Who Am I? Human Structure

For Miguel de Unamuno, one is someone specific, someone defined. But what identifies a person one way or another, what determines one’s identity? Unamuno gives quite a close answer to this question: That which determines a man, that which makes him one man, one and not another the man he is and not the man he is not, is a principle of unity and a principle of continuity (Unamuno, 2005, 518). The Spanish word “sustantivo” used by Unamuno also defines the material aspect of human nature (Unamuno, 2017, 93).

The Principle of Unity in Human Structure

In Unamuno’s opinion, the principle of unity refers to space. It is realized thanks to the body, in which Unity expresses the physicality of a human being. It creates one coordinated whole, cooperating at the cellular level. Analogously, when some part of the body is ill, it also affects the functioning of the whole organism.

Naturally, human beings take various actions to achieve their goals. This way, one expresses one’s existential unity. We can say even that the consistent pursuit of the goal expresses the fullness of humanity (Unamuno, 2005).

There are some people who are consistent in realizing their goals, but most people change their minds and attitudes frequently. The uniform action is against these contradictory tendencies, which are described by Polish psychologist, Kazimierz Dąbrowski as ambivalence and ambitendency (Dabrowski, 1973, 44). These trends are specific to people on the lower level of development – unilevel disintegration, because of a lack of mental independence of the environment.

At the lowest level of development, primary integration – human behaviors are uniform in a different sense. One remains under the unreflective power of instincts.  When they reach the advanced level of development, a tendency to more and more uniform, but also reflective action appears. More advanced behaviors in human development are more orderly and consistent, thanks to the hierarchy of values. It becomes a stable point of reference to human life.  

The Principle of Continuity in Human Structure

Besides the principle of unity, the second one is the principle of continuity. Just like unity refers to space, continuity refers to time. But what is the connection between continuity and human life? How can we define a person coming across the problem of time? We all know that everyone is a hostage of time. With age, we lose our former physical and intellectual abilities. In this sense, time is the biggest enemy of a human being.

The clock is ticking faster in moments of happiness. But it runs slowly when we are waiting for something. Usually, the pleasant moments are too short and unpleasant ones too long. So, the sense of time depends on the character of human experiences. Therefore, time is a subjective experience in human life. 

Time can be a human’s best friend because it lets us forget unpleasant and painful moments. The unpleasant or even tragic experience over time becomes less painful. It leaves only vague memories of events in human memory.

Time can help to crystalize some life attitudes. They are the realization of someone’s life in an axiological sense. One wins with time when remaining faithful to certain values and feelings despite different obstacles. 

Thanks to time and its continuity, one is more and more experienced, and their knowledge is getting deeper. With time, one can deal with problems more easily and can quickly find a proper solution because of former situations in one’s life. Humans often ignore this positive aspect of time. They concentrate more on the aging process as a curse of time. Meanwhile, time means maturity is impossible without the principle of continuity. This way we come to the memory, which, according to Unamuno, is the foundation of human personality.

Power of Memory in Human Structure

Unamuno notices:

Memory is the basis of individual personality, just as tradition is the basis of the collective personality of a people. We live in memory and by memory, and our spiritual life is a bottom simply the effort of our memory to persist, to transform itself into hope, the effort of our past to transform itself into our future (Unamuno, 525).

Memories give meaning to a person’s life. They are a base of individual life knowledge. So, if you want to shape your own future, it is worth working on your own memories. Positive memories can support a person in difficult moments. Besides them, we all experience difficult and traumatic events. They become a source of knowledge and even mental power in human life. 

To summarise: One, according to Unamuno, is someone specific because of the principle of unity and continuity in human structure. Unity refers to space, continuity to time. Unity is a realization of one’s experience and action. Continuity provides them with an awareness of their own experiences and history. It bases continuity on one’s memory, which not only defines one but also influences one’s future.

Source :

Dabrowski K. (1973). The Dynamics of Concepts, London: Gryf,

Unamuno M. de. (2017). Del sentimiento trágico de la vida, Librorio: David Garcia, Online Publication from 1912 Edition,

Unamuno M. de. (2005). Tragic Sense of Life, trans. J.E.Crawford Flitch, The Gutenberg Project EBook.


I have gained an MA in philosophy at UKSW University in Warsaw. Philosophy is my passion, especially existentialism. My second fascination is the Theory of Positive Disintegration by Kazimierz Dabrowski as a connection of the psychological knowledge with a philosophical perspective.

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