Lets assume a ridiculous metaphysical concept, namely, the self. The self is a semantic concept which refers to the phenomena of a physical body of atomic parts which is also said to have an individuality, rationality and decision-making capacity. What is it about these combinations of molecules that make the person ‘Kirk Bear’? Perhaps alone a liver is a liver and a hand is a hand, but when put all together, it forms a new classification in our ontology, a new entity characterised by the sum of its parts.
The sum of its parts also consists of human, interpretive categories imposed over naturalistic ones, these said human categories include:
A sense of meaning
Set of beliefs/preferences
Process of rationality
Let us put this notion of the self aside, we shall come to it later.
In our lives, we are considered to have characteristics unique to us over other living organisms; we have sentience and a moderate means of translating and understanding each other. We construe our actions to be meaningful insofar as we are understood to be following a rule; of course, I am not talking about a rule as a ‘norm’ specifically, but a convention like grammar, or behaviour with understandable tacit assumptions.
We understand ourselves in a manner most intuitive to us, using categories which are not directly naturalistic.
Consider the phenomena of a breakup, both sides use concepts like ‘honesty’, ‘reciprocity’, ‘honour/alleigance’ and so on. Categories more alluding to the aretaic than it is to the materialist. From this, we are to understand the human self as something unique, special, beautiful and dare I say, semantically (and maybe ontically) distinct from natural phenomena; the difference between me and a plant is that I can make a joke and experience hatred, where a plant is but vegetative (although I am vegetative too).
So, it seems, the self is special, it persists as a semantic concept even when our molecules that constitute our physical bodies are replaced.
There are phenomena, which show that the physical ‘components’ of selfhood are much greater than our semantic understanding of a holistic and interpretive self.
Drug addiction. It is a physical dependance, some may act desperately to feed their desire. Some may transgress the norms that they have previously held to fulfil their desire.
When a tragic illness affects a person, they die before their body meets demise; the incapacitation means that the person is physically unable to be the person they want to be, eventually their desires change, as their desires change, a significant degree of who we thought they were dies away; as a person increasingly faces incapacitation, some feel their dignity dies away, thus some favour euthanasia.
What does this tell us? Phenomena can change that which we perceive as having an intrinsic dimension. As the body changes, decays, so it leads to changes in the thing that we call ‘self’. The self is not a fixed semantic term, it is fluid and conditional to the state of affairs that construe that term.
To say Kirk Bear at t1 is much different when we refer to the Bear of t932. Where is the persistence? Does something persist in virtue of the semantics that construe it? If we had no term for it, would it not exist? Perhaps we are inventing a category by grouping many composites.