on this page

Or send us an email

Application form

Pathways programs

Letters to my students

How-to-do-it guide

Essay archive

Ask a philosopher

Pathways e-journal

Features page

Downloads page

Pathways portal

Pathways to Philosophy

Geoffrey Klempner CV
G Klempner

International Society for Philosophers
ISFP site

PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS electronic journal


P H I L O S O P H Y   P A T H W A Y S                   ISSN 2043-0728

Issue number 63
27th July 2003


I. 'Nietzsche's Zarathustra: A New Dimension in Freud's Structural
  Theory of Mind' by George Mashour

II. 'Artifacts and Persons' by Alfredo Lucero-Montano

III. 'Imaginary Conversations - a la Landor' by Jurgen Lawrenz



1. Introduction

The figures of mythology and literature embody a plethora of human facets, and
allow us to observe various aspects of our psyches as they stand before us,
interact, and live out the implications of their essence. Since Freud's 'The
Interpretation of Dreams', psychoanalysis has also employed such a myth: that
of Oedipus Rex. The present essay attempts to develop other dramatis personae
of the structural mind, elucidating an antithetical relationship of Jesus
Christ to Oedipus, and exploring its psychoanalytic and philosophic
implications. This exploration brings us to a fuller appreciation of the
symmetry of the structural theory, deriving the association of Christ with the
superego, and deducing from the structural theory the presence of a Christ
complex. By understanding Oedipus as an anti-Christ, we are given access to
Nietzschean philosophy, and more explicitly develop the conceptual relationship
between Nietzsche and Freud via the figure of Zarathustra.

Christ and Oedipus stand as two mythical kings, with a remarkable and
henceforth obscure relationship to one another. From birth to death, we find a
number of striking parallels and anti-parallels. Both Oedipus and Christ were
born under unique circumstances, with the identity of their parents cloaked in
obscurity. Oedipus was taken away from his parents in order to thwart
infanticide and the oracle's prophecy that he would slay his father and lay
with his mother. Thus was it unknown to Oedipus that his father and mother were
king and queen of Thebes. The identity of Christ's parents were also obscured,
and in a similar fashion it was initially unknown that Christ's father was the
King of Kings, and his mother the holiest of holy. Oedipus and Christ were both
unwitting heirs to a throne, and each was destined for a unique kingdom.

Christ and Oedipus ultimately developed an antiparallel relationship to their
parents: their respective triads were diametrically opposed. The father of
Oedipus realized his mortality at the hands of his son, and his mother Iocaste
subsequently had a directly sexual relationship with him. The father of Christ,
however, was immortal, and his mother was virginal despite her conception and
delivery. Oedipus destroyed the father and achieved union with the mother,
while Christ shunned the mother and achieved union with the father. Oedipus
destroyed the will of the father in order to inherit his kingdom, while Christ
acquiesced to the will of the father in order to inherit his. Oedipus
accomplished a worldly kingdom by the assertion of his will, while Christ
accomplished a spiritual kingdom by the renunciation of his. We can observe
that even the conclusions of each myth are anti-parallel. Oedipus was
ultimately punished for affirming his will, while Christ achieved immortality
for the renunciation of his. Christ and Oedipus thus appear in a state of
dialectical antagonism with respect to one another.

2. Christ contra Oedipus/ Superego contra Id

The relationship of Christ to Oedipus has interesting implications both
analytically and philosophically. We may first conceive of Christ as an
anti-Oedipus, with particular respect to the structural theory of the mind.
Oedipus may be thought to represent the libidinal drives of the id (viz. eros
and thanatos), and has achieved satisfaction of these drives despite the
socially organizing principles of family. I posit that as Oedipus is associated
with the id, so should Christ be associated with the superego. It does not seem
controversial to introduce a religious figure as the embodiment of the
superego, for it is posited to be a source of our notion of perfection, as well
as our moral compass and conscience. Like the Christ figure who strives for
union with the Father, the superego too, according to Freud, represents a
"longing for the father." In addition to sharing characteristics with the
superego, Christ also satisfies a further requirement: as the superego is
antithetical to the id, so should the embodiment of the superego be
antithetical to the embodiment of the id. Unlike other religious figures,
Christ both instantiates the principles of the superego and is antithetical to
the id's Oedipus. Thus, dynamic elements of the structural theory may be played
out in the personae of Christ and Oedipus.

By virtue of symmetry with the Oedipal complex, we may posit the existence of a
Christ complex. The id-affirming activity of Oedipus is anathema to social and
familial organization of the external world (in short, the reality principle),
and the mythical Oedipus encounters demise because of it. We must note in the
myth, however, that Oedipus does enjoy a degree of success and actualization
because of his behavior in that he did acquire and serve the kingdom of
Thebes--his will to power was satisfied. Simply stated, the drives of the id
can and do bring about vitality, health, and success. While the superego
appropriately counterbalances the drives of the id to achieve equilibrium, it
is conceivable that these activities may also function pathologically, viz. one
may overcome one's drives to the point of debilitation. The superego may drive
an individual to an aberrant point of guilt (wanting, for example, to suffer
for the sins of the world), to the idealistic and false notion that one's
parents are perfect (my father is a God, my mother is without sin), and to the
masochistic impulse that one must be crucified--if need be--in order to please

The Christ figure--as a personification of the superego--demonstrates a
situation in which an individual is so acquiescent to the will of another (in
this case, God the Father) that he loses his very life before he will assert
his own will. Like the Oedipus myth, the Christ myth also presents
heterogeneous results: Christ is punished by crucifixion, but is then rewarded
by resurrection and ascension. Considering the "morals" to each myth
collectively, we note that some form of balance between these two poles must be
achieved, as we would state for the relationship of the id to the superego.

3. Oedipus as Anti-Christ: the Relationship to Nietzsche's Zarathustra

In the previous section we considered Christ as an anti-Oedipus, but now we
shall consider Oedipus as an anti-Christ. The concept of an "anti-Christ," as
well as the earlier suggestion that unbalanced Christ-like attributes are the
mark of pathology rather than perfection, hearken us back to the work of
Nietzsche. The antagonism of Christ and Oedipus bears an interesting
relationship to Nietzsche's Zarathustra, and suggests a novel Nietzschean
interpretation of Sophocles.

Zarathustra's name is a European modification of the ancient Persian Zoroaster,
from whom the religion zoroastrianism is derived, a religion that asserts the
near equal balance of good and evil gods. Zarathustra was the protagonist of
Nietzsche's work 'Thus Spoke Zarathustra', an innovative literary-philosophical
treatise published in four parts. Zarathustra, who retreated to the mountains at
the age of thirty, has descended ten years later to share his insight with the
people. Zarathustra is clearly presented as a quasi-religious figure, and
delivers speeches that oftentimes reveal a formal--if not substantive--unity
with those of Christ. Of course, Nietzsche made no secret of his fervent
anti-Christian sentiments, and in fact hailed himself as the anti-Christ.

In various respects, Oedipus and Zarathustra stand in opposition to Christ, but
what is their relationship to one other? Is there some order to the triad of
Christ, Oedipus, and Zarathustra? I posit that these three personae bear a
triadic relationship to one another that possesses a formal unity to the three
spiritual metamorphoses introduced in the Prologue of 'Thus Spoke Zarathustra'.
In the Prologue, Nietzsche describes three metamorphoses of the spirit, which
take the form of the camel, the lion, and the child. The strength and the role
of the camel is to bear the burden of old values--it acquiesces to the value
system to which it is heir. The first metamorphosis transforms the camel into a
lion, who proves victorious in the battle against tradition's value-laden
dragon. The dragon is described as being covered with scales that read "thou
shalt," while the lion battles with the "I will." By conquering the dragon, the
lion can only create conditions for the creation of new values, but is incapable
of creating values itself. This is the task of the allegorical child, who looks
upon life freshly, and is able to be the creator of new values.

It is likely that the camel is representative of the Christian (if not Christ
himself), who, in Nietzsche's perspective, accepts and bears the yoke of slave
morality, as well as the mediocre culture of Christian pity. Nietzsche calls,
ironically, for a move forward to the pre-Christian and pre-Socratic value
schema, and looks to the Greek concept of virtue, as well as the "master
morality" he describes in 'Beyond Good and Evil'. Thus, the camel must
metamorphosize into the lion who is able to assert its own will and conquer
inherited values, although it may not yet be able to create its own. I suggest
that Oedipus is this lion in the desert. "Thou shalt not kill, thou shalt honor
thy mother and father" speaks the dragon: Oedipus replies "I will" and is
exalted for it. Oedipus has killed the father, and it is this id-like Oedipal
spirit that has similarly killed God the Father. "God is dead" announces
Zarathustra, and it is the Oedipal spirit of man who is the murderer.

This Oedipal persona, he who has killed the father, is powerful but nonetheless
limited. Like the lion of the three metamorphoses, he can slay the dragon of old
values but lacks the capability of creating new ones. This deficit derives from
the fact that, like the 19th century European intellectual climate of
Nietzsche's time, Oedipus cannot face the truth with his eyes open.
Nietzsche's fear for European thought is rooted in the terror of man after the
realization that God is dead, and that we have killed him. When the
metanarrative of scientific truth collapses in a similar fashion, man is
destined for nihilism. When Oedipus realizes his own truth, he too retreats to
the comforting darkness of nihilism by plucking out his eyes. Thus can we see
this Sophoclean tragedy in Nietzschean terms. Nietzsche, however, demands that
man go further, that he overcome himself, that he see the truths and the lies
while still opening his eyes to say Yes to life. Zarathustra is this child. The
hermit who encounters Zarathustra on his descent from the mountain back to the
world of man (a descent that is reminiscent of the philosopher's return to the
cave in Plato's Republic) recognizes his awakening, saying: "Zarathustra has
changed, Zarathustra has become a child, Zarathustra is an awakened one; what
do you now want among the sleepers?" Zarathustra understands and accepts the
death of God, but still abides by the wisdom of the earth with an affirming
Yes. In this is he free for the task of valuation, the task of the child in the
final metamorphosis.

It is perhaps strange that we even speak of a progression when in fact the
movement of these mythical figures moves backwards in time, from Christ at
the beginning of the first millennium, to Oedipus in the 5th century B.C., to
Zarathustra (derived from the Persian figure Zoroaster) who dates back to two
millennia B.C. We start at the phase of the camel, at the Christian phase,
because that is where Nietzsche finds our cultural spirit. It would not be
consistent with Nietzsche to envision a linear progression toward some future
uebermensch, but rather more likely that the metamorphosis of the spirit is
something that goes back to or recurs, a prominent notion in Nietzschean

4. The Zarathustrian Ego and its Relationship to the Structural Theory

Given that the id is Oedipal, and the superego is Christ-like, could we reason
backwards from the myth and consider an undescribed or perhaps unactualized
structural element that is Zarathustrian? Is this mystery of Zarathustra not a
historical figure resulting from the cultural evolution of man, but rather a
psychological state that we ourselves may achieve when we synthesize the
antagonism of Christ and Oedipus? If the ego is a battlefield of the id and
superego, could the Zarathustrian ego be the battle already won?

According to Freud, it is through the ego we have our primary connection to the
world through perception, and it is the ego that ultimately mediates the
presence or reality of the external world within the mind. It is further
responsible for censorship and repression into the unconscious, and attempts to
achieve control of the id. Finally, it is important to recognize that the
superego is a modification of the ego in response to the Oedipal drives of the
id. How would the Zarathustrian ego compare? As an embodiment of the
Nietzschean "will to power," it is reasonable to assert that the sine qua non
of a Zarathustrian ego would be its strength. When we posit such strength we
shall see how all other elements of the structural theory naturally conform to
a Nietzschean mold.

Zarathustra is a philosophical and religious figure who is introduced to
supplant Christ--how, therefore, would a Zarathustrian ego affect the ontogeny
of the Christ-like superego? Although the origin of the superego as a reaction
to the Oedipal drives of the id has been, the superego emerges from the ego
(and subsequently dominates it) by virtue of the weakness of the ego. According
to Freud (1923, p. 48): 

     "[The superego] is a memorial of the former weakness and
     dependence of the ego, and the mature ego remains subject
     to its domination. As the child was once under a compulsion
     to obey its parents, so the ego submits to the categorical
     imperative of its superego."
It is clear that the birth of the superego is a result of the fragility of the
ego, as well as its inability to harness the forces of the id. Thus, assuming a
greater strength of the ego, we would expect less dynamic impetus for the
formation of the Christ-like superego. In this way, the Zarathustrian ego would
function as a Nietzschean anti-Christ. I posit that the strength of the
Zarathustrian ego--with the subsequent lack of need for the superego--could be
conceived as a either a step in the development of the individual (ontogeny) or
a step in the development of the species psychologically (phylogeny).

Heidegger, a major 20th century philosopher and interpreter of Nietzsche,
repeatedly puts forth the question in Nietzsche: who is Nietzsche's
Zarathustra? He returns us to the notion that Zarathustra is some type of
bridge to the uebermensch, and inquires into the nature of this bridge
(Heidegger, 1961, pg. 219).

     "Nietzsche has Zarathustra say: 'For that man be redeemed
     from revenge--that is for me the bridge to the highest
     hope and a rainbow after long storms.' How strange, how alien
     these words must seem to the customary view of Nietzsche's
     philosophy that we have furnished for ourselves...But then
     why is it that something so decisive depends of redemption
     from revenge? Where is the spirit of revenge at home?
     Nietzsche replies to our question in the third-to-last
     episode of the second part of Thus Spoke Zarathustra, which
     bears the heading "On Redemption." Here the following words
     appear: "The spirit of revenge: my friends, up to now that
     was man's best reflection; and wherever there was
     suffering, there also had to be punishment."
Overcoming the spirit of revenge, from one perspective a step from Judaism to
Christianity, takes on a more psychological significance here. Christian
thought attempted (in principle) to turn us away from the "eye for an eye"
sensibilities of Judaism, in order to purge us of a vengeful and punitive
attitude toward others. It appears as if Nietzsche wishes to cure us of the
Christian sensibility that engenders a vengeful and punitive attitude toward
ourselves. In the context of Nietzsche's thought, the association of
punishment with suffering is also part of the Christian legacy. For those of
"herd morality," the Christian superego adds insult to injury by associating
guilt and causal significance to suffering, rather than viewing it as a part of
the human, that is to say natural, condition. Not only must we suffer, but we
must punish ourselves for the guilt that has brought this suffering about. Thus
in The Anti-Christ (pg. 141) does Nietzsche praise Buddhism for its "struggle
against suffering," as opposed to the Christian "struggle against sin."

For those of "master morality," suffering is also inflicted by a superego. The
natural predilections of the master include the infliction of suffering on
others. When this natural tendency is repressed, the impulse is turned inwards
in the form of conscience: one comes to inflict pain on oneself, as well as
moral censure for the very drive to inflict pain at all. Perhaps the
Zarathustrian ego is strong enough to suffer and to inflict suffering without
the need to punish itself masochistically through the superego.

The Zarathustrian ego will also have a unique relationship to the id, as well
as the instincts of the id. Before Freud conceived of the id, Nietzsche
recognized the power and importance of the instincts. In Beyond Good and Evil
(Nietzsche, 1886, pg. 201), he points out the instinctual foundation of
ostensibly rational thought, and furthermore suggests that the conscious,
rather than the unconscious mind is the proper domain for these instincts.
Thus, the rational ego is not opposed, and perhaps should not be opposed, to
the instincts of the id.

We see a picture of the Zarathustrian ego emerging. It is strong, and thus
limits the genesis or at least the power of the superego. It is able to suffer
and to inflict suffering without the masochistic retribution of punishment. It
does not attempt to conquer the id but rather absorbs it, integrating and
recognizing its instincts as an appropriate part of its conscious activities.
Instead of repressing and censoring instinct--and therefore mutating it--it
accepts and envelops it, or at least does not split itself off into a rational
ego and irrational id in the first place. With the psychic apparatus more
wholly integrated at the surface and interface between interior and exterior,
the Zarathustrian ego is capable of a richer and more natural interaction with
the world. Unlike Oedipus, it is strong enough for truth; unlike Christ, it is
strong enough for lies.

5. Discussion

We see a henceforth obscure relationship between the personae of Oedipus and
Christ elucidated. Each born under some cloak of doubt, each destined to be
heir to a unique kingdom--one by the satisfaction of his impulses and the other
by denial of his. If Oedipus represents a particular aspect of the mind that may
experience pathology if unbalanced, then so may Christ represent an aspect of
the mind that may be pathological if unbalanced (viz., the Christ complex).
From the perspective of Nietzsche--who no doubt recognized the great importance
of Christ as evidenced by his fervent opposition to all things Christian--we may
also consider the Christ complex in its cultural expression. The so-called slave
mentality, the culture of pity and weakness, and the inhibition of cultural
genius were, according to Nietzsche, in large part due to Platonic and
Christian ideals. Once again, we may view the Christ complex in terms of
psychic ontogeny (a Freudian perspective) as well as psychic phylogeny (a
Nietzschean perspective).

The assertion of Oedipus as an anti-Christ led appropriately to the discussion
of Nietzsche, and Nietzsche's own anti-Christ Zarathustra. "Who is Nietzsche's
Zarathustra?" Heidegger asks. One answer is that he was a teacher of eternal
recurrence and the uebermensch, although Heidegger directs us to a deeper
consideration of the question. I posit that Zarathustra represents a new form
of ego, strong enough to incorporate the instincts of the id, and therefore
strong enough to have little need for the genesis of the superego. This is
consistent, in many ways, with Nietzsche's vision: an ego strong enough to
recognize and embrace instinct, and to trust the wisdom of the earth rather
than the ephemera of a Christian superego. From our cultural beginning of the
Christian superego, we make the first step of recurrence to the Oedipal lion,
slaying the dragon of "thou shalt!" with the id's "I will!". Finally, the child
of the Zarathustrian ego is born: a new developmental beginning, a recurrence to
the ancients, an opportunity for new strength which sees the death of God, but
does not yearn again for the father in the form of a superego.

6. Bibliography

FREUD, S. (1923). 'The Ego and the Id'. S.E. 19

HEIDEGGER, M. (1961). 'Nietzsche'. Translated by David Farrel Krell 1979. San
Francisco: Harper & Row.

NIETZSCHE, F. (1886). 'Beyond Good and Evil' In 'Basic Writings of Nietzsche',
translated and edited by Walter Kaufmann 1968. New York: The Modern Library.

NIETZSCHE, F. (1889). 'Thus Spoke Zarathustra'. Translated by Walter Kaufmann
1954. New York: Penguin Books.

NIETZSCHE, F. (1895). 'The Anti-Christ'. Translated by R.J. Hollingdale 1968.
New York: Penguin Books.

(c) George Mashour 2003

George Alexander Mashour, M.D., Ph.D.
Harvard University
Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S.A.

E-mail: george_mashour@yahoo.com



1. Introduction

This article shows that the concept of artifact as well as of person are social
constructions, namely, that society shapes in a certain manner--at least
partially--the identity of artifacts and persons.[1] This thesis assumes that
what a person is depends on the interpretation that other members of that
society make of his features. What is a person is a question of interpretation,
and not merely that something--"a further deep fact"--is discovered. Thus, there
is no such thing as "an essential reference to human beings as they really are",
as if this "as they really are" could be understood independently of the social
context and the conceptual frameworks according to which human beings see
themselves as persons, and are seen by others as such kind of persons.

Here we will understand the notion of conceptual framework as the set of
theoretical and conceptual means, norms and values, that persons have at their
disposal to explain and understand the world, and also to act within it,
including the assimilation of objects and processes in that world. At the same
time, the conceptual frameworks are social constructions, that is, they are the
outcome of the actions and interactions of many persons within the social group,
which also explains its continuous transformations, and generally its dependence
of social conditions.

We will argue why is not correct to hold that there could be a reference to
persons "as they really are," if this "as they really are" is understood as
independent of the conceptual frameworks that people have at their disposal to
identify objects or persons, including themselves as persons. To support this
thesis, we would stress the central role of conceptual frameworks, and the
meaning of knowledge as well as its conditions, regarding the social context of
the identity of artifacts and persons. We will deal, on section 2, with the
conditions of identity of artifacts, and on section 3, we will extend the
conclusions to the problem of the identity of persons in regard to what is it
that makes them the kind of persons they are.

2. The identity of artifacts

The concepts that refer to artifacts determine the conditions of persistence
(continued existence) in a way that completely depends of the conceptual
framework in which those concepts are used. A conceptual framework underlies
the beliefs and interests, the ends and values, in terms by which the artifact
is conceived and created, maintained and used. Let us view how this idea
functions with regard to the classical example of the ship of Theseus.

But before we begin the analysis of the example, we must clearly state that by
artifact we will understand an object that is the outcome of the transformation
of concrete objects by means of intentional actions. Within the concept of
artifact, the network of intentional actions is oriented in an efficient manner
toward the aim of a valuable outcome. In David Wiggins's words, artifacts are
identified "by reference to a parcel of matter so organized as to subserve a
certain function."[2] Artifacts then are collected and classified together
"under functional descriptions."[3]

Wiggins has suggested that a condition of artifact identity is "the capacity to
subserve whatever roles or ends the artifact was designed as that very artifact
to subserve."[4] This condition clearly shows that the identity of an artifact
depends of the roles and ends that it supposedly must fulfill as being produced
through systematic intentional actions, which transform concrete objects, as
well as its capacities to fulfill those supposed roles and ends.

But this means that artifact identity depends of the conceptual framework,
according to which the intentional actions take place in order to achieve
certain results, and of the particular conception of the world that will use
the artifact and will judge about its identity. We must stress that it is
possible to make judgments of identity from different points of view, from
different conceptual frameworks.

Theseus' ship is a ship constructed, within a certain community, to be used as
the sacred ship that will annually voyage from Piraeus to Delos. While the
conceptual framework is preserved, according to which it is believed that
that is the ship that fulfills the specific ends and roles--which
conventionally has been decided it must fulfill--then that ship is Theseus'
ship. In this case, it is not important how many changes the ship went through,
and how much material has been added or removed to the original one as it went
through some transformations.

Our starting point is Hobbes' words: 

     "...concerning the difference whereof made by a continued
     reparation in taking out the old planks and putting in new
     [...] and if some man kept the old planks as they were
     taken out, and by putting them afterwards together in the
     same order, had again made a ship of them."[5] 
Here obviously arises a dispute concerning what is really Theseus' ship: the
reconstructed ship with all the original planks, which have been put in the
same order and kept the same relations and proportions, or the "original" ship
in which have been completely substituted all the planks.

Our proposal of solution to the problem is that the question what is really
Theseus' ship is not adequately set out, because we cannot say what is really
Theseus' ship. The reason is that there is no ship independently of the
interests and points of view; there is no ship independently of the conceptual
means, which are involved when the transformations of the ship have taken place
so to continue using it for certain ends, as well as trying to answer to the
question what is Theseus' ship.

There is not an independent decisive criterion from the context and interests
of the men who made the transformations of the ship, as well as from the ends
they pursue. Precisely, by virtue of the confrontation of interests and ends,
which at the same time depend upon each point of view, the function that
originally the ship should fulfill cannot constitute the decisive criterion,
since that function depends of the particular point of view; otherwise the
question would be begged. We can understand this better, for instance, if we
consider the possibility that the community, which originally decided to
ascribe certain functions to the ship, decides--before the ship went to any
physical transformation--that at certain time that ship would not voyage
anymore, but it would be erected as a monument. In this case, there would not
be any reason to suppose that the ship that functions as a monument is not the
same Theseus' ship. Certainly, the community that constructed the ship, and
ascribed to it a certain role, would be the same one that will decide to change
that role.

But on the other hand, the reconstruction of the ship itself, using the
discarded planks of the original, could be executed with the interest of
accomplishing other ends; while the ship with the new planks would continue
voyaging and carrying out the original ends by which Theseus' ship was
originally constructed. The reconstructed ship with the original planks could
intentionally be ascribed to carry out another role, i.e., as a monument.
However, the individual who reconstructed the ship, with the original discarded
planks of the original ship, could precisely have wanted to have those original
planks because, according to their point of view, that was the only way to have
the original Theseus' ship, and not any other, in order to fulfill the ends as a
monument. This artifact would not carry out the ends by which originally was
conceived and constructed, but the same ship would carry out a different
purpose, while a different ship would fulfill the original ends. With this
argument, we dismiss the idea that the ship identity could be established from
the mere functions that it is really carrying out or that depends upon them.

If we call A the original ship, B the ship reconstructed from the discarded
planks, and C the ship that continues voyaging once that all its planks have
been replaced, we can say that A and B are the same ship according to the point
of view of the men that made the reconstruction with the interest that the
reconstructed ship would be Theseus' ship, because it has the planks of the
original ship, so it can be displayed as a monument. But A and C would be the
same ship from the point of view of who someone considers that the essential
identity of Theseus' ship is not the planks, but is determined by the function
to fulfill the voyage from Piraeus to Delos.

Here we have a situation in which the artifact is identified from two different
points of view. Could we say that we have different identities of the ship, in
the same sense that we could diversely describe the same entity, but that there
exists really only one ship? Our thesis is that we have two different entities,
which exist as a function of the conceptual frameworks in terms of which the
artifacts are identified and constituted.

Wiggins holds that we have only two different descriptions, or different uses
of the term 'ship.' In effect, he maintains that for an antiquarian 'Theseus'
ship' is the one that has been reconstructed with the discarded planks, and for
a priest it is the one that has been continuously repaired, and functions as the
sacred ship by which the annual voyage was made. "Both are stuck with the
identification ship but, having different interests, they seem not to mean
quite the same thing by 'ship.'"[6]

We can argue that maybe Wiggins is right when he asserts that the antiquarian
and the priest do not seem to say the same thing, but not because they differ
in their understanding and use of the term 'ship,' rather they differ in what
they mean with the term 'Theseus' ship.' The point of disagreement precisely is
that both meant different things, since they identify in different ways
'Theseus's ship.' But there is no reason to believe that they differ in their
understanding and use of the term 'ship.' The crux of the problem is that there
is no way for them, or for us as an external observer, to compare their
judgments about 'Theseus's ship' with an entity that has a real existence, and
is independent of the two points of view in dispute.

Furthermore, the set of interests and ends, beliefs and thoughts, and norms and
values that they assume, constitute the conceptual frameworks that inevitably
form each point of view. The agents cannot voluntarily change a point of view
for another, and remain being the same agents. It is not a psychological
question, as if one can freely choose a point of view. The issue is that the
aspects of reality that could fulfill the concept have no essential or
intrinsic features, rather its features are contextually given by the relation
of the ship with other objects, and to the conceptual frameworks.

This means that in an epistemological sense there is no independent reality
from the conceptual means that are at stake. There is no reality that by itself
is 'Theseus' ship' or that does not depend in any sense of the conceptual means
involved. From the two different points of view, in function of their different
beliefs and interests, the aspects of reality which are relevant to an
individual are determined by the context in ways which are radically different.
So we could maintain that from the two different points of view there were
constructed different artifacts. Therefore, from one point of view, someone can
be right to affirm that A and B are the same; and from the other point of view,
someone can correctly say that A and C are the same. And from both points of
view they can acknowledge that B and C are not the same.

In other words, there is no way independent from the conceptual frameworks
involved, in which we can resolve the question what is 'Theseus' ship,' since
such an artifact does not exist independently of the conceptual frameworks of
those who conceived and constructed, transformed and used it. The choice
between one point of view and another is not just, as we already stated, a
psychological question, but it could be the real difference between two
different conceptions of the world. Therefore, the identity of A and B or A and
C depends on the conceptual framework involved, and it is not a question of
comparison with an independent reality.

Certainly, we have to acknowledge that once we choose the determinate concept,
we cannot do anything to change the fact that a certain reality in a certain
moment fulfills it or not. But here the issue is to admit, or not, that what is
an artifact, and the conditions of its identity, are inherent to the conceptual
framework. If we admit an internalist point of view of artifacts, then there
could be two overlapping conceptual frameworks, and that by virtue of this
overlapping it could be possible to identify, from both frameworks, A, B and C
as ships. But from the priest's point of view, A and C are the same, but A and
B are different; while from the antiquarian's point of view A and B are
considered as the same, but A and C are different.

In sum, we can say that there is no absolute answer to the question what is
really Theseus' ship, or with regard to the conditions of identity of
artifacts. If our argument is right, the constitution of an artifact depends on
the conceptual framework, which includes the beliefs and interests, values and
ends, of the person that makes the identification.

3. The identity of persons

We have stated that persons are social constructions. We maintain that the
problem of personal identity--in the sense of understanding what is that makes
a person such a person--depends on what the person believes about the world,
that is, the forms by which he understands and interprets it, as well as the
ways of behaving within that world. We must stress that these theoretical and
conceptual means necessarily come from the conceptual frameworks, to wit, that
all these elements are necessary to understand the concept of person--in the
sense that here it is assumed. But by no means do we contend that this line of
analysis of the concept of person as a social being is the only one plausible.

To regard a person as a social being means that his beliefs and desires, needs
and ends, as well as his judgements, are shaped by his interactions with other
persons, and at the same time those persons are shaped by the communities and
traditions that they belong to. This means that persons cannot understand
themselves outside of the communicative frameworks within which the beliefs and
judgements are conceived, expressed and maintained, criticized and modified.

We could state that human beings have an innate tendency to communicate and
interact with other human beings. If a human being is a person, he must realize
that tendency up to a point. This shows a conceptual difference between "human
being" and "person." We think that these concepts are not co-extensive. We
understand as a 'human being' a member of the homo sapiens species, in the
strict biological sense; and 'person' as the human being that has achieved its
tendency to interact and communicate by means of a language developed by a
society of persons.

Thus the definition of communication between persons we provisionally assume is
that "two or more people stand in a communication relation if the joint product
of their displayed intentions in uttering and their uptake in hearing one or
more speech-acts affords for each a common basis for relatively co-ordinated
actions."[7] The idea that persons are social constructions means that they
are, at least partially, constituted by their relations with other persons
within interactive and communicative frameworks. The relevant properties of the
identity of a person include the relational properties of being a member of a
certain social group, which consist to have such beliefs and dispositions, to
be seen by certain particular views by others in society, and to have a certain
image and self-esteem.

Consequently, the thesis that we hold is that persons are constituted by the
same mode as artifacts. That artifacts are constituted, in the weaker sense,
means that it is not possible to decide the question 'what is really Theseus'
ship' independently from the conceptual framework of the individual who makes
the judgment of identity. But also, in the stronger sense, that there really is
no artifact independently from the beliefs and desires, norms and values, needs
and ends, of the concrete individual. In the same way, persons do not exist
independently of the roles that they fulfill in their society, neither from the
way they judge the actions and beliefs of others nor the way others judge them.

Muhlhausler and Harre have offered evidence for the thesis that the identity of
person is strongly influenced by the conceptual framework used by the same
person who identifies himself, or by the conceptual framework used by other
persons who identified that same person. They particularly hold that "the use
of person-indicating expressions in most languages include references to
specific social relations."[8]

The thesis we want to stress, and that it is useful to our task, is
specifically the following: "the verbal items used to create a context of
communication [...] can be shown to include knowledge of the social and
psychological conventions of the culture of the people that use [them.]"[9] If
this idea is right, then, we could hold that what a person is cannot be related
with a set of fixed features, and that the identity of person cannot be based on
an absolute identity criterion. The identity of person is grounded on the set of
beliefs, values and norms of his social context, which allow him to understand
and interpret the world, and shape his necessities and desires, and which
constitute him as a social being.

The concept of person, on the one hand, is constructed within a social context,
and his identity is shaped according to identity criteria related to the
relevant conceptual frameworks of the social context. On the other hand, the
identification of the beliefs, values and ends is necessary to the identity of
a person. At the same time, all these elements constitute the person as a
social entity.

Therefore, persons are social subjects. Human beings are constituted as persons
by the same society in which their personhood is deployed. The concept of person
is of an individual human being constituted as person within a social context.
Every human being potentially is a person, but some of his capacities must be
exercised, and some of his potentialities must be realized within his social
context so that he becomes a person. In Wiggins' words, "person is a 'social'
concept with identity criteria of an adaptability and pliability suited to this

Finally, we have to conclude that the existence of persons is partially
determined by facts that are not just purely internal to the psychology of the
individual. There are facts related to the social context that make an
individual suitable to be treated as a person, and as such kind of person. In
Locke's words, 

     "person [...] is a forensic term, appropriating actions and
     their merit."[11]

and in this sense the social context at least partially determines what we take
into account as a person.


1. The following draws heavily on Leon Olive. "Identidad Colectiva," in Leon
Olive y Fernando Salmeron, eds. 'La Identidad Personal y la Colectiva'.
Proceedings of Mexico's Colloquium of the Institut International du
Philosophie, September, 1991. Mexico, UNAM, 1994, 65-84.

2. Wiggins, David. 'Sameness and Substance' (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1980), 90.

3. Ibid, 87.

4. Ibid, 97.

5. Hobbes, Thomas. From 'De corpore'.

6. Wiggins, op. cit., 94.

7. Muhlhausler, Peter and Rom Harre. 'Pronouns and People: The Linguistic
Construction of Social and Personal Identity' (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990),

8. Ibid, 5.

9. Ibid, 16.

10. Wiggins, David. "Locke, Butler and the Stream of Consciousness: and Men as
a Natural Kind." In Amelie Oksenberg Rorty, ed. 'The Identities of Persons'
(Berkeley, University of California Press, 1976), 165.

11. Locke, John. 'Essay concerning Human Understanding,' Book II, Chapter
XXVII, 26.

(c) Alfredo Lucero-Montano 2003

E-mail: alucero@telnor.net




ZENO: Good morning, Master! Nice weather today.
PARMENIDES: Don't be so ridiculous!


PETER ABELARD: That was a pretty lousy wicket.
DON BRADMAN: My good fellow: I sympathise with your disappointment, but it is
simply not possible to hit the stumps in the condition you're in.


DESCARTES: I had a dream last night.
DESCARTES: A man came up to me and handed me a ball.
FREUD: One or two?


GOD: Three sixes again, Albert. Can't beat an old hand like me.
EINSTEIN: You know, you make me look like a fool. Can't you play dice like a
real person?


SHAKESPEARE: It is the cause, it is the cause, my soul.
ARISTOTLE: Mumble, mumble, mumble. Get the causa finalis right, at least!
SHAKESPEARE (tries again): Let me not name to you, you chaste stars.
ARISTOTLE: Bloody hell! Soul and stars! What a mix-up! They're gonna ask me to
refund your tuition fees!
SHAKESPEARE (almost in tears): It is the cause.


PLATO: My dear Johannes: I'm proud of you. You thrilled me with your book on
Harmonies. Almost perfect!
KEPLER: Almost, Euer Gnaden?
PLATO: Well ... (hiding, not very successfully, a slight shudder in the
gesture of drawing his cloak around his shoulder): ovoids.
KEPLER: But, Eure Herrlichkeit ... (uncomprehending) ... after 910
computations ...
PLATO: I know. You are finicky, precise, adamant. But forgive a man grown old
in the service the observation that your teutonic pedantry got the better of
KEPLER (somewhat mystified): Allerdurchlauchtigster, the numbers tell all; it
is God's handiwork.
PLATO: As far as the eye can see, Kepler: but the I of the world is not an
KEPLER: I swear to you, Ausgezeichneter, that I had no choice ...
PLATO (cocking his head and fixing a sort of sideways stare at him): You have
heard the expression saving phenomena, yes?
KEPLER: Oh indeed! But, with all reverence, dear Meister, your follower Ptolemy
cheated. Epicycles, deferents ...
PLATO: Granted. I prize honesty above all. Yet we are talking of the Truth,
Kepler. Not facts: Truth!
KEPLER (defensively): But it doesn't work, because ...
PLATO: Circles, Kepler. Not ellipses. God does not move in ovoids. Ptolemy knew
that Mars runs on an elliptical orbit. The task was to rescue the Truth, to save
phenomena from offending against her.
KEPLER: Hochwuerden, I pray you to attend how with this simple contraption.
just a pencil and a piece of string, I draw two circles and then connect ...
PLATO: I see an ellipse.
KEPLER: Gesegneter, pray give me one minute to show that Ptolemy did not save
PLATO (hiding his exasperation): Proceed.
KEPLER: Behold!
*He draws a diagram: a large circle with the sun in the centre and the planet
revolving around the sun on its own deferent circles. As Mars courses along the
great circle, its position on successive deferents describes a geometrical
figure. Plato watches, goggle-eyed and horror-struck as Kepler connects the
actual positions of the planet relative to the sun. At length, even before the
figure is finished, shaking and unable to restrain himself, he splutters: 
PLATO: A square ! ! ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?


LEIBNITZ: I proved it to you, black on white. What more can I do?
CAMUS: Your best world makes me want to puke. If that's the limit of your God's
ingenuity, life isn't worth living.
LEIBNITZ (mollycoddling him): You are an excitable young man, Albert. So much
beauty, such richness: ah, the wonder of it all!
CAMUS: Yeah, yeah, Don't look a gift horse in the mouth. But I do! I didn't
ask* for this absurdity to happen; and had I been consulted beforehand, I
would have declined. Just as well I have the means to end it!
LEIBNITZ: Now why would you want to do a silly thing like that? Suicide! What a
waste! Indeed what a waste of happiness! Sisyphus is happy, remember? You wrote
so yourself.
CAMUS (depressed): We all have our weak moments.
LEIBNITZ: In any case, how would you do it? Think of the mess.
CAMUS: One doesn't have to cut one's wrists or run in front of a train, you
know. There are cleaner ways.
LEIBNITZ: Such as?
CAMUS: Gun at the temples. Cyanide. Etcetera.
LEIBNITZ (suddenly greatly enthused): Blimey, Albert! Look at the choices
you've got! Four compossible worlds rising before your very eyes! How can you
bring yourself to complain?


DESCARTES: I had a dream last night.
FREUD: Busy lad.
DESCARTES: I dreamt an evil demon took my body away.
FREUD: Male or female?
DESCARTES (confused): A spirit being?
FREUD: So? What the heck do you think libido is?

(c) Jurgen Lawrenz 2003

E-mail: jurgen.lawrenz@bigpond.com

  Philosophy Pathways is the electronic newsletter for the
  Pathways to Philosophy distance learning program

  To subscribe or cancel your subscription please email your
  request to philosophypathways@fastmail.net

  The views expressed in this newsletter do not necessarily
  reflect those of the editor. Contributions, suggestions or
  comments should be addressed to klempner@fastmail.net

Pathways to Philosophy

Original Newsletter
Home Page
Pathways Home Page