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Free Essay: A person's identity is shaped by many different aspects. Family, culture, friends, personal interests and surrounding environments are all Locke states there are three substances that we have ideas of and that have identities. as perky, cheerful and happy, my mom says beautiful, gentle, and self-conscious.
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But the internet is changing all that. The fissures between these different kinds of self have recently become much more salient in our everyday lives. That anonymous world is still there, of course. You can still pretend to be younger and hotter, or a Nigerian prince, or a dying blogger. Most of us are increasingly tethered to our identities online, and not just because much of our online activity is in environments where our real names, locations and professional affiliations are used. Our bodies are online, too. Our images, our voices, and our physical locations are all logged and represented through an increasingly sophisticated and interconnected set of social media platforms.

Even gamers lend their real-world vocal chords to their avatars. The fantasy of escaping into an electronic netherworld may still hold its attractions, but more and more, the distinction between online and offline is moot. No grand last words. No hint of the last act in every human drama. Just the calm, banal chatter of everyday life. Dress your avatar for the life you want, not the life you have. Though social media is a radically different beast from what it was 10 years ago, there still seems to be an element of idealisation in the way we present ourselves online.

We paint a picture that is tidied up, stripped of the embarrassing parts, a bit more rock star than the lived reality, and we generate a lot of envy along the way. Our idealised conception of who we are carries risks of narcissistic self-delusion, but it can also act as an aspirational ideal. That might seem like a crazy thing to say: As we saw above, persons are social entities as well as physical ones. Their identity is embodied not just in individual human animals, but in the memories and thoughts of others, as well as artefacts such as birth certificates, photos and diaries. Your Facebook profile or your account on Twitter, Instagram and so on is just such an artefact, and a very robust, multidimensional one at that.

Through it you communicate, act, build, sustain, demolish and rebuild relationships, and situate yourself in various social, political and religious networks as well. It is an incredibly effective, wide-reaching way of being you in the world. The reason philosophers have spent so much of the past few decades talking about personal identity is the same reason that Athenagoras did: We care about what happens to our self in a distinctive way, especially when it comes to our survival.

A s I was writing this piece, the sad news came through that the political theorist and prominent blogger Norman Geras had died. Requests for friends and family to check if his phone was working and to please message him. An app called LivesOn, for instance, offers a service that can continue to send tweets after the death of the Twitter account-holder. Another company, Virtual Eternity, based in Alabama, has developed animated avatars of the dead, so that their distant descendants can communicate with them.

So far, neither of these efforts looks all that impressive, but it is interesting to see an emerging industry offering people the opportunity to extend their digital agency beyond their biological death. Others are memorial sites. A few take aim at the afterlife itself. A company called LifeNaut, based in Vermont, offers to collect and store all of the data that makes you who you are. Take that with all the salt you can get your hands on. No one has been able to unify it, elegantly, into a tidy little metaphysical entity such as the soul. They remind us that, however embodied we might be in our identities online, the form of survival they offer is of little or no comfort to the self.

It might be some reassurance to know that, when I die, my wife will get a message with all the passwords to my accounts, and my arch-enemies will get deliciously nasty emails. But, to paraphrase Woody Allen: We have, as Mark Johnston has noted in Surviving Death , two ways of fearing death: My person might live on in social media, but there is no way I can live on as a self online.

There is, simply, nothing that it is like to be a Facebook profile, no Twittery experience for me to look forward to, and so no survival I could really care about from my first-person perspective. I might, however, live on for others in some way, because not all aspects of my person identity depend on my body being alive to continue. But I cannot live on for myself. I mentioned above that philosophers have failed to hit upon a single answer to that question.

Amid this confusion, we can finally see a way forward: The task now is to understand how these interact. Our new ways of living and dying online suggest that the task might not be one we can afford to avoid. His latest book, co-edited with Adam Buben, is Kierkegaard and Death Donate now Help keep us free. If your brain were transplanted, and that organ would carry with it your memories and other mental features, the resulting person would be convinced that he or she was you.

Why should this conviction be mistaken? This can make it easy to suppose that the person would be you, and that this would be so because he or she is psychologically continuous with you. It is notoriously difficult, however, to get from this thought to an attractive answer to the persistence question.

What psychological relation might our persistence through time consist in? We have already mentioned memory: This proposal faces two objections, discovered in the 18th century by Sergeant and Berkeley see Behan , but more famously discussed by Reid and Butler see the snippets in Perry First, suppose a young student is fined for overdue library books.

Later, as a middle-aged lawyer, she remembers paying the fine.


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Later still, in her dotage, she remembers her law career, but has entirely forgotten not only paying the fine but everything else she did in her youth. According to the memory criterion the young student is the middle-aged lawyer, the lawyer is the elderly woman, but the elderly woman is not the young student. This is an impossible result: Identity is transitive; memory continuity is not. Second, it seems to belong to the very idea of remembering that you can remember only your own experiences.

To remember paying a fine or the experience of paying is to remember yourself paying. That makes it trivial and uninformative to say that you are the person whose experiences you can remember—that is, that memory continuity is sufficient for personal identity.

It is uninformative because you cannot know whether someone genuinely remembers a past experience without already knowing whether he is the one who had it. Suppose we want to know whether Blott, who exists now, is the same as Clott, whom we know to have existed at some time in the past.

The memory criterion tells us that Blott is Clott just if Blott can now remember an experience Clott had at that past time. So we should already have to know whether Blott is Clott before we could apply the principle that is supposed to tell us whether she is. There is, however, nothing trivial or uninformative about the claim that memory connections are necessary for us to persist. One response to the first problem is to modify the memory criterion by switching from direct to indirect memory connections: Neither move gets us far, however, as both the original and the modified memory criteria face a more obvious problem: For instance, there is no time when you could recall anything that happened to you while you dreamlessly slept last night.

The memory criterion has the absurd implication that you have never existed at any time when you were unconscious. The person sleeping in your bed last night must have been someone else. A better solution replaces memory with the more general notion of causal dependence Shoemaker , 89ff. We can define two notions, psychological connectedness and psychological continuity. A being is psychologically connected , at some future time, with you as you are now just if she is in the psychological states she is in then in large part because of the psychological states you are in now.

Having a current memory or quasi-memory of an earlier experience is one sort of psychological connection—the experience causes the memory of it—but there are others. For example, most of your current beliefs are the same ones you had while you slept last night: We can then say that you are psychologically continuous , now, with a past or future being just if some of your current mental states relate to those he or she is in then by a chain of psychological connections.

Now suppose that a person x who exists at one time is identical with something y existing at another time if and only if x is, at the one time, psychologically continuous with y as it is at the other time. This avoids the most obvious objections to the memory criterion. It still leaves important questions unanswered, however.

Suppose we could somehow copy all the mental contents of your brain to mine, much as we can copy the contents of one computer drive to another, and that this erased the previous contents of both brains. Whether this would be a case of psychological continuity depends on what sort of causal dependence counts. The resulting being with my brain and your mental contents would be mentally as you were before, and not as I was. He would have inherited your mental properties in a way—but a funny way. Is it the right way?

Psychological-continuity theorists disagree Shoemaker Schechtman gives a different sort of objection to the psychological-continuity strategy. A more serious worry for psychological-continuity views is that you could be psychologically continuous with two past or future people at once. The psychological-continuity view implies that she would be you. If we destroyed one of your cerebral hemispheres, the resulting being would also be psychologically continuous with you.

Hemispherectomy—even the removal of the left hemisphere, which controls speech—is considered a drastic but acceptable treatment for otherwise-inoperable brain tumors: What if we did both at once, destroying one hemisphere and transplanting the other? Then too, the one who got the transplanted hemisphere would be psychologically continuous with you, and would be you according to the psychological-continuity view. But now suppose that both hemispheres are transplanted, each into a different empty head.

The two recipients—call them Lefty and Righty—will each be psychologically continuous with you. The psychological-continuity view as we have stated it implies that any future being who is psychologically continuous with you must be you. It follows that you are Lefty and also that you are Righty. But that cannot be: And yet they are. If you are Lefty, you are hungry at that time.

If you are Lefty and Righty, you are both hungry and not hungry at once: Psychological-continuity theorists have proposed two different solutions to this problem. What we think of as you is really two people, who are now exactly similar and located in the same place, doing the same things and thinking the same thoughts. The surgeons merely separate them Lewis , Noonan For each person, there is such a thing as her first half: They are like two roads that coincide for a stretch and then fork, sharing some of their spatial parts but not others.

At the places where the roads overlap, they are just like one road. Likewise, the idea goes, at the times before the operation when Lefty and Righty share their temporal parts, they are just like one person. Whether people really are made up of temporal parts, however, is disputed. Its consequences are explored further in section 8.

The other solution to the fission problem abandons the intuitive claim that psychological continuity by itself suffices for one to persist. It says, rather, that a past or future being is you only if she is then psychologically continuous with you and no other being is. There is no circularity in this. We need not know the answer to the persistence question in order to know how many people there are at any one time; that comes under the population question.

This means that neither Lefty nor Righty is you. They both come into existence when your cerebrum is divided. If both your cerebral hemispheres are transplanted, you cease to exist—though you would survive if only one were transplanted and the other destroyed. That looks like the opposite of what most of us expect: In fact the non-branching view implies that you would perish if one of your hemispheres were transplanted and the other left in place: And if brain-state transfer is a case of psychological continuity, even copying your total brain state to another brain without doing you any physical or psychological harm would kill you.

The non-branching view makes the what matters? Faced with the prospect of having one of your hemispheres transplanted, there is no evident reason to prefer that the other be destroyed. Most of us would rather have both preserved, even if they go into different heads. Yet on the non-branching view that is to prefer death over continued existence. This leads Parfit and others to say that that is precisely what we ought to prefer. We have no reason to want to continue existing, at least for its own sake.

What you have reason to want is that there be someone in the future who is psychologically continuous with you, whether or not she is you. The usual way to achieve this is to continue existing yourself, but the fission story shows that it could be achieved without your continuing to exist. Likewise, even the most selfish person has a reason to care about the welfare of the beings who would result from her undergoing fission, even if, as the non-branching view implies, neither would be her.

In the fission case, the sorts of practical concerns you ordinarily have for yourself apply to someone other than you. This suggests more generally that facts about who is who have no practical importance. All that matters practically is who is psychologically continuous with whom. Lewis and Parfit debate whether the multiple-occupancy view can preserve the conviction that identity is what matters practically. Another objection to psychological-continuity views is that they rule out our being biological organisms Carter , Ayers This is because no sort of psychological continuity is either necessary or sufficient for a human organism to persist.

If your brain were transplanted, the one who ended up with that organ would be uniquely psychologically continuous with you and this continuity would be continuously physically realized. On any psychological-continuity view, this person would be you: But no organism would go with its transplanted brain. The operation would simply move an organ from one organism to another.

So if you were an organism, you would stay behind with an empty head. Again, a human organism could continue existing in an irreversible vegetative state with no psychological continuity. If you were an organism, you could too. Human organisms have brute-physical persistence conditions. But a healthy, adult human organism seems a paradigm case of a thinking being. This raises three apparent problems.

First, if the organism we call your body can think, your not being an organism would imply that you are one of two intelligent beings sitting there and reading this entry. More generally, there would be two thinking beings wherever we thought there was just one. Second, the organism would seem to be psychologically indistinguishable from you. In that case it cannot be true that all people or even all human people persist by virtue of psychological continuity.

Some—the animal people—would have brute-physical persistence conditions. Third, this makes it hard to see how you could know whether you were a nonanimal person with psychological persistence conditions or an animal person with brute-physical ones. If you thought you were the nonanimal, the organism would use the same reasoning to conclude that it was too. For all you could ever know, it seems, you might be the one making this mistake. Imagine a three-dimensional duplicating machine. The process causes temporary unconsciousness but is otherwise harmless.

Two beings wake up, one in each box. The boxes are indistinguishable.

Student story: Admissions essay about personal identity

Because each being will have the same apparent memories and perceive identical surroundings, each will think, for the same reasons, that he or she is you. But only one will be right. Suppose the technicians who work the machine are sworn to secrecy and immune to bribes. Did I do the things I seem to remember doing? Am I n nonanimal that would go with its transplanted brain, or an organism that would stay behind with an empty head?

The only way to avoid them altogether is to say that we are organisms and that there are no beings who persist by virtue of psychological continuity. One response is to say that human organisms have psychological persistence conditions. Despite appearances, the operation would not move your brain from one organism to another, but would cut an organism down to the size of a brain, move it across the room, and then give it new parts to replace the ones it lost—presumably destroying the animal into which the brain is implanted.

This may be the view of Wiggins A more popular view is that, despite sharing our brains and showing all the outward signs of consciousness and intelligence, human organisms do not think and are not conscious. Thinking animals are not a problem for psychological-continuity views because there are none Shoemaker If human organisms cannot be conscious, it would seem to follow that no biological organism of any sort could have any mental properties at all.

Shoemaker argues that this follows from the functionalist theory of mind , , Finally, psychological-continuity theorists can concede that human organisms are psychologically indistinguishable from us, but try to explain how we can still know that we are not those organisms. The best-known proposal of this sort focuses on personhood and first-person reference.

It says that not just any being with mental properties of the sort that you and I have—rationality and self-consciousness, for instance—counts as a person. A person must also persist by virtue of psychological continuity. It follows that human animals are not people. So the organism is not mistaken about which thing it is: And you are not mistaken either. You can know that you are not the animal thinking your thoughts because it is not a person and personal pronouns never refer to nonpeople. See Noonan , , Olson ; for a different approach based on epistemic principles see Brueckner and Buford None of these objections arise on animalism, the view that we are organisms.

This does not imply that all organisms, or even all human organisms, are people: Being a person may be only a temporary property of you, like being a student. Nor does animalism imply that all people are organisms. It is consistent with the existence of wholly inorganic people: It does not say that being an animal is part of what it is to be a person a view defended in Wiggins Animalism leaves the answer to the personhood question entirely open.

Assuming that organisms persist by virtue of some sort of brute-physical continuity, animalism implies a version of the brute-physical view. A few philosophers endorse a brute-physical view without saying that we are animals. They say that we are our bodies Thomson , or that our identity through time consists in the identity of our bodies Ayer This has been called the bodily criterion of personal identity.

Its relation to animalism is uncertain. Most versions of the brute-physical view imply that human people have the same persistence conditions as certain nonpeople, such as dogs. And it implies that our persistence conditions differ from those of immaterial people, if they are possible. It follows that there are no persistence conditions for people as such.

The most common objection to brute-physical views is the repugnance of their implication that you would stay behind if your brain were transplanted e. Unger ; for an important related objection see Johnston In other words, brute-physical views are unattractive in just the way that psychological-continuity views are attractive. Animalists generally concede the force of this, but take it to be outweighed by other considerations. First, animalism avoids the too-many-thinkers problem. Second, it is compatible with our beliefs about who is who in real life.

Sample Personal Reflective Essay

Every actual case in which we take someone to survive or perish is a case where a human organism survives or perishes. Psychological-continuity views, by contrast, conflict with our belief that each of us was once a foetus.


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  5. When we see an ultrasound picture of a week-old foetus, we ordinarily think we are seeing something that will, if all goes well, be born, learn to speak, and eventually become an adult human person. Yet none of us is in any way psychologically continuous with a week-old foetus. The debate between psychological-continuity and brute-physical views cannot be settled without considering more general matters outside of personal identity. For instance, psychological-continuity theorists need to explain why human organisms are unable to think as we do.

    This will require an account of the nature of mental properties. Or if human organisms can think, they must explain how we can know that we are not those organisms. This will turn on how the reference of personal pronouns and proper names works, or on the nature of knowledge. Some general metaphysical views suggest that there is no unique right answer to the persistence question.

    The best-known example is the ontology of temporal parts mentioned in section 5.

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    It says that for every period of time when you exist, short or long, there is a temporal part of you that exists only then. This gives us many likely candidates for being you—that is, many different beings now sitting there and thinking your thoughts. Suppose you are a material thing, and that we know what determines your spatial boundaries. That stage is a part of a vast number of temporally extended objects Hudson For instance, it is a part of a being whose temporal boundaries are determined by relations of psychological continuity Section 4 among its stages.

    That is, one of the beings thinking your current thoughts is an aggregate of person-stages, each of which is psychologically continuous with each of the others and with no other stage.

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    If this is what you are, then you persist by virtue of psychological continuity. Your current stage is also a part of a being whose temporal boundaries are determined by relations of psychological connectedness. That is, one of the beings now thinking your thoughts is an aggregate of person-stages, each of which is psychologically connected with each of the others and to no other stage.

    This may not be the same as the first being, as some stages may be psychologically continuous with your current stage but not psychologically connected with it. If this is what you are, then psychological connectedness is necessary and sufficient for you to persist Lewis Some even say that you are your current stage itself Sider a, — And there would be many other candidates.

    The temporal-parts ontology implies that each of us shares our current thoughts with countless beings that diverge from one another in the past or future. If this were true, which of these things should we be? But these words would be unlikely to succeed in referring to just one sort of thing—to only one of the many candidates on each occasion of utterance.

    My Facebook page may be part of my identity, but can it give me a virtual afterlife?

    There would probably be some indeterminacy of reference, so that each such utterance referred ambiguously to many different candidates. That would make it indeterminate what things, and even what sort of things, we are. And insofar as the candidates have different histories and different persistence conditions, it would be indeterminate when we came into being and what it takes for us to persist Sider b.

    Some material in this entry appeared previously in E. The Problems of Personal Identity 2. Understanding the Persistence Question 3. Accounts of Our Identity Through Time 4. The Too-Many-Thinkers Problem 7. The Problems of Personal Identity There is no single problem of personal identity, but rather a wide range of questions that are at best loosely connected. Here are the most familiar: Here are some of the main proposed answers Olson Snowdon , , van Inwagen , Olson , a. We are temporal parts of animals: We are spatial parts of animals: We are partless immaterial substances—souls—or compound things made up of an immaterial soul and a material body Swinburne We are collections of mental states or events: There is nothing that we are: There is no consensus or even a dominant view on this question.

    Understanding the Persistence Question We turn now to the persistence question. The most common formulation is something like this: If a person x exists at one time and a person y exists at another time, under what possible circumstances is it the case that x is y? We can illustrate the point by considering this answer to question 1: Necessarily, a person x existing at one time is a person y existing at another time if and only if x can, at the first time, remember an experience y has at the second time, or vice versa.

    It asks what is necessary and sufficient for any past or future being, whether or not it is a person then, to be you or I: