On Remaining the Same Person
Lyon (Ardon)
Source: Philosophy - 55, 1980, pp. 173-182
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction

  1. People are organisms of a characteristic shape, with individual personalities, abilities and memories. Each of these features varies through time, but does not normally change very abruptly before death. Because these changes are only gradual, we are able to pick out one and the same individual through time, and refer to him, her or it by use of a proper name, just as we are able to refer to one and the same planet, animal or building. In particular, organisms change shape only gradually, and we have every reason to believe in the possibility of our continuing to watch the spatio-temporally continuous life-history of one and the same organism. The problem which philosophers have discussed under the heading of 'Personal Identity' has usually been the following: under what conditions is it correct to say that we have one and the same person continuing through time, and when is it not? To answer this question is to map out the logical geography of our concept1 of a person2 and of what it is to remain the same person.
  2. Philosophers seem to have suggested that our concept of personal identity is problematic for two reasons.
    1. First, it has been suggested that retention of none of the characteristics mentioned above, namely shape plus spatio-temporal continuity of body, memory, or personality is either logically necessary or logically sufficient for remaining the same person. Let us call this Property I: some philosophers have argued that because of this it is in some way unclear what 'remaining the same person' consists of.
    2. Secondly, one can think up imaginary or perhaps even real so-called 'puzzle cases' where, it is claimed, it is utterly unclear whether or not we have continuation of one and the same person; and thus, it is suggested, our concept is somehow deficient, or itself lacking in clarity. Let us call this Property II.
  3. It is my claim that our concept3 is perfectly in order as it stands. There is nothing intrinsically deficient or unclear about it – whatever that might mean. Any unclarity is in the minds of philosophers who believe that either of the two properties mentioned above shows that the concept itself is somehow problematic. To show this I first take some other concepts and demonstrate that they have Properties I and II without this in any way inclining us to conclude that the concepts themselves are problematic. In the light of these examples I return from time to time to the concept of personal identity and by taking parallel cases attempt to reach my desired conclusion.

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