Personal Identity and Ethics
Shoemaker (David)
Source: Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, 2005-12
Paper - Abstract

Paper StatisticsBooks / Papers Citing this PaperNotes Citing this PaperColour-ConventionsDisclaimer

Author’s Abstract1

  1. What justifies our holding a person morally responsible for some past action? Why am I justified in having a special prudential concern for some future persons and not others? Why do many of us think that maximizing the good within a single life is perfectly acceptable, but maximizing the good across lives is wrong? In these and other normative questions, it looks like any answer we come up with will have to make an essential reference to personal identity. So, for instance, it seems we are justified in holding X responsible for some past action only if X is identical to the person who performed that action. Further, it seems I am justified in my special concern for some future person only if he will be me. Finally, many of us think that while maximization within a life affects only one person, a metaphysical unity2, maximization across lives affects many different, metaphysically distinct, persons, and so the latter is wrong insofar as it ignores this fundamental separateness of persons.
  2. These are among the many issues relevant to an investigation into the relation between personal identity and ethics. “Ethics” here is broadly construed to be about the way(s) in which we ought to live our lives, and so it includes both self-regarding and other-regarding practical concerns. Among the self-regarding concerns for which personal identity is relevant are those about the nature and grounds of survival and immortality, rational anticipation, and self-concern. Among the other-regarding concerns for which personal identity is relevant are those about the nature and grounds of moral responsibility, compensation, interpersonal moral relations, advance directives, abortion3 and embryonic4 research, population ethics, and therapeutic treatments for dissociative identity disorders. The typical approach to exploring the relation between identity and ethics, then, is to start with an investigation into the nature of personal identity and see how conclusions in that metaphysical realm might apply to these sorts of practical concerns. After starting with a brief discussion of notable historical accounts of the relation, we will proceed in this fashion as well. We will thus survey the main theories of personal identity on offer and then see what, if anything, they might imply for several self-regarding and other-regarding ethical concerns. We will then turn to a discussion of some fundamental differences in methodology in the debate.

  1. Historical Highlights of the Relation
  2. Contemporary Accounts of Personal Identity
  3. Prudential and Moral Units
  4. Identity and Normative Ethics
  5. Identity and Moral Responsibility
  6. Identity and Applied Ethics
    • 6.1 Embryonic9 Research and Abortion10
    • 6.2 Advanced Directives.
    • 6.3 Other Issues of Applied Ethics
  7. Methodological Alternatives
  8. Conclusion
    Other Internet Resources
    Related Entries


In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1: Taken from the 2008 revision.

Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)

  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2020
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)

© Theo Todman, June 2007 - Dec 2020. Please address any comments on this page to File output:
Website Maintenance Dashboard
Return to Top of this Page Return to Theo Todman's Philosophy Page Return to Theo Todman's Home Page