Personal identity

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-V024-2
Version: v2,  Published online: 2011
Retrieved February 29, 2024, from

9. Other views

Sameness-of-soul views, psychological theories, and animalism represent the major approaches to personal identity, but there are some other approaches that have also been influential. One such approach defines personal identity in terms of psychological connections more basic than those described in the psychological continuity theory. These views also usually require the continued minimal functioning of the same brain. One example of this kind of view is found in Peter Unger (1990) who defines personal identity in terms of the continuation of ‘core psychology’, the kinds of rudimentary mental capacities (e.g. consciousness) that almost all humans share. A more recent example is found in Jeff McMahan’s (2002) embodied mind account, which holds that our identity depends not upon the connections psychological continuity theorists describe, but rather upon the continuity of the capacity for consciousness. In both cases the argument for this more minimal criterion rests upon the claim that it is rational to have basic egoistic concern for the future if the physical realizer of one’s current consciousness (the brain) will still be functioning in such a way as to generate conscious experience, even if no more sophisticated psychological connections are in place. It is rational, for instance, for someone to care about what happens to them in the late stages of dementia even if they will have little cognitive function and no memories of their present states. McMahan also acknowledges, however, that it is rational to have greater interest in future well-being when the complex psychological connections in terms of which psychological continuity theorists define identity are present than when only minimal connections are.

Another kind of approach to the problem of personal identity is found in narrative views. These views claim that the lives and self-understandings of persons are narrative in structure, and that the unity of a life is found in the unity of a narrative. There are many different versions of the narrative approach, which vary primarily with respect to how much thematic unity they think a person-constituting narrative must have, and how like a literary narrative it must be. Hermeneutical theorists (e.g. Taylor 1989; Ricoeur 1990) hold that in order to be persons we must understand our lives as quests for the Good, while more naturalistic narrative theorists (e.g. Dennett 1992; Schechtman 1996) argue that we make ourselves into continuing persons by experiencing our lives as having a roughly story-like form. The narrative theory has been criticized from a number of different quarters for exaggerating the extent to which our lives are like literary narratives, an exaggeration that is claimed to be false and/or harmful (Strawson 2004; Lamarque 2007).

Citing this article:
Schechtman, Marya. Other views. Personal identity, 2011, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-V024-2. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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