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Personal identity (a critical survey of the problem from John Locke to the present day)

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The problem of personal identity, as I propose to discuss herein, is the problem of what, if anything, makes a person the same person at different times. It is a problem because although many things about a person go on changing - his physical features as well as his psychological features - through time, this normally does not affect our saying that a later person is the same person as an earlier person (This talk of's later person' being the same person as ' an earlier person' in terms of which the problem is raised and discussed, as it usually is, need not be contradictory or otherwise pleonastic} for they are only a shorthand device for the expressions 'a person picked out at a later time' and •a person picked out at an earlier time',) Is there, then, something unchanging about a person which is the bearer of his identity through time ? Various answers have been suggested to this question from John Locke's time up to date, though hardly any answer has been satisfactory» In the present work, I want to consider why there should be a problem - which, to many, is a very special problem - about the identity of persons ifnone so special seems to be there about that of most other things, and to critically assess the various answers suggested,
I will also try to find out what made different philosophers give different - often conflicting - answers to the problem, and thereby, to point out why these answers were unsatisfactory. By way of such critical assessment, there will emerge my answer to the problem which I will claim to be free from the difficulties and limitations inherent in the ones I examine.
Incidentally there is another form in which the problem can be raised and this is the problem of synchronous identity,This involves the interesting issue of whether two (or more) contemporaneously identifiable selves are one and the same self. I shall not here be concerned with this aspect of the problem since it forms a separate problem from that of re-identity of persons which is chosen as the subject of my thesis.
In the interest of clarity and convenience chronology may not be strictly adhered to - though every attempt will be made to stick to it as far as possible.
The thesis will divide into three parts dealing, roughly, with the nature and source of the problem, how it has been looked at and dealt with by different philosophers and what a proper analysis of the problem will amount to. These three parts, in turn, will spread over five chapters.
The first chapter will be an introduction in which the problem will be stated and the nature and source of it will be clearly brought out. The peculiarity of the problem of personal identity, it will be pointed out, is due to a more intimate connection between the concept of a person and the criteria for the identity of persons, and also to the fact that persons are self- knowers. It will then be maintained that an approach to the par problem will be on the right line if it is taken as a problem of specifying the criteria for making personal identity judgments - and not as an attempt to define personal identity since, it will be argued, no satisfactory non-trivial definition of the latter is possible.
I shall then go on to consider, in the next two chapters, the way the problem presented itself to the traditional philosophers and the way it has been looked at in recent writings. Some possible connections and distinctions between the different views will be uncovered. The detailed scheme of these two chapters give the philosophers whose views are being considered. I will not pretend that the list is in any way exhaustive, but I do hope that it presents the major links in the chain. Other writers and commentators will be given due attention in the course of the text. One major distinction between the traditional approach and the contemporary approach will be brought out in the following way: whereas in the former the problem was looked at (so I will argue) pre-eminently as one of definition, in the latter the question generally has turned on the problem of specifying the criteria to be used in making personal identity judgments. This difference in approach will be shown to explain the relative clarity of the contemporary literature and the somewhat vague and even paradoxical nature of most traditional answers.
After having thus shown that our problem is one of criteria,
I shall set myself to the natural task of reviewing the status of the two main criteria of personal identity, namely similarity of memory claims (with or without that of personality and character) and bodily continuity (which includes spatio-temporal continuity). This will be my concern in the 4th chapter. Attempt will be made to show that bodily isjootiry identity is an independent and the primary criterion of personal identity But bodily identity, I shall contend, should not be taken in so rigid a sense as Williams, for example, has taken it but that it should be qualified to take the spatio-temporal continuity of whatever may be the physical basis of what I shall call* the personal faculties'. Such lines have recently been suggested, notably by Wiggins, Shoemaker and Parfit, in some form or other. by imagining the possibility of brain (and/or split brain) transplants. But I will argue that cases of brain transplants show, not that memory continuity or "psychological continuity" - to the exclusion of bodily identity - is the criterion of personal identity as these philosophers seem to think, but that such possibilities can be so interpreted as to preserve bodily continuity as the necessary condition of personal identity. On the other side, arguments will be given to substantiate the well known bs claim that memory cannot be an independent criterion of personal
identity and that it has to depend, for its successful applicantion,
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on the bodily identity criterion. This will oblige me to examine the alleged possibility of disembodied existence, for if such existence is possible for persons this would supply a good reason for memory being an independent criterion. My attempt will be to argue against such possibility. My argument will not be designed to show that this idea is logically incoherent or straightforwardly nonsense, but to k show that it is unreasonable and, more particularly, that it des not show, what it purports to show, that memory is the sole (or even the primary) criterion of personal identity.
In the last chapter, I will consider some cases where the two criteria are said to conflict and where, consequently, there seems to be no right answer to the problem; judging the extent of the bearing of these "puzzle cases" on personal identity I shall argue that these cases create no conceptual problem and so justify no plea for revising our present concepts of a person and personal identity. I shall then state the importance of personal identity and discuss critically why it is that we demand all-or-nothing answers to personal identity questions and why it is that such answers are not possible in some cases.


(1979). Personal identity (a critical survey of the problem from John Locke to the present day)


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