Advanced Essay 3: We aren't what we Choose to be


My goals for this paper were to convey my ideas in a way that would make them make sense. That’s basically the entire purpose of the first few paragraphs ands the last one. I also hope I related some past ideas to the audience. I’m not unhappy with my product, but it could be better. If I had more time and more words to use (frankly 750 isn’t enough to do this paper justice, and I’m already way over that) I could make it a lot better. There are a lot of parts left unfinished here that I wished could have been finished. Other than that and a few other things, I am relatively happy with it.


People have asked the question “Who am I? Who are we?” for centuries, maybe for all of human history, and for obvious reasons. Humans are curious creatures by nature, and question everything from the stars in the sky to the dirt on the ground, so it would make sense that eventually someone would turn that curiosity inwards, towards themselves. This eventually grew so large that practically all the categories of philosophy have some fingers in the pie of questioning what a human is. Other fields of study do as well; sociology, psychology, biology, chemistry. Needless to say, it’s a complicated question with many hypotheses and ideas dedicated to determining who we are.
Sociologist Erving Goffman has some opinions on this matter. Goffman believes that “we display a series of masks to each other, enacting roles, controlling and staging how we appear,” and that “we play a range of different parts determined by the situations we take ourselves to be in.” He also believes that “we adapt what we are depending on who we are interacting with.” Many people share and have adapted this idea of the masquerade, that no one displays their inner self. But Goffman’s not done. His idea of the Performed Self is set apart because “in his [Goffman’s] view, there is no true self.” That is quite different than a fair amount of the imitators. But in addition, Goffman also details how our social interactions work according to this idea.
Another part of the identity question has less to do with how we interact with others and more to do with how we interact with ourselves. In fact, it specifically questions who “ourself” is. This idea is the idea of Personal Identity. Personal Identity is the notion that a single identity persists over someone's life. There are a few theories about the specifics of this. They are Body Theory and Memory Theory. Body Theory states that “identity persists over time because you remain in the same body from birth to death.” and Memory Theory states that “identity persists over time, because you retain memories of yourself at different points, and each of those memories is connected to one before it.”
While many people support theories of or Personal Identity, just as many vehemently oppose them. Philosopher Derek Parfit claims “that each of us has a psychological connectedness with ourselves over time.” Parfit’s idea that while we may have a psychological connectedness to any of our past selves, we are still not the same person and don’t keep the same identity. Part of any one identity may be the same for other identities, or parts of identities may even be transferable. Part a new identity could even be the fact that the old identity existed. But while these identities may be separate, they exist in the same vessel and people don’t instantly know if you have a new identity so that vessel does have a duty to be a thing.
These ideas are the product of years of work by many people, and if there’s one thing we know about human nature besides their curiosity is there innate hostility towards those with ideas that disagree with their own. Goffman’s theories of the Performed Self directly contradict the theories of Personal Identity, yet they each have their own merits. So, assuming they are true, do the theories of Personal Identity and the Performed Self interact? And if any of these ideas are true, in any combination, what does that mean for how we perceive interactions with others and groups in everyday life? As with many things, cherry picking certain parts of multiple ideas can create a product superior to its separate parts. In this case, we are discarding the common theories of Personal Identity such as Body and Memory Theory, leaving us with simply the idea that an identity persists over time and combining it with the core concept of masks from the Performed Self. Combining these two will smooth out the flaws in each. Body Theory and Memory Theory don’t make sense, and many don’t take to the idea that people have no true identity.
The basis of this idea is that even if we only see the masks people put on, that still reflects on who they are. Just because anyone can put on any mask doesn’t mean they will. Goffman’s idea that there is nothing under the mask is partly true. While there may not be anything inherently basic under it, no underlying identity that existed before and creates the mask, there is still something. That something is a reflection of all the masks it puts on. If you spend enough time around someone you’ll notice that some of their mannerisms and ways rub off on you. You might start to say some phrases they say, do some motions they do. This works in the same way. Our inner selves may start off as a black mass devoid of anything, but as our lives go on and as we are forced to assume certain masks and ignore others, those “other selves” start to mold our “inner self” into some sort of something. As for how this affects our interaction with others, that’s for each individual to decide, or rather for their surroundings and experiences to ultimately decide. And since everyone’s situation is different, everyone turns out differently. So you are special and unique, in certain ways.
The ideas of self, personalities, and what-in-the-world-are-we are big ones, and have been discussed and debated for a long time. Sometimes certain people, such as Erving Goffman and Derek Parfit propose ideas that make a large impact, catch on and ride the wave of popularity for a while until they get forgotten or replaced. But the thing about these questions is that there are no true answers. How can you prove something entirely subjective? We can’t even prove that everyone sees colors the same way, much less large concepts of humanity. This means all ideas are equally valid, from the D- college student sitting in his room late at night to the esteemed psychologist in the lecture hall. The world may never agree, but the search for the answers proves a certain something about us: that we care.

Erving Goffman and the Performed Self. By Nigel Warburton. Perf. Stephen Fry.

YouTube. BBC Radio 4, 15 Apr. 2015. Web. 18 Jan. 2017.

Personal Identity: Crash Course Philosophy #19. Perf. Hank Green.

YouTube. PBS Digital Studios, 27 June 2016. Web. 18 Jan. 2017.

Arguments Against Personal Identity: Crash Course Philosophy #20. Perf. Hank Green.

YouTube. PBS Digital Studios, 11 July 2016. Web. 18 Jan. 2017.

Goffman, Erving. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life.

Garden City: Doubleday Anchor, 1959. Print.