Leibniz: Personal Identity and Sameness of Substance
Gut (Przemyslaw)
Source: Roczniki Filozoficzne, Vol LXV. 2 – 2017
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Summary

  1. Leibniz’s theory of personal identity has been the object of numerous discussions and various interpretations.
  2. In the paper I contrast my view on Leibniz’s solution to the problem of personal identity with the view of Margaret Wilson and Samuel Scheffler. They both claimed that Leibniz failed to formulate a coherent, uniform and tenable theory of personal identity. His stance – as they state – contains so many inconsistencies that it cannot be adopted as a satisfactory solution to this problem.
  3. I disagree with this opinion. It is my conviction that a more inquisitive analysis of Leibniz’s texts leads to the conclusion that such severe criticism of the results of Leibniz’s studies of personal identity is ill-founded.
  4. My paper consists of two parts.
    1. In the first part— drawing on suggestions made by Vailati, Thiel, Noonan, and Bobro — I attempt to present the essential arguments against the interpretation offered by M. Wilson and S. Scheffler.
    2. In the second part I address two issues.
      1. First, I try to discuss the reasons which Leibniz listed to support his thesis that personal identity requires both the continuity of substance and the continuity of some psychological phenomena.
      2. Then, I turn to identifying Leibniz’s arguments which support the thesis that what ultimately provides a person with identity is their substantial principle, i.e. the soul or “I”.

Author’s Introduction
  1. Leibniz’s view on personal identity has been the object of numerous discussions and various interpretations. Among others, the controversies revolve around the following questions:
    1. What is the relation of Leibniz’s conception to the Cartesian view on personal identity? Is it a completely new idea or some modification of Descartes’?
    2. To what extent did Locke’s ideas lay the basis for Leibniz’s conception of personal identity, especially Locke’s distinction between being the same substance, organism, and person?
    3. What role did psychological continuity play in Leibniz’s conception of personal identity? Did he indeed claim that a person’s identity cannot solely arise out of sameness of substance?
    4. Is Leibniz’s solution to the problem of personal identity compatible with his deepest metaphysical commitments? Can it be seen as a conclusive solution to the problem?
    5. Is Leibniz’s effort to offer an account of personal identity by combining the substance-oriented view with the psychological view a coherent solution?
  2. Before I specify which of the above problems come into focus in my work, let me refer to three opinions formulated by Samuel Scheffler, Margaret Wilson. A presentation of their views will allow me to, first of all, highlight why Leibniz’s view on this issue leads to so many controversies, and second of all, indicate the points where my interpretation departs from those of other researchers, especially from the ones offered by Wilson and Scheffler.


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