Personal identity

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-V024-3
Version: v3,  Published online: 2017
Retrieved September 19, 2018, from

12. Insights gained and the way forward

As with many philosophical investigations, as the discussion of personal identity has continued, the question under consideration has evolved and new distinctions have become important. One such distinction is that between self and person. Not everyone agrees that this is a distinction which should be made, but the question of whether it should be has come to be an increasingly important part of the discussion. Locke sees ‘self’ and ‘person’ as different names for the same thing, with ‘self’ emphasizing the first-person perspective and ‘person’ the third-person. Views that do not follow the basic Lockean framework, however (see, e.g., Zahavi (2007), Olson (1998)), however, often distinguish between the self, which is understood as a conscious subject of experience, and the person, which is a more public entity involved in particular kinds of social interactions.

A very lively discussion has also started about the relation between personal identity and practical concerns. The supposition that the two are inherently interconnected which was inherited from Locke has had a great deal of intuitive appeal, and therefore played an important role in the philosophical debate. This assumption is also central in many discussions in bioethics. Facts about personal identity are often seen as closely connected to issues like the definition of death, the morality of abortion, the authority of advance directives, and whether and when enhancement technologies should be used, among others (see e.g. Degrazia (2005), Lindemann (2014), Lizza (2006), and Shoemaker (2007)). As we have seen, however, this assumption has been challenged. Some animalists (e.g. Olson (2007)) suggest that it conflates metaphysical and practical issues. Other philosophers have argued that our practices do not rest on metaphysical facts in the way that they are often presumed to do (e.g. Johnston (1997), Wolf (1986)). It is becoming increasingly clear that the relation between personal identity and practical concerns, if there is one, is likely to be somewhat more complex than has long been assumed.

Finally, it has become increasingly unclear whether there really is a single, well-defined, question of personal identity, and so whether the various views on offer should be considered as competing answers to a single question rather than answers to a host of different questions which have all come to be called, misleadingly, by the same name. David Shoemaker (2007) argues for this position, suggesting that we recognize that there is no monolithic object of study that should be considered the question of personal identity, while Schechtman (2014) has suggested that ‘person’ should be thought of as a cluster concept in which all of these different facets interact with no single type of continuity being either necessary or sufficient for the persistence of a person.

As philosophical work on the topic continues, it is to be expected that a great deal of attention will be paid to the question of whether there is, indeed, a family of different questions that have been addressed under this rubric and how, if at all, they are connected to one another.

Citing this article:
Schechtman, Marya. Insights gained and the way forward. Personal identity, 2017, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-V024-3. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2018 Routledge.

Related Articles