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Personal Identity Notes

Philosophy Notes > Metaphysics Notes

This is an extract of our Personal Identity document, which we sell as part of our Metaphysics Notes collection written by the top tier of Cambridge students.

The following is a more accessble plain text extract of the PDF sample above, taken from our Metaphysics Notes. Due to the challenges of extracting text from PDFs, it will have odd formatting:

Does Personal Identity Matter?
In this essay, I intend to illustrate that personal identity is not a matter of concern. I will do this first by considering 'the problem of persistence', and our distinction between numerical and qualitative identity, focusing our enquiry on the former. I will then propose the psychological approach as our common method of determining identity before illustrating a scenario where there arises apparent difficulties. The important distinction to be made will be that between a psychological connection and a psychological continuation, and I will place identity within the former, and our concerns within the latter. The most common, and therefore first, issue we shall consider in topic of personal identity is that of persistence. This concerns what is required for the term 'me' to refer to a being in the past and future, rather than only in the present. The question, then, is one of numerical identity. The idea of qualitative identity, on the other hand, is different, concerning matters of characteristics and such. People change identity qualitatively with every passing moment, therefore. It is not uncommon to hear that people have 'changed' or that they're just not the person they used to be. People make this sort of a judgement every day, in all walks of life. It's not always a negative judgement. Often when people come back from some life
changing experience we say that they've "changed for the better". But what do we actually mean by this? Do we actually mean that it's a fundamentally different person, or just that some of the characteristics of that same person have changed? More to the point, how can we say that someone who does not have all of the same characteristics can still amount to the same person?
When we ask how someone can have any change and yet still be the same, we are really begging an enquiry into what makes a person. If we consider a person to be the sum of their characteristics, and that our characteristics are based on a reactionary mechanism from our experiences, then surely we are all fundamentally changing into different people with each passing second. Our numerical identity, however, goes unchanged. For instance, I am fundamentally a different person to the one who began writing this essay, if only because I now have some reactionary characteristic to the fact that I have written an extra two paragraphs in my life. This might mean, quite trivially, that, having done slightly more work, I am now a person who is slightly more inclined towards the idea of retirement, but there is still only one person involved either way. We shall not, therefore, concern ourselves with this in this essay. The question of numerical identity, however, is far more significant. Basically, this concerns how a person existing at one time, and a person existing at another could be cumulatively referred to as one. One way of looking at this is called the Memory Criterion. The idea behind this is that if I were to want to draw a link between the person I am now and somebody who existed at around breakfast time today, so as to consider us one and the same person, I ought to be able to remember the experience that that person had around the time, say of eating some cornflakes or such like. The problem here, whilst clearly a suitable link to make between future persons and their past counterparts is that we can't link to anything before we were persons, were we ever such

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