I Am Me
By Karla Kuskin, Simon & Schuster
I Am Me, by Karla Kuskin, describes a little girl’s self discovery while attending a family reunion. In responding to observations by other characters, she describes physical characteristics that resemble and diverge from those of her parents, and other relatives, and reviews a few expressions and behavior traits that trigger recollections of relatives. After making these comparisons, she emphasizes an idea of personal identity with the statement, “I am positively absolutely altogether no one else but ME!”
Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion
By Lee Anglin
I Am Me presents a child’s story that encourages the reader to wrestle with metaphysical questions of identity, mind - body duality, and mysteries of human design. These issues neatly overlap, and the book provides an easy way to adjust to the relevant thoughts inspired in young minds.
The metaphysical issue of identity poses challenging questions about what evidence supports human uniqueness. Philosophers are divided about whether individual human beings are completely unique and why. On the one hand, the incredibly complexity of human biology suggests that no two people are ever completely alike. On the other hand, there are certainly ways in which each of us resembles our ancesters, perhaps in the shape of our noses or the way we move our hands. The book offers numerous practical observations about evidence relevant to the extent of our uniqueness. The narrator in the story points out the way our parents give us many physical characteristics that appear to reduce our uniqueness, or if the combination creates ones uniqueness. At the same time, I Am Me raises the issue of whether our thought process is determined by similar gifts from our parents. The conclusion of the story sets forth a clear rejection of the argument that human uniqueness does not exist, and invites the reader to review evidence of uniqueness against evidence of similarity. By encouraging readers to weigh that evidence, it helps them focus on what characteristics of the body or mind might establish a person as unique.
The narrator’s statement, “I clear my throat to speak,” brings the second issue of Mind versus Body into focus. Within philosophy, two major positions exist on the mind body problem. On the one side, you have monists, who maintain that there is only one type of thing in the world, either the mind (idealists) or the body (materialists). On the other side, you have Dualists, who maintain that the mind is a thing separate and distinct from the brain. Philosophy thus faces a question about what in the human directs behavior. Some people claim that the physical body just responds to sensations and gives orders for action, while others think that a mind deliberates about what actions make the most sense. The debate has huge consequences, because if the body controls everything based on sensation, we might not even have an opportunity to make choices. The character’s clearing of her throat raises the key question in a way that seems easily understood by people starting in philosophy. It seems young readers might easily debate issues such as whether a tickle in the throat prompts the cough, or whether a mind within the body uses the cough to do something like annoy a teacher. Even though the physical body might account for both actions, the idea of “I” directing action encourages the discussion of the mind-body issue.
The third issue raised by the content of the book comes about with the almost inevitable question about what accounts for our human characteristics, and the role of evolution in plant and human design. The question is the first step in dealing with the controversial and complex issues involved in discussing ideas first raised by Darwin, that sometimes call into question the claim that God created everything. Darwin raised the issue of natural selection, and the way that process helps account for the way human beings are involved in a process of evolution over the ages. His work invites questions about what types of scientific evidence might help us explain why we have certain features. It encourages a comparison of the evidence developed about the way plants and animals have developed in the world, and questions about whether it is simply accidental or whether we respond to the needs of nature. The book helps make the point very well. It references trees reaching towards the sky in an effort to capture the most powerful sun, and creates a perfect example of the way taller trees might prove the best able to survive on earth. It invites discussion whether the process of evolution accounts for human design by leading those with the best adaptation skills to survive. People might seek the sun to be more attractive, or to develop a better ability to work in the sun. Though evolution provides evidence of a scientific account of human formation, arguments can still be made that a God set the evolutionary process in place. In the final analysis, the third issue of design helps readers of the book to review evidence about what accounts for the way we look and behave.
Questions for Philosophical Discussion
By Lee Anglin
Everybody says I have my mother’s eyes. . .
Duality (Mind verses Body)
I clear my throat to speak
Everybody says. . .I have my mother’s pointed chin