymore than the ability to see makes one an eye. The part is not the whole. – shnarkle Jan 22 '19 at 14:11

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