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Assess the view that identity is psychological continuity

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Introduction

Assess the view that identity is psychological continuity In what way are you related to the child you once were? If you are the same person what has provided that strand through time to keep that continuity going? In answering this question we have to beware its assumption: that identity exists. Hume proposed that we are just a bundle of experiences. The bundle theory asserts that there is no 'I' or owner of these experiences, just a set of experiences related by nearness, similarity and causality. Without assessing this theory we must however recognise that we cannot answer this question from Hume's perspective. Locke did believe in identity, and also he suggested that the temporal 'thread' that connects our past and future self is psychological. Put simply: we are the same person now that we once were because we remember being so. Therefore, identity is a collection of memories and a only mental fact. The contrasting view of identity is that of physical continuity, as the name implies it asserts that our continuing identity is supplied by the continuity of our physical form. To illustrate Locke's concept we can consider almost any experience of remembering. Suppose I recall my favourite childhood television programme when an adult; I am thus the same person who enjoyed that television programme aged six although now I am aged twenty-six. ...read more.

Middle

Thus, our continuity is not doubtful to us, as it surely must not be in order to maintain any sense of self. Reide argued that points one and two showed that the old colonel did not remember being a boy and thus they cannot be the same individual. However, Butler pointed out that this would not function logically because if a equals b and b equals c then a must equal c. Although this refutes Reide's central point, the issue of memory and what happens to one's identity if you forget memories remains. For example, suppose that I suffer amnesia after a blow to the head. I forget just a few hours of my life. Does this now make me less of an individual than my brother who was not injured? The issue of forgetting can be addressed by arguing, as Shoemaker did, that it is less memory but causal dependence that makes one psychologically connected with the earlier self. However, it is possible to broaden the objection further. We can ask at what point does a person achieve an identity? How many memories have to be accumulated before one becomes an individual? Parents know that even the very young show signs of individuality and personality; this could be argued to be signs of psychological identity before the real formation of memory. In relying on memory we must also be aware of the tricks it can play. ...read more.

Conclusion

Thus Hume believed that his 'bundle' of experiences associated only in that they were proximate, causally related and had a common thread formed his self. From this perspective there is no identity. Identity as it is referred to in language is something public and ever changing and does not persist through time. Your identity does not belong to you in this view, but is conferred upon you by people who need a method of differentiating you from other people they know. There are obviously issues with the position of no identity. The fact we persist through time is central to our cognition. Without this how would intentional states be possible? The fact that other people persist through time in the same way is central to our communication (for example the use of names!). However, the way in which others place identity on you can be seen as separate to the internal experience of persistence and temporal awareness, something that Hume usefully contributes to the debate. Therefore in conclusion to this assessment of the view that identity is psychological continuity we have seen that memory cannot provide us with a definite measure of determination through time. Hume's argument that we are just a bundle of experiences is convincing, but denies the existence of identity, which is itself tricky. It could be argued that the need for identity is social and linguistic. Physical and psychological properties of a person change constantly and consistent persistence of them through time is not possible or meaningful in the literal sense that these theories have examined. ...read more.

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