Access to the full content is only available to members of institutions that have purchased access. If you belong to such an institution, please log in or find out more about how to order.


Morality and identity

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-L066-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 23, 2024, from

Article Summary

Philosophers have drawn connections between morality and identity in two ways. First, some have argued that metaphysical theories about personal identity – theories about what makes one the same person over time – have important consequences for what ought to matter to a rational agent. Second, others have argued that understanding the concrete identities of persons – the social contexts and personal commitments that give life substance and meaning – is essential if moral philosophy is to address real human concerns.

How are metaphysical questions about personal identity supposed to bear on morality? The thought is that what unifies a series of experiences into a single life illuminates what we are, and what we are helps determine how we ought to live. More broadly, it is natural to seek coherence in our metaphysical and our moral views about persons. This pursuit of a comprehensive account has its dangers; perhaps we will tailor a metaphysical view to fit our moral prejudices, or distort moral philosophy and judgment to fit a false metaphysics. But the pursuit has its attractions too; perhaps we will come to understand what we are, and how we ought to live, in a single package.

Philosophers who attend to concrete rather than metaphysical identity characterize persons as committed by social and historical circumstances to a particular range and ordering of values, and as committed by proximity and affection to a particular circle of other persons. These concrete and individual characteristics at least constrain what morality can reasonably demand. But this interpretation suggests that morality stands back from the rich texture of each life, and moderates its demands to accommodate that life. Some philosophers think of morality instead as part of the texture, as intimately connected to, rather than constrained by, concrete identity.

Citing this article:
Singer, Ira. Morality and identity, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-L066-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

Related Searches


Related Articles