The Importance of Self-Identity
Penelhum (Terence)
Source: Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 68, No. 20, Oct. 21, 1971, 667-678
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction

  1. In recent literature on personal identity, the immense importance of the notion in our many forms of discourse about persons has been assumed, but not often explored.
  2. Apart from neo-Kantian arguments about the necessity of self-identity for the perceptual recognition of continuing physical objects, philosophers have been so preoccupied with the analysis of our various alleged criteria of identity and their relationships to each other, that they have been content with perfunctory references to the relevance of the notion to our judgments of moral and legal responsibility and have ignored their uses elsewhere.
  3. There is a danger here that the analysis thus undertaken will proceed in a vacuum and that insufficient account will be taken of the functions that our criteria of identity have to perform1.
  4. In a fascinating recent exploration, Derek Parfit2 has done much to shake this complacency by suggesting, in effect, that the notion of personal identity does not, or need not, have the importance philosophers have assumed it to have.
  5. I shall attempt a partial response to this interesting heresy by exploring one role, too little noticed, that our criteria of identity (whatever they are) play in our discourse about persons.
  6. I shall then indicate a difficulty that the recognition of this role presents for a proposed way of thinking about persons and their pasts and futures which Parfit3 offers us as a consequence of his revised estimate of the importance of these criteria.
  7. I shall then indicate a similar difficulty which the same recognition presents for some traditional hopes concerning the survival of death4


For replies from the same symposium, see

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1: A recent exception to this is "Shorter (J.M.) - Personal Identity, Personal Relationships, and Criteria".

Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)

  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2019
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)

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