Some Thoughts on Reincarnation

We’re going to start tackling the subject of reincarnation: what it involves and why anyone should think it occurs. I honestly feel that this subject could be covered endlessly with new insights and considerations. We’re just going to scratch the surface today.

But, what I’d like to do first is use some of the concepts we’ve recently fleshed out and return to the question of what it is to incarnate in the first place, or, in other words, what is it for one to take on a body? From here, we’ll find — in the swift manner I seem to be keen on — that to incarnate again, or more than once, which is what reincarnation means, is only a matter of course.

In An Argument from Self-Reversion, I followed Edward Butler’s lead and distinguished between ‘who’ and ‘what’:

“A ‘who’ is peculiar and idiosyncratic; it is incommunicable and cannot be duplicated. By contrast, a ‘what’ is exemplifiable and common; it is communicable and can be repeated. Whereas persons typify ‘whos’, properties such as shape, color and size typify ‘whats’.”

Consider the stark contrast between these units of individuation: if ‘who’ and ‘what’ were the whole of the story, then reality would be comprised only of ineffable individuals (whos) on the one hand and completely detached predicates (whats) on the other: no thing would have any predicates by which to be intelligible or sensible. But, this is obviously not how things are: that something is intelligible or sensible is presupposed by the very act of reading this blog post. And so something is missing to the story besides ‘who’ and ‘what’: ‘what’ must be personalized so that it is predicated of ‘who’, and the two are not severed from one another.

But, how is it that abstract ‘whats’ – such as redness, triangularity or humanity – are personalized, so that there is this red thing, that triangle, or those human beings, instead of just ineffable individuals over here and detached predicates like redness, trinagularity or humanity over there?

Some might wish to locate the principle of personalization outside the individual who bears the ‘what’: it could be another individual who somehow personalizes the ‘what’ in an act of imparting it, it could be the ‘what’ itself undergoing some relevant sort of change, or it could be that the personalized ‘what’ is not actually the same as the abstract ‘what’, such as if it were an image of the latter or some such.

Whatever one wishes to say, it must be kept in mind that ‘whos’ are in and of themselves ineffable. As such, individuals qua individuals are not effable as things which are capable of taking on abstract or pre-personalized predicates. It does no good, nor does it make any sense, to posit “personalized” predicates that are still detached from individuals. On account of their intrinsic ineffability then, ‘whos’ should not be thought to receive predicates from anything exterior to themselves.

Does this mean that change is an illusion? After all, individuals seem to gain and lose predicates all the time. But, just because individuals qua individuals do not receive predicates does not mean that nothing does. It would only mean at most that whatever does receive predicates, it is not the individual qua individual.

Now, if individuals qua individuals do not receive any predicates from anything exterior to themselves, and they have personalized predicates, then ‘whats’ are not personalized for an individual by anything exterior to that individual. And if they are not personalized for an individual by anything exterior to that individual, then that they must just be personalized by that individual herself. That is, ‘whos’ personalize their ‘whats’. Moreover, it cannot be the individual considered in just any respect that personalizes predicates: individuals qua this or that already bear personalized predicates, and so cannot function as the principle of personalization. It is only the individual qua individual that can personalize predicates without any predicates sneaking by as being already and inexplicably personalized.

Again, however, individuals qua individuals are ineffable, and so should not be thought in that respect to have abilities for them to manifest in their personalization of ‘whats’. That is to say, while ‘whos’ personalize ‘whats’, they do not do so by doing anything.

Some might find the preceding rather puzzling, since individuals seem to gain and lose predicates over time. Personalization, they may protest, is something that happens. But, then, there must be something that makes it happen. Thus, for example, you have lost and gained many predicates since you were 12: you have grown taller (probably), heavier (probably), your hair may have changed colors, shape or volume, and your psychological dispositions are not the same (hopefully). Surely I have gone astray in concluding that the principle of personalization does not do anything.

But, this concern arises from not thinking about personalization abstractly enough: it is viewing personalization from a perspective that already involves personalized predicates, whereas we are trying to explain personalization as such, and so endeavoring to find a principle that does not itself presuppose any personalization. To be the principle of personalization, one must transcend personalized predicates and be present to all of the reality that she personalizes at once, past, present and future.

This result corroborates our earlier conclusion that the individual qua individual is without temporal origin.

We have found that the individual qua individual personalizes all of her predicates, past, present and future, all at once, but without performing any sort of action in doing so. Now, if she doesn’t explain personalization through her actions, then she must explain personalization through her being (or unity, as they are being used in the same way here): after all, there is nothing other than the individual qua individual for her to explain personalization with.

The individual qua individual thus functions as the principle of personalization by simply being herself, and since she exists, not in time, but at every time, she is always personalizing predicates.

Thing is, a body is just a divisible substance, and because she is intrinsically ineffable, the individual qua individual is divisible from all the predicates that she is providing a unifying center for, and so what she is always doing in personalizing predicates is taking on or having a body. Predication is thus incarnation.

Death, however is an undeniable fact. As such, this body cannot be the only body I am personalizing: I always exist, and personalize predicates whenever and wherever I am. So, I am incarnating again and again, in the past and in the future, and in different places. But, to incarnate again is quite literally reincarnation.

And so, reincarnation is simply a matter of course.