Personal Identity
Martin (Raymond) & Barresi (John), Eds.
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Cover Burb

  1. Personal Identity brings together the most important readings on personal identity theory in a collection ideal for students, philosophers, and all other interested readers.
  2. The volume begins with a detailed introductory historical essay by the editors, which traces the evolution of personal identity theory in the West from classical Greece to the twentieth century. It also describes how, in the early 1970s, philosophers shifted their attention from the ′internal relations′ view of personal identity to an ′external relations′ view that explores, among other considerations, what matters1 in survival.
  3. The essays that follow are delineated by this twentieth–century philosophical shift.
    • The first section features seminal papers by such luminaries as Bernard Williams, Derek Parfit, Robert Nozick, and David Lewis. These are the very scholars that were involved in initiating the revolution in personal identity theory.
    • The second section features papers by Christine Korsgaard, Peter Unger, Ernest Sosa, Raymond Martin, Marya Schechtman, Mark Johnston, and Derek Parfit that focus primarily on the new question of survival.
    • Finally, a recent paper on animalism2 by Eric Olson and one on the self by Galen Strawson indicate new directions in which further discussion might continue.
  4. Reviews:
    • This volume gathers together important essays from two generations of debate concerning the problem of personal identity. Does identity matter as much as survival? Is survival based on psychological continuity3 or on the animal body? Does the self last through a lifetime, or for much shorter periods of time? Should ethical issues about personhood constrain our metaphysical conceptions of the person? The editors provide a historical framework that places all of these questions in clear perspective.
      → Shaun Gallagher, Canisius College, Buffalo, New York
    • A balanced and stimulating anthology, capped by a valuable historical survey of the issues. It′s a natural for either primary or secondary class readings.
      → Stephen Braude, University of Maryland Baltimore County
    • This volume is a balanced collection of important contemporary essays on personal identity. The editors’ detailed historical overview provides a useful context for the essays. Overall, the book will be an excellent text for graduate and upper–level undergraduate courses, as well as a convenient resource for professional philosophers.
      → Lynne Rudder Baker, University of Massachusetts–Amherst

Amazon Customer4 Review
  1. My main problem with this book is that it is no up-to-date and contains little novelty. Personal identity is a perplexing and hot area in contemporary philosophy; and not only perplexing but also great fun. Compared to this, there are remarkably few textbooks on this important research. In fact there had only been two notable textbooks on personal identity until this one has been published: one by John Perry5 (which, in my view, concentrated too much on the history of personal identity rather than on contemporary theories), and one by A.O. Rorty6, which was great in its time, but is now obsolete.
  2. Does this book carry out its aim? I have to say not. Some of the writings are too well-known for everyone, others are brutally cut, and others just don't meet the standards to get in a textbook. I find it most easy to comment the texts piece by piece.
    • 0. Introduction. This one annoyed me. I simply don't care about the theory of personal identity7, especially not in 70 pages, which could have been filled with two contemporary texts.
    • 1-4. Williams', Nozick's, Parfit's and Lewis's contributions: These are great texts, and are classics of the topic. The problem is that they are too well-known to everyone, and - most annoying - all of them are excerpts except Williams's one. I hate excerpts; I don't like it when someone else decides which parts of the text are important. Hence, these texts are useless for reference: you have to get the original ones.
    • 5. Korsgaard (excerpt) : Korsgaard argues against Parfit and says that persons are unified agents; so she wants to replace the 'Humean' concept of persons with a 'Kantian' one. She takes a so-called practical not metaphysical point of view. Though there are some good ideas in this article, I think it's unjustified to suppose that there is a sharp borderline between the practical and the metaphysical questions of personal identity. One cannot handle metaphysical problems by simply neglecting them.
    • 6. Unger: He argues that fission (when an imagined person splits in two like an amoeba) is worse than ordinary survival. I think his arguments are not sound, but - since, of course, it's an excerpt from his book again - the reader cannot judge.
    • 7. Sosa: This is a cutting-edge chapter in this book! Sosa defends the so-called 'neoconservative view' that personal identity - strict, numerical identity - does matter (Parfit believes it doesn't.) Unfortunately this is an excerpt again, a good one, nonetheless.
    • 8. Martin: A solid writing again. Martin argues against the neoconservative view described above. He introduces a new thought experiment8 which is immune to objections posed against the 'fission case'. I think he fails to prove his thesis, but the paper is still insightful and clever.
    • 9. Schechtmann: An excerpt again, and in my view, it's not very good. Her approach resembles Korsgaard's one: looking at the practical, everyday concept of identity instead of the metaphysical problem. I think she goes in the wrong direction, and misuses identity for cases which are problematic only for her.
    • 10. Johnston: He argues against Parfit's reductionism: the thesis that a person is nothing over and above his his brain and body. Johnston writes clearly, but this article is quite complicated and sometimes is hard to follow. I think that he begs questions about important issues.
    • 11. Parfit: In this newer (1995) paper Parfit defends the view elaborated in his Reasons and Persons. There is nothing really new here except an interesting classification of kinds of reductionism. Yet worth reading.
    • 12. Olson: A very clear and cutting-edge paper. Briefly, it's a short summary of the arguments presented in his great 'The Human Animal9'. If you want to know animalism10 better, you should read that book anyway, but this article is a good introduction. Olson is an animalist11, so his approach is radically different from anyone else's in this textbook. He thinks that psychology is irrelevant to personal identity at all.
    • 13. Galen Strawson: I admit that I can say nothing about this long article because I don't understand it. Strawson sketches a new picture of the self but that's all I learnt from this text. It's very ambiguous and is simply beyond my cognitive limits12.
  3. All in all: there are some good articles in this book, but they are not new. And there are new ones, but they are (with some exceptions) not good. Furthermore, this book doesn't show the width and scope of contemporary debates on personal identity, because it's desperately biased in favour of psychological theories. If you search for a good introduction to contemporary debates on personal identity, this book is not for you.

In-Page Footnotes ("Martin (Raymond) & Barresi (John), Eds. - Personal Identity")

Footnote 4: Naturally, this is not by me, but I agree with most of its sentiments.

Footnote 5: See "Perry (John), Ed. - Personal Identity".

Footnote 6: See "Rorty (Amelie), Ed. - The Identities of Persons".

Footnote 7: Well, I do, and this may be the most valuable part of the book, as the texts are mostly available elsewhere.

Footnote 9: See "Olson (Eric) - The Human Animal - Personal Identity Without Psychology".

Footnote 12: I’ve not read the paper, but I know what he means!


Blackwell Publishing, 2003

"Johnston (Mark) - Human Concerns without Superlative Selves"

Source: Dancy - Reading Parfit, 1997, Chapter 8


"Korsgaard (Christine) - Personal Identity and the Unity of Agency; A Kantian Response to Parfit"

Source: Martin & Barresi - Personal Identity, Chapter 5


"Lewis (David) - Survival and Identity"

Source: Lewis - Philosophical Papers Volume I, Part 1: Ontology, Chapter 5

Oxford Scholarship Online
  1. Prompted by Derek Parfit's early work on personal identity, Lewis advances the view that persons are best regarded as suitably related aggregates of person-stages. Parfit argues that what matters1 in survival is either identity or mental continuity and connectedness; that the two cannot both be what matters2 in survival (because the former is a one-one relation and does not admit of degree, whereas the latter can admit of degree and may be a one-many or many-one relation); and that what matters3 in survival is not identity.
  2. Contra Parfit, Lewis contends that the opposition is a false one, since it obscures the fact that mental continuity and connectedness is a relation between two person-stages (i.e., time-slices of continuant persons), whereas identity is a relation between temporally extended continuant persons with stages at different times.
  3. The postscript includes both Lewis’ rejoinder to Parfit's objections, as well as a further defense of person-stages.

  1. Photocopy filed in "Various - Papers on Identity Boxes: Vol 09 (L)";
  2. Also in:-
  3. For Notes, see "Funkhouser (Eric) - Notes on Lewis, “Survival and Identity”".

"Martin (Raymond) - Fission Rejuvenated"

Source: Martin & Barresi - Personal Identity, Chapter 8

COMMENT: Originally published in Philosophical Studies 80 (1995), pp. 17-40.

"Martin (Raymond) & Barresi (John) - Personal Identity and What Matters In Survival: An Historical Overview"

Source: Martin & Barresi - Personal Identity, Introduction

  1. Introduction
  2. Plato
  3. Aristotle
  4. Lucretius
  5. The Patristic Period
  6. Plotinus
  7. Augustine
  8. The Rise of Scholasticism
  9. Thomas Aquinas
  10. The Renaissance
  11. Descartes
  12. Leibniz
  13. Locke1
  14. Samuel Clarke and Anthony Collins
  15. Joseph Butler
  16. Hume
  17. Thomas Reid2
  18. William Hazlitt
  19. Kant
  20. William James

In-Page Footnotes ("Martin (Raymond) & Barresi (John) - Personal Identity and What Matters In Survival: An Historical Overview")

Footnote 1: This includes a large excerpt from "Locke (John) - Of Identity and Diversity".

Footnote 2: Including extracts from "Reid (Thomas) - Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man (I & II)" & "Reid (Thomas) - Of Mr. Locke's Account of Our Personal Identity".

"Nozick (Robert) - Personal Identity Through Time"

Source: Nozick - Philosophical Explanations - Metaphysics; The Identity of the Self; Chapter 1.I

  • The Closest Continuer Theory
  • The Theory Applied
  • Overlap
  • Structuring Philosophical Concepts
  • Problem Cases
  • Ties and Caring


"Olson (Eric) - An Argument for Animalism"

Source: Martin & Barresi - Personal Identity, Chapter 12

Author’s Introduction
  1. The view that we are human animals1, "animalism2", is deeply unpopular. This paper explains what that claim says and why it is so contentious.
  2. It then argues that those who deny it face an awkward choice. They must either
    • deny that there are any human animals3,
    • deny that human animals4 can think, or
    • deny that we are the thinking things located where we are.

COMMENT: For Notes, see "Funkhouser (Eric) - Notes on Olson, “An Argument for Animalism”".

"Parfit (Derek) - The Unimportance of Identity"

Source: Martin & Barresi - Personal Identity, Chapter 11

First Two Pages (Full Text)
  1. We can start with some science fiction. Here on Earth, I enter the Teletransporter. When I press some button, a machine destroys my body, while recording the exact states of all my cells. The information is sent by radio to Mars, where another machine makes, out of organic materials, a perfect copy of my body. The person who wakes up on Mars seems to remember living my life up to the moment when I pressed the button, and he is in every other way just like me.
  2. Of those who have thought about such cases, some believe that it would be I who would wake up on Mars. They regard Teletransportation as merely the fastest way of travelling. Others believe that, if I chose to be Teletransported, I would be making a terrible mistake. On their view, the person who wakes up would be a mere Replica of me.
  3. That is a disagreement about personal identity. To understand such disagreements, we must distinguish two kinds of sameness. Two white billiard balls may be qualitatively identical, or exactly similar. But they are not numerically identical, or one and the same ball. If I paint one of these balls red, it will cease to be qualitatively identical with itself as it was; but it will still be one and the same ball. Consider next a claim like, 'Since her accident, she is no longer the same person'. That involves both senses of identity. It means that she, one and the same person, is not now the same person. That is not a contradiction. The claim is only that this person's character has changed. This numerically identical person is now qualitatively different.
  4. When psychologists discuss identity, they are typically concerned with the kind of person someone is, or wants to be. That is the question involved, for example, in an identity crisis. But, when philosophers discuss identity, it is numerical identity they mean. And, in our concern about our own futures, that is what we have in mind. I may believe that, after my marriage, I shall be a different person. But that does not make marriage death. However much I change, I shall still be alive if there will be someone living who will be me. Similarly, if I was Teletransported, my Replica on Mars would be qualitatively identical to me; but, on the sceptic's view, he wouldn't be me. I shall have ceased to exist. And that, we naturally assume, is what matters1.
  5. Questions about our numerical identity all take the following form. We have two ways of referring to a person, and we ask whether these are ways of referring to the same person. Thus we might ask whether Boris Nikolayevich is Yeltsin. In the most important questions of this kind, our two ways of referring to a person pick out a person at different times. Thus we might ask whether the person to whom we are speaking now is the same as the person to whom we spoke on the telephone yesterday. These are questions about identity over time.
  6. To answer such questions, we must know the criterion of personal identity: the relation between a person at one time, and a person at another time, which makes these one and the same person.
  7. Different criteria have been advanced. On one view, what makes me the same, throughout my life, is my having the same body. This criterion requires uninterrupted bodily continuity. There is no such continuity between my body on Earth and the body of my Replica on Mars; so, on this view, my Replica would not be me. Other writers appeal to psychological continuity2. Thus Locke claimed that, if I was conscious of a past life in some other body, I would be the person who lived that life. On some versions of this view, my Replica would be me.
  8. Supporters of these different views often appeal to cases where they conflict. Most of these cases are, like Teletransportation, purely imaginary. Some philosophers object that, since our concept of a person rests on a scaffolding of facts, we should not expect this concept to apply in imagined cases where we think those facts away. I agree. But I believe that, for a different reason, it is worth considering such cases. We can use them to discover, not what the truth is, but what we believe. We might have found that, when we consider science fiction cases, we simply shrug our shoulders. But that is not so. Many of us find that we have certain beliefs about what kind of fact personal identity is.

COMMENT: Also in "Martin (Raymond) & Barresi (John), Eds. - Personal Identity"

"Parfit (Derek) - Why Our Identity is Not What Matters (Excerpts)"

Source: Parfit - Reasons and Persons, January 1986, Excerpts

  • Introduction (Teletransportation)
  • 75. Simple Teletransportation and the Branch-Line Case
  • 79. The Other Views
  • 87. Divided Minds
  • 88. What Explains the Unity of Consciousness?
  • 89. What Happens When I Divide?
  • 90. What Matters2 When I Divide?
  • 91. Why There is No Criterion of Identity that can Meet Two Plausible Requirements

In-Page Footnotes ("Parfit (Derek) - Why Our Identity is Not What Matters (Excerpts)")

Footnote 1:

"Schechtman (Marya) - Empathic Access: The Missing Ingredient in Personal Identity"

Source: Martin & Barresi - Personal Identity, Chapter 9

Introduction (Full Text)
  1. Although substance-based views of personal identity still have adherents, psychologically-based accounts have achieved an undeniable prominence in contemporary analytic philosophy. Support for these views comes chiefly from thought experiments1 and puzzle cases. These cases are limited only by the imaginations of the philosophers who have offered them, and take a dazzling variety of forms. One important distinction to be drawn is between those cases which imagine a wholesale movement of a psychological life from one body to another and those which depict partial psychological change taking place within the scope of a single human life. The former category includes John Locke’s prince who "enters and informs" the body of a cobbler, as well as the teleportation, brain rejuvenation, and brain transplant2 cases found in more modem authors. The latter includes cases based on real-life situations (e.g. conversion, amnesia, brainwashing, dementia) as well as science fiction scenarios (e.g. involving evil neurosurgeons who can manipulate the brain to change traits or psychological states at will).
  2. These two types of cases play somewhat different roles within the discussion of personal identity. The first is used essentially to show that personal identity should be defined in terms of psychological rather than physical features. The second supports this case (by showing that the right kind or degree of psychological change within a human life threatens identity), but it also speaks to the more complicated question of what psychological continuation involves. Cases in which a person’s psychological life moves intact to a new venue make a good case for the claim that between body and mental life it is the continuation of mental life which is required for personal continuation, but fall short of telling us exactly what this entails. It is too much to require the exact preservation of psychological makeup for personal identity, since this is something we virtually never encounter. People do change in their beliefs, desires, character traits and values, and this does not usually imply a change of identity3.
  3. A theorist who wishes to define personal identity in terms of psychological continuation thus needs to tell us what "psychological continuation means, and this requires, among other things, specifying the degree and kind of psychological change that is permissible. A psychological account of identity must, that is, define the difference between ordinary personal development and identity-destroying psychological discontinuity. There have been two main attempts to offer such a definition in the literature: psychological continuity4 theories and narrative accounts. In what follows will argue that neither is adequate to capturing this crucial distinction, at least with respect to one important class of thought experiments5. With respect to the intuitions generated by these thought experiments6, I claim, both psychological continuity7 theories and narrative views leave out a necessary ingredient which I call "empathic access."
  4. I begin with a description of the class of thought experiments8 on which I will focus, offering two as representatives for further discussion, and briefly describing their importance in the discussion of personal identity and personal survival. I then show how the standard psychological accounts fail to capture the intuitions generated by these examples, and diagnose their failure by introducing the concept of empathic access. After further definition of empathic access and a sketch of some of the work which will be needed to develop the concept further, I conclude by discussing the broader goal of providing a viable psychological account of personal survival.

In-Page Footnotes ("Schechtman (Marya) - Empathic Access: The Missing Ingredient in Personal Identity")

Footnote 3: The issues involved in the dispute over whether identity is required for survival are tangential to those discussed here, and I wish to remain agnostic on them. I will thus use the terms “personal identity” and “personal survival” interchangeably. Wherever I have used “identity”, however, “survival” could be substituted.

"Sosa (Ernest) - Surviving Matters"

Source: Martin & Barresi - Personal Identity, Chapter 7

  • Life may turn sour and, in extremis, not worth living. On occasion it may be best, moreover, to lay down one's life for a greater cause. None of this is any news, debatable though it may remain, in general or case by case. Now comes the news that life does not matter in the way we had thought. No resurgence of existentialism, nor tidings from some ancient religion or some new cult, the news derives from the most sober and probing philosophical argument (the extraordinary Parfit, 1984, Part III), and takes more precisely the following form:
      The Paradox. Even though life L is optimal (in all dimensions), and even though if it were extended L would continue to be optimal, it does not follow that it is best to extend it, even for the subject whose life L is.
    What is the argument?
  • Section II will defend a certain view of the nature of persons and personal identity, and Section III will then argue for the Paradox on that basis, and reflect on its philosophical implications and on the options it presents.

  • We set out from two assumptions:
    1. One is not a soul, one' s existence does not consist in the existence of any soul, and one's perdurance does not consist in the perdurance of any soul.
    2. One is not any body or collection of particles, one's existence does not consist in the existence of any body or collection of particles, and one's perdurance does not consist in the perdurance of any body or collection of particles.
  • Thesis 1 is often defended through epistemological arguments. Elsewhere I oppose these but propose other arguments ("Sosa (Ernest) - Subjects Among Other Things", 1987).
  • Thesis 2 is made plausible through the importance of psychological continuity1 for personal identity, and through the fact that the body itself will stand in a supervenience2 or dependence relation to yet more fundamental entities. ("Sosa (Ernest) - Subjects Among Other Things", 1987, contains discussion and defense of both theses.)


"Strawson (Galen) - The Self"

Source: Martin & Barresi - Personal Identity, Chapter 13

Author’s Introduction (Full Text)
  1. The substantival phrase ‘the self’ is very unnatural in most speech contexts in most languages, and some conclude from this that it's an illusion to think that there is such a thing as the self, an illusion that arises from nothing more than an improper use of language. This, however, is implausible. People are not that stupid. The problem of the self doesn't arise from an unnatural use of language which arises from nowhere. On the
    contrary: use of a phrase like ‘the self’ arises from a prior and independent sense that there is such a thing as the self. The phrase may be unusual in ordinary speech; it may have no obvious direct translation in many languages. Nevertheless all languages have words which lend themselves naturally to playing the role that ‘the self’ plays in English, however murky that role may be. The phrase certainly means something to most people. It has a natural use in religious, philosophical, and psychological contexts, which are very natural contexts of discussion for human beings. I think there is a real philosophical problem about the existence and nature of the self, not just a relatively uninteresting problem about why we think there's a problem. It is too quick to say that a ‘grammatical error ... is the essence of the theory of the self’, or that ‘"the self is piece of philosopher's nonsense consisting in a misunderstanding of the reflexive pronoun' (Anthony Kenney, The Self, 1988, p. 4).
  2. The first task is to get the problem into focus. I will recommend one approach, first in outline, then in slightly more detail. (I will model the problem of the self, rather than attempting to model the self.) I think the problem requires a straightforwardly metaphysical approach; but I also think that metaphysics must wait on phenomenology, in a sense I will explain. Most recent discussion of the problem by analytic philosophers has started from work in philosophical logic (in the large sense of the term – as used in "Cassam (Quassim), Ed. - Self-Knowledge", 1994). This work may have a contribution to make, but a more phenomenological starting point is needed.
  3. I will use the expression ‘the self’ freely – I am already doing so – but I don't want to exclude in advance the view that there is no such thing as the self, and the expression will often function as a loose name for what one might equally well call ‘the self-phenomenon’, i.e. all those undoubtedly real phenomena that lead us to think and talk in terms of something called the self, whether or not there is such a thing.

  1. Introduction
  2. The Problem of the Self
  3. The Local Question: Cognitive Phenomenology
  4. Phenomenology and Metaphysics
  5. Materialism
  6. Singularity
    • Introduction
    • Thinghood and mentality
    • Singularity
    • Multiplicity?
  7. Personality
  8. The Self In Time: Effects of Character
  9. The Self In Time: The ‘Stream’ of Consciousness
  10. The Conditions Question
  11. The Factual Question
  12. Conclusion
  13. Postscript


"Unger (Peter) - Fission and the Focus of One's Life (Excerpt)"

Source: Martin & Barresi - Personal Identity, Chapter 6

  1. The Standard Fission Case and the Standard One-sided Case
  2. The Focus of Life and Heavily Discounted Branches
  3. A Person's Singular Goods
  4. Three Ways for Singular Goods to Go Two Ways

  1. This is in fact a subset (pp. 269-82, ie. Sections 4-7) of "Unger (Peter) - Fission and the Focus of One's Life" from "Unger (Peter) - Identity, Consciousness and Value".
  2. Best to read the full Chapter (as I have done)
  3. The first section is Section 4 (The Focus of a Person's Life) of the Chapter, missing the first paragraph and with sundry other cuts.
  4. The other three sections are verbatim those of the corresponding sections of the same title in the Chapter, with a small cut in the middle section.

COMMENT: Excerpts from "Unger (Peter) - Fission and the Focus of One's Life".

"Williams (Bernard) - The Self and the Future"

Source: Williams - Problems of the Self
Write-up Note1
  • For a précis and discussion, click File Note (PDF), now replaced by this Note2.
  • This text appeared in Commensal (Mensa) and in Aitia (Birkbeck).

  1. Also published in:-
  2. Printout filed in "Various - Papers on Identity Boxes: Vol 19 (W)",
  3. See "Funkhouser (Eric) - Notes on Williams, 'The Self and the Future'" for Notes,
  4. Originally in The Philosophical Review, Vol. 79, Issue 2 (Apr., 1970), 161-180).

Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
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  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)

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