Philosophy:Theories of Personal Identity

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Personal Identity: Philosophical Theories

Elle Matula

Personal identity is the task of defining a property of a human, which makes him or her a distinct self. This person whose identity is in question must recognize him or her self in terms of both internal (mind) and external (body) perspectives when confronted with the question, what makes Michael unique from Mark? (Wallace, 2008). This identity problem has several general philosophical theories. In the subsequent paragraphs one will find a simple interpretation the body theory, soul theory and a thoroughly detailed explanation of the memory theory, and its sub-categories, which is personally believed to be the closest to the truth.

The body theory is one theory attempting to explain personal identity. It explains that, a person has a personal identity, if and only if, they have the same body. The first setback with this definition is qualitative.  According to this theory, it is essential to have the same body for one to have personal identity. Although if that body was to change, is one the same person for its whole life? For instance, surely ones body is different at the age of 40 than at the age of 4 (Valaris, 2011). This also leads to problems when alterations arise, such as injuries and surgery. Lets say scientists use Johns DNA and replicate it into another person who then has the same body. Just because there are two identical bodies, surely they cannot be the same person. Two different lives would be lived. This diminishes the preceding body theory and its definition; therefore meaning the body theory alone cannot be considered a necessary and valuable explanation when defining personal identity.

The second perspective into defining personal identity is the soul theory. This theory explains that a person has a personal identity if and only if they are identical to their soul. In Perry’s dialogue on personal identity and immorality, the character Miller attempts to prove survival after death is possible because, according to the soul theory they are identical to their soul, not their body. This is where the theory encountered its problem; the soul is a difficult term to define. Weirob – another character in Perry’s dialogue – challenges this; the soul is defined as something immaterial – something in principle that cannot be seen or felt or touched or smelt. It is inaccessible from the outside (Wallace, 2008). Since there is no clear and distinct idea of a soul, it is not wise to base a definition upon it; therefore, the soul theory fails to sufficiently explain personal identity.

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Believed to be the closest true philosophical theory of personal identity is the memory theory. The majority of philosophers consider this theory to be the best explanation of personal identity. However, there are three distinctive versions of the memory theory: the conscious self and experiential content will be outlined. Thirdly, the memory chain theory will be explained in further detail, as it is the strongest and most relevant argument, in this case.

Firstly, the conscious self is analogous to Descartes’ cogito, ‘I think therefore I am’. In other words, if Michael and Mark have different conscious, they each ...

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