Multiple Personality and Personal Identity
Wilkes (Kathleen)
Source: The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, Vol. 32, No. 4 (Dec., 1981), pp. 331-348
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Author’s Introduction

  1. Bizarre situations often help us to discover the range of a concept; by pushing it to or beyond its limits, they thereby display more clearly where those limits lie. In particular, investigations into the concept of a person use this technique regularly – one need only think of Locke's fiction of the prince and the cobblers swapping bodies, or of our contemporary fantasies of brain and hemisphere transplants1, of robots virtually indistinguishable from people, and so forth. Occasionally, too, we can resort to science fact rather than science fantasy; consider the spate of recent work on commissurotomy2 patients where some, notably Puccetti, have argued that we have unearthed two persons in each body.
  2. The phenomenon of multiple personality has received little explicit attention from philosophers, although it sometimes rates a mention in parentheses or footnotes.
    • One reason for this neglect is that it is something of a scientific embarrassment, seeming to offer an unfortunate illustration of how nature may follow art. Certainly in the late-nineteenth century, when multiple personality was taken as a genuine diagnostic category and philosophers and scientists were fascinated by it, there was a wave of reported cases; then the increasing scepticism of the mid-twentieth century seemed virtually to abolish the condition.
    • Second, there are sound methodological reasons for dropping or at least suspending belief in multiple personality as a discrete and identifiable phenomenon: the condition is an unusual and an intriguing one, so doctors greet potential cases with keen interest and attention thereby providing strong positive reinforcement to the patient to develop distinct and distinguishable alternate personalities.
    • Finally, contemporary psychiatry has largely abandoned the almost automatic resort
      to hypnosis as a method of therapy; after reading case histories it is hard to avoid the impression that repeated hypnotism often had the effect of defining and solidifying alternate personalities which, if not thus encouraged, might have dissolved away again.
  3. Whether, though, multiple personality exists in the sense that it needs to be picked out by psychiatry as a separate diagnostic category, or whether it is better described as an acute and rare form of grande hysterie suffered by some psychoneurotic patients, it has thrown up enough startling data to challenge the concept of a person.
  4. I shall discuss the problem with particular reference to the case of Christine Beauchamp, a woman studied by Dr. Morton Prince for over seven years (Prince [I905]). Prince's discussion is particularly instructive because, in a work written for fellow-scientists rather than the popular market, he tries to explain his theories, justify his conjectures and make explicit his assumptions (subsequent book-length treatments were written as popular paperbacks and we miss in them Prince's theoretical and critical stance). Prince, unsurprisingly, wanted not only to study Miss Beauchamp but also to put her back together again – to find 'the real Miss Beauchamp'.
  5. So throughout the book we can watch the operation of the principle that all persons are or should be in one-one relations to bodies. This principle is one which even Prince took for granted, and it is as we shall see highly plausible. However it is not unchallengeable. Mary Reynolds is said to have switched between two personalities from 1815 right up to her death in 1854: was this one individual who was less fortunate than the cured Miss Beauchamp, or do we have two fortunate individuals? The recent case of Jonah, to which I shall return, provides an instance where putting him together again as Jusky seems to have rendered him less well able to function than he had been in his former split state.
  6. In the next section I shall describe as briefly as possible the salient features of Christine Beauchamp's predicament; and then, with reference to this and one or two other cases, will consider some of the philosophical implications.

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  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2018
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