Personal Identity
Paul (Ellen), Miller (Fred) & Paul (Jeffrey), Eds.
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  1. What is a person? What makes me the same person today that I was yesterday or will be tomorrow? Philosophers have long pondered these questions.
  2. In Plato's Symposium, Socrates observed that all of us are constantly undergoing change: we experience physical changes to our bodies, as well as changes in our 'manners, customs, opinions, desires, pleasures, pains, [and] fears'. Aristotle theorized that there must be some underlying 'substratum' that remains the same even as we undergo these changes. John Locke rejected Aristotle's view and reformulated the problem of personal identity in his own way: is a person a physical organism that persists through time, or is a person identified by the persistence of psychological states, by memory?
  3. The twelve essays in this volume address these perennial and thorny issues. Some of them defend general theories of identity – theories based on constitution, or on dualism, or on some form of bodily or psychological continuity1. Some examine the work of Derek Parfit2 and other influential theorists Other essays discuss how the conception of the person influences developments in other disciplines, including law, economics, and literature. Still others relate personal identity to specific policy issues, asking how our concept of identity bears on the morality of cloning, genetic engineering, abortion3, or private property rights.
  4. These essays - written by prominent philosophers and legal and economic theorists - offer valuable insights into the nature of personal identity and its implications for morality and public policy.


CUP, Cambridge, 2005. Nice paperback copy. Social Philosophy & Policy Studies, Vol 22.2

"Baker (Lynne Rudder) - When Does a Person Begin?"

Source: Paul, Miller & Paul - Personal Identity, 2005

Philosophers Index Abstract
  1. I argue that persons and animals are different kinds of beings.
  2. Human persons do not begin when human organisms begin, and neither person nor organism begins at fertilization. Human organisms/animals begin only when there is no further possibility of twinning1 (close to two weeks after fertilization); human persons begin when human organisms develop rudimentary first-person perspectives (near birth).
  3. This view is part of a very comprehensive account of material beings in terms of primary kinds (the constitution view)2.
  4. I conclude with a section on thinking about abortion3.

  • Originally in Social Philosophy and Policy, 22:25–48, 2005
  • See Link

"Belzer (Marvin) - Self-Conception and Personal Identity: Revisiting Parfit and Lewis with an Eye on the Grip of the Unity Reaction"

Source: Paul, Miller & Paul - Personal Identity, 2005

Author’s Abstract
  1. Derek Parfit1's “reductionist” account of personal identity (including the rejection of anything like a soul) is coupled with the rejection of a commonsensical intuition of essential self-unity, as in his defense of the counter-intuitive claim that “identity does not matter.” His argument for this claim is based on reflection on the possibility of personal fission.
  2. To the contrary, Simon Blackburn claims that the “unity reaction” to fission has an absolute grip on practical reasoning.
  3. Now David Lewis denied Parfit2's claim that reductionism contravenes common sense, so I revisit the debate between Parfit3 and Lewis, showing why Parfit4 wins it.
  4. Is reductionism about persons then inherently at odds with the unity reaction? Not necessarily; David Velleman presents a reductionist theory according to which fission does not conflict with the unity reaction.
  5. Nonetheless, relying on the distinction between person level descriptions of first-person states and the first-person perspective itself, I argue that Velleman's theory does not eliminate fission-based conflict with the unity reaction.

"Braude (Stephen) - Personal Identity and Post-Mortem Survival"

Source: Paul, Miller & Paul - Personal Identity, 2005

Philosophers Index Abstract
  1. The so-called “problem of personal identity” can be viewed as either a metaphysical or an epistemological issue. Metaphysicians want to know what it is for one individual to be the same person as another. Epistemologists want to know how to decide if an individual is the same person as someone else.
  2. These two problems converge around evidence from mediumship and apparent reincarnation cases, suggesting personal survival of bodily death and dissolution. These cases make us wonder how it might be possible for a person to survive death and either temporarily or permanently animate another body. And they make us wonder how we could decide if such postmortem survival has actually occurred.
  3. In this essay
    • I argue, first, that metaphysical worries about postmortem survival are less important than many have supposed.
    • Next, I'll consider briefly why cases suggesting postmortem survival can be so intriguing and compelling, and I'll survey our principal explanatory options and challenges.
    • Then, I'll consider why we need to be circumspect in our appraisal of evidence for mind-body correlations.
    • And finally, I'll try to draw a few tentative and provocative conclusions.

"Copp (David) - The Normativity of Self-Grounded Reason"

Source: Paul, Miller & Paul - Personal Identity, 2005

Author’s Introduction
  1. In this essay I propose, and then attempt to ground, a standard of practical rationality. According to this standard, to a first approximation, rationality consists in the efficient pursuit of what one values.
  2. This standard differs from the familiar principle of instrumental reason, which requires us to take the most efficient means to our ends, for it gives special emphasis to those of our ends that qualify as our values.
  3. It also differs from the principle of self-interest, which requires us to pursue our own good, both because we might value the good of others as much as our own good, and because, if we are unwise, we might value things that are bad for ourselves.
  4. I speak of the conception of rationality I develop as “self-grounded” because it requires the pursuit of a person's own values, and also because, as I shall argue, a person's values are grounded in her identity, on one useful conception of the identity of persons.

"Feser (Edward) - Personal Identity and Self-Ownership"

Source: Paul, Miller & Paul - Personal Identity, 2005

Philosophers Index Abstract
  1. Defenders of the thesis of self-ownership generally focus on the “ownership” part of the thesis and say little about the metaphysics of the self that is said to be self-owned.
  2. But not all accounts of the self are consistent with robust self-ownership. Philosophical accounts of the self are typically enshrined in theories of personal identity, and the paper examines various such theories with a view to determining their suitability for grounding a metaphysics of the self consistent with self-ownership.
  3. As it happens, only one such theory is suitable: the hylemorphic1 theory of Aristotle and Aquinas. To adopt such a theory, however, is to see that self-ownership may in some respects have implications different from those many of its defenders take it to have.

In-Page Footnotes ("Feser (Edward) - Personal Identity and Self-Ownership")

Footnote 1: Note: hylomorphism is the usual spelling.

"Finnis (John) - “The Thing I Am”: Personal Identity in Aquinas and Shakespeare"

Source: Paul, Miller & Paul - Personal Identity, 2005

Philosophers Index Abstract
  1. The four kinds of explanation identified by Aquinas at the beginning of his commentary on Aristotle's Ethics are deployed to show that the identity of the human person is sui generis and mysterious, even though each of its elements is more or less readily accessible to our understanding.
  2. The essay attends particularly to the explorations by Aquinas and, with different techniques, by Shakespeare of the experience and understanding of
    • (a) one's lasting presence to oneself as one and the same bodily and mental self, and
    • (b) one's self-shaping by one's free choices, especially of commitments.
  3. Shakespeare further explores these, quite deliberately, through displays of mistaken identity and humiliating deflations of the personas one constructs for life in society.

"Kamm (F.M.) - Moral Status and Personal Identity: Clones, Embryos, and Future Generations"

Source: Paul, Miller & Paul - Personal Identity, 2005

Philosophers Index Abstract
  1. In the first part of this article, I argue that even those entities that in their own right and for their own sake give us reason not to destroy them and to help them are sometimes substitutable for the good of other entities.
  2. In so arguing, I consider the idea of being valuable as an end in virtue of intrinsic and extrinsic properties. I also conclude that entities that have claims to things and against others are especially non-substitutable.
  3. In the second part, I argue that cloning poses no threat to the non-substitutability of these entities (and in this sense, to the dignity of persons). I also consider the relation between cloning and (what I called) holistic identity, and between the latter and genetic identity.
  4. In the concluding part of the article, I try to distinguish cases where identity over time and so-called person-affecting acts have and do not have greater moral significance than non-identity over time and nonperson-affecting acts. I try to apply my results to cases involving embryos1, future generations, and to the so-called Non-Identity Problem.

"Morse (Jennifer) - Rationality Means Being Willing to Say You're Sorry"

Source: Paul, Miller & Paul - Personal Identity, 2005

Author’s Introduction
    This essay examines the problem of repentance and apology. What is so powerful about the three-word utterance, “I am sorry”? People who feel offended spend time and energy demanding an apology from the offender. People who have given offense often seem to have difficulty giving an apology. I want to ask two basic questions. What does a person really want when he asks for an apology? Why do people so often find it difficult to give an apology?

  1. Introduction
  2. Why Repentance Matters
  3. The Economist’s View of the Person
  4. Can Homo Economicus be Sorry?
  5. A conflict between Homo Economicus and His Spouse
  6. The Rational Choice Among Mates
  7. Is the Demand for Repentance Rational?
  8. Willful Blindness
  9. The Wish to Think Well of Oneself
  10. The Costs and benefits of Apologies
  11. Put on the New Man
  12. Conclusion

"Oderberg (David) - Hylemorphic Dualism"

Source: Paul, Miller & Paul - Personal Identity, 2005

Author’s Introduction
  • Despite the fact that it continues to have followers, and that it can be said to have enjoyed something of a micro-revival in recent years, dualism either in the philosophy of mind or in the theory of personal identity persists in being more the object of ridicule than of serious rational engagement.
  • It is held by the vast majority of philosophers to be anything from (and not mutually exclusively) false, mysterious, and bizarre, to obscurantist, unintelligible, and/or dangerous to morals. Its adherents are assumed to be biased, scientifically ill-informed, motivated by prior theological dogma, cursed by metaphysical anachronism, and/or to have taken leave of their senses. Dualists who otherwise appear relatively sane in their philosophical writings are often treated with a certain benign, quasi-parental indulgence.
  • Here, in no special order, are some typical examples illustrating the claims of this paragraph, nearly all in the context of discussions of Cartesian dualism or property dualism.
    1. For David Braddon-Mitchell and Frank Jackson, dualism is akin to explaining lightning in terms of Thor's anger, and hence is fundamentally primitive and prescientific. See "Braddon-Mitchell (David) & Jackson (Frank) - Philosophy of Mind and Cognition" (Oxford: Blackwell, 1996), 8.
    2. For Colin McGinn, to believe in dualism is ipso facto to believe in "supernatural entities or divine interventions," the attribution being clearly pejorative. "McGinn (Colin) - Can We Solve the Mind-Body Problem?", reprinted in Richard Warner and Tadeusz Szubka, eds., The Mind-Body Problem: A Guide to the Current Debate (Oxford: Blackwell, 1994, 100.
    3. For Patricia Churchland, "the concept of a non-physical soul looks increasingly like an outdated theoretical curiosity." See "Churchland (Patricia) - Brain-wise: Studies in Neurophilosophy" (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002), 173.
    4. Robert Cummins gives a one-page caricature, and a highly inaccurate and misleading one at that, of the sort of position defended in this essay, which involves putting the word "form" in upper-case letters rather than seeking to explain just what form is supposed to be: "Mind-stuff inFORMed," etc. See Cummins, Meaning and Mental Representation (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1989), 2.
    5. Needless to say, Gilbert Ryle's vivid metaphor of the "ghost in the machine" has helped to stifle serious debate for decades. See "Ryle (Gilbert) - The Concept of Mind" (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1949).
    6. Daniel Dennett, for instance, refers approvingly to Ryle's having "danced quite a jig on the corpse of Cartesian dualism." See "Dennett (Daniel) - The Intentional Stance" (Cambridge, MA.: MIT Press, 1987), 214.
    7. David Armstrong describes Cartesian dualism as "curiously formal and empty." See "Armstrong (David) - A Materialist Theory of the Mind" (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1968), 23.
  • These and countless other examples are not meant to imply that the critics do not always offer arguments, of varying degrees of insight, against dualism in its several forms; but in general the opposition tends toward the curt, the dismissive, and the incredulous.

  1. Introduction
  2. Identity, Consciousness, and Psychology
  3. Form and Identity
  4. Body, Unicity of Form, and Primordial Matter
  5. Soul and Knowledge
  6. Soul, Identity, and Material Dependence
  7. Conclusion

COMMENT: Note: hylomorphism is the usual spelling

"Paul (Ellen), Miller (Fred) & Paul (Jeffrey) - Personal Identity: Introduction"

Source: Paul, Miller & Paul - Personal Identity, 2005

"Schechtman (Marya) - Experience, Agency, and Personal Identity"

Source: Paul, Miller & Paul - Personal Identity, 2005

Philosophers Index Abstract
  1. Psychologically based accounts of personal identity over time start from a view of persons as experiencing subjects. Derek Parfit1 argues that if such an account is to justify the importance we attach to identity it will need to provide a deep unity of consciousness throughout the life of a person, and no such unity is possible.
  2. In response, many philosophers have switched to a view of persons as essentially agents, arguing that the importance of identity depends upon agential unity rather than unity of consciousness. While this shift contributes significantly to the discussion, it does not offer a fully satisfying alternative. Unity of consciousness still seems required if identity is to be as important as we think it is.
  3. Views of identity based on agential unity do, however, point to a new understanding of unity of consciousness which meets Parfit2's challenge, yielding an integrated view of identity which sees persons as both subjects and agents.

"Shapiro (Michael) - The Identity of Identity: Moral and Legal Aspects of Technological Self-Transformation"

Source: Paul, Miller & Paul - Personal Identity, 2005

Philosophers Index Abstract
  1. Technologies are being developed for significantly altering the traits of existing persons (or fetuses1 or embryos2) and of future persons via germ line modification. The availability of such technologies may affect our philosophical, legal, and everyday understandings of several important concepts, including that of personal identity. I consider whether the idea of personal identity requires reconstruction, revision or abandonment in the face of such possibilities of technological intervention into the nature and form of an individual's attributes. This requires an account of the work done by the concept of personal identity, and an explanation of what “conceptual impacts of technology” and “conceptual reconstruction” might mean.
  2. Our existing notions of personal identity and related ideas such as personhood and autonomy may seem unable to comfortably accommodate the possibilities of technologically-directed trait formation and development. This is a matter of moral and legal importance because the idea of personal identity embeds major values and reflects value-laden beliefs and attitudes. The assumed endurance of identity underlies interpersonal relationships, the assignment of rewards and punishments, and the very idea of what constitutes an autonomous person. Perhaps radical restructuring or even abandonment of concepts are sometimes called for when the world changes drastically, but I suggest that conceptual modification is not “compelled” for personal identity except under extreme circumstances — the remote possibility of rapid human “shape shifting” where physical and mentational attributes can be transformed quickly and continuously.
  3. Efforts to enhance human traits, including merit attributes and other resource-attractive characteristics (e.g., intellectual and athletic aptitudes, physical size and appearance), may generate legal problems wherever the persistence of identity is presupposed. Some advance speculation is thus warranted on how trait change generally will be managed within our legal and socioeconomic systems, and more particularly on rights of access to trait-altering technologies. I mention the possible distributive effects of enhancing highly-resource attractive traits, including the strengthening individual powers to acquire still more increments in such traits in a self-reinforcing cycle. A brief review of some constitutional issues bearing on trait change completes the discussion.
  4. I conclude that existing and projected technologies do not impel the abandonment or remodelling of the idea of personal identity. We may, however, have to reconsider some uses of this concept in different settings, to rethink our understandings of ideas of merit and desert, and to deal with the distribution of resources that may enlarge and entrench the “distances” between social and economic groups.

"Wilson (Robert) - Persons, Social Agency, and Constitution"

Source: Paul, Miller & Paul - Personal Identity, 2005

Author’s Introduction
  1. In her recent book "Baker (Lynne Rudder) - Persons and Bodies: A Constitution View" (hereafter PB), Lynne Rudder Baker has defended what she calls the constitution view1 of persons. On this view, persons are constituted by their bodies, where "constitution" is a ubiquitous, general metaphysical relation distinct from more familiar relations, such as identity and part-whole composition.
  2. The constitution view2 answers the question "What are we3?" in that it identifies something fundamental about the kind of creature we are. For Baker, we are fundamentally persons. Persons are not capable simply of having mental states, nor merely of having a first-person perspective, a subjective point of view. Rather, persons are creatures that can conceive of themselves as having (or, presumably, lacking) a perspective: they have an awareness of themselves as beings with a first-person perspective. This is what, extending Baker's terminology, we might call having a strong first-person perspective, and it is this capacity that demarcates persons from other kinds of things in the world (PB, 64). Persons thus stand in contrast with most if not all non-human animals, and our status as persons entails that we are not merely animals. Thus, the constitution view4 contrasts both with more standard psychological views of what is special about human beings (views that have their historical home in Cartesian dualism and in John Locke's discussion of personal identity in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding), as well as with animalist5 views, which hold that we are, fundamentally, animals.
  3. All of these views have implications for how we should think of diachronic identity – what it is that makes me today the same individual as I was yesterday or will be tomorrow. But Baker is concerned chiefly to defend the constitution view6 as an answer to the question "What am I7 most fundamentally?" I am a person; a person essentially has a (strong) first-person perspective and is related to her body constitutively. Thus, in contrast with classic dualism, the constitution view8 purports to be materialist. Yet in contrast with both “psychological” and “bodily” forms of materialism, the constitution view9 claims that we are neither simply psychological creatures, nor creatures identical with our bodies. Rather, we are a certain kind of psychological creature, one that is also embodied in (but not identical to) the material stuff of the body.
  1. Introduction
  2. Constitution: An Introduction
  3. The Constitution View10: Some Elaboration
  4. Constitution and Pluralism
  5. Agency, the Mind, and Social Action
  6. The Constitution View11 and the Social Domain
  7. Collective Social Agents and the Constitution View12
  8. Conclusion

Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2019
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)

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