Friday, April 03, 2009

This might seem like an odd question

This might seem like an odd question, but I would really like to know: Is a person more than the sum of their behaviour? I know Skinner would argue that they aren't, but I've always felt that one can separate who you are from what you do. Well, not separate completely, more compartmentalize.

If someone did something wrong accidentally, like say, ran over your cat with their car, that action was wrong. That doesn't necessarily make the person a horrible, horrible human being. Not in and of itself. The person might be generally good: gives to charity, reads to deaf orphans, &c. or the person might be generally nasty: tortures small animals, rapes trees, &c. or that person might just be average. One action does not a person make, and in this example, I feel that one can separate the one time act of running over a cat from the general theme of a person's life.

Or is it me that is screwed up? Can one mistake define a person. Is the person's behaviour the sum of who they are? Is that all there is to a person's sense of themselves? If I say I don't like behaviour x, is it suppose to follow that I don't like the person who did x? I had always thought no. But maybe I'm the only one. I just don't know anymore.


Josiane said...

I don't think you are screwed up, as you say. Accidentally doing something wrong is, well, an accident. It doesn't define the whole persone. What is more interesting to consider, in that regard, is how they react to that accidental mistake, how (or if) they acknowledge it, what they do (or don't do) to make up for it.
And then, sometimes one can feel like saying that it depends. I don't know (hey, if my favourite philosopher - you! - says she doesn't know anymore, can I really know?), but in the end, I think I feel pretty much the same way you do about it.

JustApril said...

Yeah, what Josiane said, mistakes and accidents and things a person learns from can shape us and help us grow, they don't necessarily define us. Some persistent behaviors that a person refuses to change can give others a picture of what sort of person we are. Quite a bit depends on what a person sets out to do, their intentions matter too.

Sarah's Blog said...

What defines the person is how they choose to act after they run over the cat.