What all these solutions are circling around but never quite name is the irreducible non-identity at the heart of the human person. Our identity-instability points to this metaphysical aporia, namely, that we are, as Erich Przywara puts it, marked by “the illimitable openness of the movement of becoming.” It is, in other words, “a creaturely principle” that we are non-identical. We are, and yet we change. Further, we are, and we appear, and these two aspects of ourselves are not simply identical. Non-identity fractures the person. These aporias are one reason why post-moderns chose simply to embrace this non-identity in a literal way, à la Foucault: we do not have a face.
For all that, however, we are also marked by identity. This is the value in the primary, logical meaning of identity. The metaphysical bases for this identity are multiple. First, human beings are substances, that is, individually existing persons that exist on their own. Substances “stand under” (as the term literally states) the features that mark our lives, namely, the qualities, relations, and locations that can come and go (these are also called metaphysical “accidents”). I may undergo dementia and not remember my family and friends, but I would be still the same human being who once remembered and then does not.
Second, as persons, human beings are a particular kind of substance: we have a rational and embodied nature. This nature does not change as I change; I am still the kind of thing that I was as a girl. Through all my non-identity, that is, through all my changes, I am still as human as ever and the same person as ever.
Third, individual human persons have souls, which are intimately related to our changing bodies. A human soul, as the form of a living body, organizes its material flux (Locke’s “constantly fleeting Particles of Matter”) around a unifying and governing center. My body, despite all its change, is still my body, because my soul ensures its continuity.
For all that, human beings do not find this metaphysical identity, which gives us a perduring structure underlying change, to be enough. As both Balthasar and John Paul II point out, this continuity is necessary but still not sufficient to answer the question “Who am I?” How can we account for each person’s irreducible uniqueness, which sets me apart from all other human persons?
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