To identify myself in the relevant sense with some quality is to see that quality as embodying a particularly important feature of myself, as making others who have that feature be potential particularly salient role models for me, etc. This isn't any sort of attempt at an analysis of identification, but simply to hint at which sense of "identify with" I am using. In particular, to identify myself with Q involves existentially more than just identifying myself as having Q, and does not imply a weird claim that I believe I am identical with the Platonic entity Q.
I think I should identify myself with being a child of God, a Christian, a
father, a husband, a son or daughter, and maybe a philosopher. I should
not identify myself with being big-nosed or lazy or a Frenchman. The last
sentence may seem a mix: Maybe I shouldn't identify myself with being a
Frenchman, because I am not one. Maybe I shouldn't identify myself with
being lazy, because although I am lazy, that is something to fight against
rather than identify with. Perhaps I shouldn't identify myself with being
big-nosed, because although I have a big nose, and that's nothing to fight
against, it's still superficial.
Is there some general story we can tell about what qualities of myself I
should identify myself with, a story that will help with the question:
Should I identify myself with my ethnicity, sex, gender, sexual
Clearly, the virtuous person identifies with having
certain values, and there are certain things that no virtuous person would
Identifying oneself with a quality, even a quite innocent quality, can
carry serious dangers. There is a danger of being guided by stereotypes
rather than healthy role models. There is a danger of self-reduction--of
not sufficiently seeing oneself in one's individuality (and,
correlatively, not sufficiently seeing others in their individuality).
There may be a self-curtailing of one's autonomy.
Here is a rough hypothesis. You should only identify with having Q when
having Q places you under serious role-obligations whose fulfillment
either requires this identification or at least is very difficult without
Since something that constricts one to fulfill one's serious duties does
not objectionably curtail one's autonomy, the autonomy worry about
qualities does not apply. Moreover, when the role involves serious
role-obligations, the need for role models may outweigh the danger of
stereotyping. When the physician identifies herself with being a
physician, there is the danger she will rely on stereotypes of her
profession, but more likely it will help her fulfill her serious
obligations by looking to good role-models. Moreover, one's individuality
is particularly importantly expressed in one's serious role-obligations.
The hypothesis fits with what I think about the cases. I think that being
a child of God, a Christian, a father, a husband, a son or daughter, and
maybe a philosopher each implies serious role-obligations, and the need to
fulfill these calls for a self-identification. (My choice to put "father"
and "husband" rather than "parent" and "spouse", and "son or daughter"
rather than "son", is deliberate and obviously controversial. I am
inclined to think the parental and spousal roles are gendered in a way in
which filial roles are not, though I am not able to provide a full
account. But my bigger points do not depend on this controversial claim.)
But being big-nosed, lazy or a Frenchman does not provide me with
role-obligations. Being a Frenchman doesn't provide me with
role-obligations because I'm not a Frenchman. Being big-nosed is too
superficial. Being lazy provides me with an obligation to cease to be
lazy, but that is just a special case of a general obligation to be