It is no mistake that the philosopher and the amnesiac ask this very question. Who we are in our essence has a great deal to do with how people identify us in our everyday lives. Yes, our physical appearance is a general cue, but if our personality were to radically change overnight, we would become, functionally, a different person. It’s not your memories but your moral decisions.
Scientists and artists alike have often pointed to our memories as the stuff of who we “really” are. Lose your memories and you lose all the experiences that form you. But there is a more foundational component to identity, argues Nina Strohminger, a psychologist at Duke University in North Carolina:
“Moral features are the chief dimension by which we judge, sort and choose social partners. For men and women alike, the single most sought-after trait in a long-term romantic partner is kindness – beating out beauty, wealth, health, shared interests, even intelligence.”
In her final analysis, Strohminger goes even further. She argues that a moral sense is so fundamental that our very concept of identify is a construct existing to give our moral sense a vehicle. Thus to know yourself and to know the others around you means to understand their moral choices.
Who are you?