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Personal Identity Essay

1240 words - 5 pages

Personal identity has long been one of those riddles the human race has strived to unravel. Even the earliest philosophical works posed the questions of, ‘who am I?’, ‘what am I?’ or ‘what makes a man different to the other men around him?’ I have no doubt that every conscious and self-aware person on the planet has, at some point and to some level, delved in introspection and pondered the notion of their identity, whatever that may consist of. Identity, as defined in the Dictionary of Philosophy, is ‘the theory that mental states and events, such as dreaming, believing, hoping, fearing, feeling pain etc. are identical with certain states or processes in the central nervous ...view middle of the document...

merging to form one person. Some aspects of both individuals would remain and coincide, whereas other contradictory aspects would cancel each other out to create new personality traits. The central question here is, if I fused with another individual, have I survived? Parfit says that, ‘fusion, while not clearly survival, is not clearly failure to survive, and hence that what matters in survival can have degrees’. Fission is the opposite of fusion. Parfit describes a situation where each of the hemispheres of the brain is transplanted into two brainless bodies. It must first be accepted and understood that it is completely possible for one to survive with only half a brain, there are certainly people alive today who are proof of that. So, if the two halves of my brain were to be successfully transplanted into two brainless bodies, have I survived? In response to this question, Parfit says, ‘if survive implies identity, this description makes no sense – you cannot be two people’. In other words, identity-wise I have literally been split in two, but I have survived. Overall, Parfit upholds that it is not personal identity that is important to us, it is survival, and while survival and identity generally accompany each other, as discussed, survival is a matter of degree whereas identity is not; therefore it is possible to survive even if identity has been compromised.
David Lewis, in comparison, believes that psychological continuity and connectedness is directly related to personal identity, which is the central criterion of survival. Lewis sees psychological continuity and connectedness in relation to identity and survival as a sort of line or continuum. He describes each psychological event or experience as a single point in a continuum of psychological events that reaches as far back as an individual’s memory allows, and continues to stretch and grow as the individual proceeds through life. Lewis also stresses that each of these psychological events, or mental states, is shaped by the immediately preceding mental state, and it is this continuity and connectedness that characterises personal identity. Lewis also believes that the most crucial aspect of survival is survival; the concept that I, the individual who currently exists at present, thinking certain thoughts and carrying certain memories, will still exist in the future. But what is most vital to this idea of survival is, of course, identity, specifically the definition of identity that Lewis describes, ‘that relation that everything bears to itself and to no other thing’. Without psychological continuity and connectedness, there can be no personal identity, and without personal identity, there can be no survival.

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