What Is Personal Identity?

What Is Personal Identity?

We must consider what Person stands for; which, I think, is a thinking intelligent Being, that has reason and reflection, and can consider it self as it self, the same thinking thing in different times and places; which it does only by that consciousness which is inseparable from thinking...

- John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, II

Podcast of the Day

Who am I? Or should that be—what am I? If you haven’t worked it out yet, don't worry because you’re in good company. This question has been kicking around for a very long time, and has passed through the ages—from Plato to Descartes and Aristotle to Locke—but the answer is not yet in sight. Master philosopher-raconteur Patrick Stokes presents a millennial recap on the problem of identity, and some paradoxes that refuse resolution.

Listen to The Philosopher's Zone episode: Personal Identity: A Primer

Video of the Day

Short Article of the Day

I am stranded on Mars. The fuel tanks on my return vessel ruptured, and no rescue team can possibly reach me before I run out of food. (And, unlike Matt Damon, I have no potatoes.) Luckily, my ship features a teleporter . . .

But there’s a complication: a toggle switch allows me to decide whether the ‘old me’ on Mars is preserved or destroyed after I teleport back home. It’s this decision that is causing me to hesitate.

On the one hand, it seems like what makes me me is the particular way in which all my components fit together. I don’t think there is such a thing as a soul, or some ghost that inhabits my machine. I’m just the result of the activity among my 100 billion neurons and their 100 trillion distinctive connections . . .

On the other hand, what happens if I put the toggle in the ‘save’ setting? Then where would I be? Would I make the trip back to Earth, and then feel sorry for the poor sap back on Mars (the old me), who will be facing slow death by starvation? Or – horrors! – will I be that old me, feeling envy for the new me who is now on Earth, enjoying the company of friends and family? . . .

Continue reading Charlie Huenemann's article: If I teleport from Mars, does the original me get destroyed?

Further Reading

What does being the person that you are, from one day to the next, necessarily consist in? This is the question of personal identity, and it is literally a question of life and death, as the correct answer to it determines which types of changes a person can undergo without ceasing to exist. Personal identity theory is the philosophical confrontation with the most ultimate questions of our own existence: who are we, and is there a life after death? In distinguishing those changes in a person that constitute survival from those changes in a person that constitute death, a criterion of personal identity through time is given. Such a criterion specifies, insofar as that is possible, the necessary and sufficient conditions for the survival of persons.

One popular criterion, associated with Plato, Descartes and a number of world religions, is that persons are immaterial souls or pure egos. On this view, persons have bodies only contingently, not necessarily; so they can live after bodily death. Even though this so-called Simple View satisfies certain religious or spiritual predilections, it faces metaphysical and epistemological obstacles, as we shall see.

Another intuitively appealing view, championed by John Locke, holds that personal identity is a matter of psychological continuity...

Continue reading the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Personal Identity by Carsten Korfmacher

Bonus Webcomic

The Machine - Existential Comics

Related Topics

AgeingConsciousness | ExistenceMemory | Metaphysics | The Soul

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