Personal Identity
Hershenov (David)
Source: Continuum Companion to Metaphysics, ed. Bob Barnard and Neil Manson (Continuum, 2012), 198-222
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction

  1. Personal Identity is the branch of metaphysics that inquires into what kind of being we are and what it takes for us to persist from one time to another. One way to approach the topic is to ask what is the referent of the pronoun ‘I.’ A person is the obvious answer for ‘I’ is a personal pronoun. This quick response just serves to elicit more nuanced questions: What traits make someone a person – is it mere consciousness or self-consciousness1 or something else? Moreover, are human persons essentially persons, i.e., thinking beings that will cease to exist when they lose a certain mental capacity? And if we are essentially persons, are we material or immaterial thinking things, or a compound of a material body and immaterial mind?
  2. Another possibility is that the pronoun picks out individuals that are persons for only a phase of their existence. Perhaps we are not essentially thinking beings but are necessarily living animals that begin our lives as mindless embryos2, then become persons with the onset of the appropriate mental activity, and might someday end up in a permanent vegetative state.
  3. The latter possibility suggests that the field or problem of Personal Identity has been misnamed for we may not be fundamentally persons.


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