About this topic
Summary For many, the motivation to investigate personal identity is its seemingly tight (and perhaps grounding) connection to many normative concerns.  These include moral responsibility, compensation, prudence, various moral emotions (e.g., guilt, shame, and pride), abortion, definition of death, advance directives, genetic manipulation, and population ethics.  The relation between identity and these practical concerns is controversial, however, with several theorists questioning whether identity has much, or any, bearing on them at all.
Key works John Locke first explicitly explored the relation between personal identity and moral responsibility (see Perry 1975).  The first major contemporary explorer of these issues was Derek Parfit, in Parfit 1971, Parfit 1973, followed by a more wide-ranging discussion in Part III of Parfit 1984.  Other significant works on various aspects of the topic include Williams 1981, Johnston 1987, Korsgaard 1989, Jeske 1993, Schechtman 1996, Brink 1997, Olson 1997, Conee 1999, McMahan 2002, DeGrazia 2005, and Shoemaker 2007.
Introductions Encyclopedia entry: Shoemaker 2008.  Introductory books: DeGrazia 2005 and Shoemaker 2008.
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Personal Identity and Normative Ethics
  1. Joel Anderson (1996). The Personal Lives of Strong Evaluators: Identity, Pluralism, and Ontology in Charles Taylor's Value Theory. Constellations 3 (1):17-38.
  2. Stephan Blatti & Paul Snowdon (eds.) (forthcoming). Essays on Animalism: Persons, Animals, and Identity. Oxford University Press.
    Arguably the most significant development in the recent history of the personal identity debate has been the emergence of the view known as "animalism." This volume brings together original contributions on this topic written by both well-known and emerging philosophers. Contributors: Lynne Rudder Baker, Stephan Blatti, David Hershenov, Jens Johansson, Mark Johnston, Rory Madden, Jeff McMahan & Tim Campbell, Eric Olson, Derek Parfit, Mark Reid, Denis Robinson, David Shoemaker, Sydney Shoemaker, Paul Snowdon.
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  3. Daniel Cohnitz & Barry Smith (2003). Assessing Ontologies: The Question of Human Origins and Its Ethical Significance. In E. Runggaldier & C. Kanzian (eds.), Persons: An Interdisciplinary Approach. öbv&hpt.
    In their paper “Sixteen Days” Barry Smith and Berit Brogaard try to answer the question: when does a human being begin to exist? In this paper we will address some methodological issues connected with this exercise in ontology. We shall begin by sketching the argument of “Sixteen Days”. We shall then attempt to characterize what is special about the ontological realism of “Sixteen Days” as contrasted to the linguistic constructivism which represents the more dominant current in contemporary analytic philosophy. This (...)
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  4. Bronwyn Finnigan (2014). Examining the Bodhisattva's Brain. Zygon 49 (1):231-241.
    Owen Flanagan's The Bodhisattva's Brain aims to introduce secular-minded thinkers to Buddhist thought and motivate its acceptance by analytic philosophers. I argue that Flanagan provides a compelling caution against the hasty generalizations of recent “science of happiness” literature, which correlates happiness with Buddhism on the basis of certain neurological studies. I contend, however, that his positive account of Buddhist ethics is less persuasive. I question the level of engagement with Buddhist philosophical literature and challenge Flanagan's central claim, that a Buddhist (...)
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  5. Mark Greene (2008). The Indeterminacy of Loss. Ethics 118 (4):633-658.
    Abstract: This paper argues that continua of both genetic and environmental manipulation give rise to cases in which it is indeterminate whether the non-identity problem arises. In clear non-identity cases, impersonal principles can underwrite intuitions of wrongdoing. In clear cases of ordinary personal harm, ordinary ethical thinking about personal compensation augments or supersedes impersonal considerations. Indeterminate cases raise a special problem because it is indeterminate whether personal ethical considerations apply. Might indeterminacy of identity preclude a determinate and ethically justified resolution (...)
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  6. Theron Pummer (2014). Does Division Multiply Desert? Philosophical Review 123 (1):43-77.
    It seems plausible that (i) how much punishment a person deserves cannot be affected by the mere existence or nonexistence of another person. We might have also thought that (ii) how much punishment is deserved cannot increase merely in virtue of personal division. I argue that (i) and (ii) are inconsistent with the popular belief that, other things being equal, when people culpably do very wrong or bad acts, they ought to be punished for this—even if they have repented, are (...)
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  7. Robert Schroer (2013). Reductionism in Personal Identity and the Phenomenological Sense of Being a Temporally Extended Self. American Philosophical Quarterly 50 (4):339-356.
    The special and unique attitudes that we take towards events in our futures/pasts—e.g., attitudes like the dread of an impeding pain—create a challenge for “Reductionist” accounts that reduce persons to aggregates of interconnected person stages: if the person stage currently dreading tomorrow’s pain is numerically distinct from the person stage that will actually suffer the pain, what reason could the current person stage have for thinking of that future pain as being his? One reason everyday subjects believe they have a (...)
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  8. David Shoemaker (2008). Personal Identity and Ethics: A Brief Introduction. Broadview Press.
    Personal Identity and Ethics provides a lively overview of the relationship between the metaphysics of personal identity and ethics. How does personal identity affect our ethical judgments? It is a commonplace to hold that moral responsibility for past actions requires that the responsible agent is in some relevant respect identical to the agent who performed the action. Is this true? On the other hand, can ethics constrain our account of personal identity? Do the practical requirements of moral theory commit us (...)
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  9. David Shoemaker (2000). Reductionist Contractualism: Moral Motivation and the Expanding Self. Canadian Journal of Philosophy 30 (3):343-370.
    According to a popular contemporary contractualist account of moral motivation, the most plausible explanation for why those who are concerned with morality take moral reasons seriously — why these reasons strike those who are moved by them with a particular inescapability — is that they stem from, and are grounded by, a desire to be able to justify one’s actions to others on grounds they could not reasonably reject.1 My.
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  10. David W. Shoemaker (2002). Disintegrated Persons and Distributive Principles. Ratio 15 (1):58–79.
    In this paper I consider Derek Parfit’s attempt to respond to Rawls’ charge that utilitarianism ignores the distinction between persons. I proceed by arguing that there is a moderate form of reductionism about persons, one stressing the importance of what Parfit calls psychological connectedness, which can hold in different degrees both within one person and between distinct persons. In terms of this form of reductionism, against which Parfit’s arguments are ineffective, it is possible to resuscitate the Rawlsian charge that the (...)
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  11. David W. Shoemaker (1999). Selves and Moral Units. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 80 (4):391-419.
    offers each of these as a possible moral unit at various points.1 It is the aim of this paper, however, to suggest that, if Parfit’s two key arguments about the indeterminacy of identity and what matters in our identity are correct, we should take selves to be the significant moral units in any metaphysically-grounded ethical theory. Furthermore, because Parfit’s own explanation of what the concept of the self involves is problematic in important respects, I hope to point out a few (...)
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  12. A. P. Taylor (2013). The Frustrating Problem For Four-Dimensionalism. Philosophical Studies 165 (3):1097-1115.
    I argue that four-dimensionalism and the desire satisfaction account of well-being are incompatible. For every person whose desires are satisfied, there will be many shorter-lived individuals (‘person-stages’ or ‘subpersons’) who share the person’s desires but who do not exist long enough to see those desires satisfied; not only this, but in many cases their desires are frustrated so that the desires of the beings in whom they are embedded as proper temporal parts may be fulfilled. I call this the frustrating (...)
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  13. Larry S. Temkin (1999). Intransitivity and the Person-Affecting Principle: A Response. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 59 (3):777-784.
    In "Intrzmsitivity and thc Person-Affecting Principlc,"‘ (IPAP) Alastair Norcross attacks several key claims of my "Intransitivity and thc Merc Addition Paradox" (IMAP).2 This article suggests that N0rcross’s arguments despite: their appca1——lcavc IMAP’s claims mostly intact. Bcforc assessing N0rcross’s arguments, lct mc characterize two key notions distinguished in IMAP: an essentially comparative view of moral ideals and an intrinsic aspect view. On an essentially comparative view (ECU, different factors might bc relevant for comparing diffcrcnt alternatives regarding a given idcal. On such (...)
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  14. Larry S. Temkin (1999). Intransitivity and the Person-Affecting Principle. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 59 (3):777 - 784.
Personal Identity and Applied Ethics
  1. Simon Beck (2010). Morals, Metaphysics and the Method of Cases. South African Journal of Philosophy 29 (4):332-342.
    In this paper I discuss a set of problems concerning the method of cases as it is used in applied ethics and in the metaphysical debate about personal identity. These problems stem from research in social psychology concerning our access to the data with which the method operates. I argue that the issues facing ethics are more worrying than those facing metaphysics.
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  2. Maren Behrensen (2014). Identity as Convention: Biometric Passports and the Promise of Security. Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society 12 (1):44-59.
  3. Maren Behrensen (2013). Born That Way? The Metaphysics of Queer Liberation. APA Newsletter on Philosophy and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Issues 12 (2):2-7.
  4. Stephan Blatti (2012). Death's Distinctive Harm. American Philosophical Quarterly 49 (4):317-30.
    Despite widespread support for the claim that death can harm the one who dies, debate continues over how to rescue this harm thesis (HT) from Epicurus’s challenge. Disagreements focus on two of the three issues that any defense of HT must resolve: the subject of death’s harm and the timing of its injury. About the nature of death’s harm, however, a consensus has emerged around the view that death harms a subject (when it does) by depriving her of the goods (...)
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  5. Lisa Bortolotti & John Harris (2005). Stem Cell Research, Personhood and Sentience. Reproductive Biomedicine Online 10:68-75.
    In this paper the permissibility of stem cell research on early human embryos is defended. It is argued that, in order to have moral status, an individual must have an interest in its own wellbeing. Sentience is a prerequisite for having an interest in avoiding pain, and personhood is a prerequisite for having an interest in the continuation of one's own existence. Early human embryos are not sentient and therefore they are not recipients of direct moral consideration. Early human embryos (...)
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  6. Philip Brey (2009). Human Enhancement and Personal Identity. In Jan Kyrre Berg Olsen Friis, Evan Selinger & Søren Riis (eds.), New Waves in Philosophy of Technology. Palgrave Macmillan. 169--185.
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  7. Vanessa Carbonell (2014). Amnesia, Anesthesia, and Warranted Fear. Bioethics 28 (5):245-254.
    Is a painful experience less bad for you if you will not remember it? Do you have less reason to fear it? These questions bear on how we think about medical procedures and surgeries that use an anesthesia regimen that leaves patients conscious – and potentially in pain – but results in complete ‘drug-induced amnesia’ after the fact. I argue that drug-induced amnesia does not render a painful medical procedure a less fitting object of fear, and thus the prospect of (...)
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  8. John F. Crosby (1993). The Personhood of the Human Embryo. Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 18 (4):399-417.
    My interlocutor is anyone who denies peisonhood to the embryo on the grounds that a human person can exist only in conscious activity and that in the absence of consciousness a person cannot exist at all. I probe personal consciousness to the point at which the distinction between the being and the consciousness of the human person appears, and argue on the basis of this distinction that the being of a person can exist in the absence of any consciousness. I (...)
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  9. David DeGrazia (2005). Human Identity and Bioethics. Cambridge University Press.
    When philosophers address personal identity, they usually explore numerical identity: what are the criteria for a person's continuing existence? When non-philosophers address personal identity, they often have in mind narrative identity: Which characteristics of a particular person are salient to her self-conception? This book develops accounts of both senses of identity, arguing that both are normatively important, and is unique in its exploration of a range of issues in bioethics through the lens of identity. Defending a biological view of our (...)
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  10. E. Furberg (2012). Advance Directives and Personal Identity: What Is the Problem? Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 37 (1):60-73.
    Next SectionThe personal identity problem expresses the worry that due to disrupted psychological continuity, one person’s advance directive could be used to determine the care of a different person. Even ethicists, who strongly question the possibility of the scenario depicted by the proponents of the personal identity problem, often consider it to be a very potent objection to the use of advance directives. Aiming to question this assumption, I, in this paper, discuss the personal identity problem’s relevance to the moral (...)
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  11. Nada Gligorov, Jody Azzouni, Douglas P. Lackey & Arnold Zweig (2013). Personal Identity. In Rosamond Rhodes, Nada Gligorov & Abraham Schwab (eds.), The Human Microbiome: Ethical, Legal and Social Concerns. Oxford University Press.
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  12. Nada Gligorov & Christine Vitrano (2011). The Impact of Personal Identity on Advance Directives. Journal of Value Inquiry 45 (2):147-158.
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  13. Mark Greene (2008). The Indeterminacy of Loss. Ethics 118 (4):633-658.
    Abstract: This paper argues that continua of both genetic and environmental manipulation give rise to cases in which it is indeterminate whether the non-identity problem arises. In clear non-identity cases, impersonal principles can underwrite intuitions of wrongdoing. In clear cases of ordinary personal harm, ordinary ethical thinking about personal compensation augments or supersedes impersonal considerations. Indeterminate cases raise a special problem because it is indeterminate whether personal ethical considerations apply. Might indeterminacy of identity preclude a determinate and ethically justified resolution (...)
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  14. Chris Heathwood (2011). The Significance of Personal Identity to Abortion. Bioethics 25 (4):230-232.
    In "The Insignificance of Personal Identity to Bioethics," David Shoemaker argues that, contrary to common opinion, considerations of personal identity have no relevance to certain important debates in bioethics. My aim is to show that Shoemaker is mistaken concerning the relevance of personal identity to the abortion debate -– in particular, to Don Marquis’ well-known anti-abortion argument.
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  15. Nils Holtug & Peter Sandøe (1996). Who Benefits?— Why Personal Identity Does Not Matter in a Moral Evaluation of Germ‐Line Gene Therapy. Journal of Applied Philosophy 13 (2):157-166.
  16. Mark G. Kuczewski (1994). Whose Will is It, Anyway? A Discussion of Advance Directives, Personal Identity, and Consensus in Medical Ethics. Bioethics 8 (1):27–48.
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  17. Robert Lane (2006). Safety, Identity and Consent: A Limited Defense of Reproductive Human Cloning. Bioethics 20 (3):125–135.
    Some opponents of reproductive human cloning have argued that, because of its experimental nature, any attempt to create a child by way of cloning would risk serious birth defects or genetic abnormalities and would therefore be immoral. Some versions of this argument appeal to the consent of the person to be conceived in this way. In particular, they assume that if an experimental reproductive technology has not yet been shown to be safe, then, before we use it, we are morally (...)
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  18. Charles W. Lidz & Lisa S. Parker (2003). Issues of Ethics and Identity in Diagnosis of Late Life Depression. Ethics and Behavior 13 (3):249 – 262.
    Depression is often diagnosed in patients nearing the end of their lives and medication or psychotherapy is prescribed. In many cases this is appropriate. However, it is widely agreed that a health care professional should treat sick persons so as to improve their condition as they define improvement. This raises questions about the contexts in which treatment of depression in late life is appropriate. This article reviews a problematic case concerning the appropriateness of treatment in light of the literature in (...)
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  19. John P. Lizza (ed.) (2009). Defining the Beginning and End of Life: Readings on Personal Identity and Bioethics. Johns Hopkins University Press.
  20. J. P. Moreland (1995). Humanness, Personhood, and the Right to Die. Faith and Philosophy 12 (1):95-112.
    A widely adopted approach to end-of-life ethical questions fails to make explicit certain crucial metaphysical ideas entailed by it and when those ideas are clarified, then it can be shown to be inadequate. These metaphysical themes cluster around the notions of personal identity, personhood and humanness, and the metaphysics of substance. In order to clarify and critique the approach just mentioned, I focus on the writings of Robert N. Wennberg as a paradigm case by, first, stating his views of personal (...)
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  21. Peter Nichols (2012). Abortion, Time-Relative Interests, and Futures Like Ours. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 15 (4):493-506.
    Don Marquis ( 1989 ) has argued most abortions are immoral, for the same reason that killing you or me is immoral: abortion deprives the fetus of a valuable future (FLO). Call this account the FLOA. A rival account is Jeff McMahan’s ( 2002 ), time-relative interest account (TRIA) of the wrongness of killing. According to this account, an act of killing is wrong to the extent that it deprives the victim of future value and the relation of psychological unity (...)
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  22. David S. Oderberg, The Metaphysical Status of the Embryo: Blackwell Publishing Ltd Oxford, Uk.
    This paper re-examines some well-known and commonly accepted arguments for the non-individuality of the embryo, due mainly to the work of John Harris. The first concerns the alleged non-differentiation of the embryoblast from the trophoblast. The second concerns monozygotic twinning and the relevance of the primitive streak. The third concerns the totipotency of the cells of the early embryo. I argue that on a proper analysis of both the empirical facts of embryological development, and the metaphysical importance or otherwise of (...)
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  23. Andrea Ott (2009). Personal Identity and the Moral Authority of Advance Directives. The Pluralist 4 (2):38 - 54.
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  24. Shelley M. Park (2005). Real (M)Othering: The Metaphysics of Maternity in Children's Literature. In Real (M)othering: The Metaphysics of Maternity in Children's Literature. In Sally Haslanger and Charlotte Witt, eds. Adoption Matters: Philosophical and Feminist Essays. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. 171-194.
    This paper examines the complexity and fluidity of maternal identity through an examination of narratives about "real motherhood" found in children's literature. Focusing on the multiplicity of mothers in adoption, I question standard views of maternity in which gestational, genetic and social mothering all coincide in a single person. The shortcomings of traditional notions of motherhood are overcome by developing a fluid and inclusive conception of maternal reality as authored by a child's own perceptions.
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  25. David Shoemaker (2010). Personal Identity and Bioethics: The State of the Art. Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 31 (4):249-257.
    In this introduction to the special issue of Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics on the topic of personal identity and bioethics, I provide a background for the topic and then discuss the contributions in the special issue by Eric Olson, Marya Schechtman, Tim Campbell and Jeff McMahan, James Delaney and David Hershenov, and David DeGrazia.
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  26. David Shoemaker (2008). Personal Identity and Ethics: A Brief Introduction. Broadview Press.
    Personal Identity and Ethics provides a lively overview of the relationship between the metaphysics of personal identity and ethics. How does personal identity affect our ethical judgments? It is a commonplace to hold that moral responsibility for past actions requires that the responsible agent is in some relevant respect identical to the agent who performed the action. Is this true? On the other hand, can ethics constrain our account of personal identity? Do the practical requirements of moral theory commit us (...)
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  27. J. S. Swindell Blumenthal-Barby (2007). Facial Allograft Transplantation, Personal Identity, and Subjectivity. Journal of Medical Ethics 33 (8):449-453.
    An analysis of the identity issues involved in facial allograft transplantation is provided in this paper. The identity issues involved in organ transplantation in general, under both theoretical accounts of personal identity and subjective accounts provided by organ recipients, are examined. It is argued that the identity issues involved in facial allograft transplantation are similar to those involved in organ transplantation in general, but much stronger because the face is so closely linked with personal identity. Recipients of facial allograft transplantation (...)
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  28. Cheng-Chih Tsai (2013). The Unbearable Lightness of Personal Identity — Messages From Bioethics. In Center for Applied Ethics and Philosophy (ed.), Applied Ethics: Risk, Justice and Liberty: 39-51. Hokkaido University.
    With the advancement of bio-science and bio-technology come nasty new bioethical dilemmas, and some bioethicists have resorted to metaphysics, in particular, the notion of personal identity, to resolve them. I claim, however, that metaphysical accounts of personal identity at present are incapable of withstanding the impact of bioethical dilemmas. Bioethical issues such as criteria of death, brain transplantation, and dementia with/without advance directives invite us to deconstruct three shaky metaphysical notions concerning personal identity so that we can tackle ethical problems (...)
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What Matters in Survival
  1. Stuart Rachels -Torin Alter (2005). Nothing Matters in Survival. Journal of Ethics 9 (3-4):311-330.
    The Journal of Ethics, Vol. 9, No. 3-4 (October, 2005), pp. 311-330. Abstract: Do I have a special reason to care about my future, as opposed to yours? We reject the common belief that I do. Putting our thesis paradoxically, we say that nothing matters in survival: nothing in our continued existence justifies any special self-concern. Such an “extreme” view is standardly tied to ideas about the metaphysics of persons, but not by us. After rejecting various arguments against our thesis, (...)
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  2. Robert Merrihew Adams (1989). Should Ethics Be More Impersonal? A Critical Notice of Derek Parfit, Reasons and Persons. Philosophical Review 98 (4):439-484.
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  3. Torin Alter & Stuart Rachels (2005). Nothing Matters in Survival. Journal of Ethics 9 (3-4):311-330.
    Do I have a special reason to care about my future, as opposed to yours? We reject the common belief that I do. Putting our thesis paradoxically, we say that nothing matters in survival: nothing in our continued existence justifies any special self-concern. Such an "extreme" view is standardly tied to ideas about the metaphysics of persons, but not by us. After rejecting various arguments against our thesis, we conclude that simplicity decides in its favor. Throughout the essay we honor (...)
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  4. L. Andra (2007). Multiple Occupancy, Identity, and What Matters. Philosophical Explorations 10 (3):211 – 225.
    As regards the question of what matters in survival two views have been identified: on the one hand, we have the view that what matters is identity (the so-called 'commonsense view') and, on the other hand, we have the view that what matters is the holding of certain psychological connections between various mental states over time (the relation R). Several attempts have tried to reconcile these two views involving the so-called 'multiple occupancy view' or 'cohabitation thesis'. Even if the latter (...)
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  5. Jonny Anomaly (2008). Personal Identity and Practical Reason: The Failure of Kantian Replies to Parfit. Dialogue 47 (02):331-.
  6. Kim Atkins (2000). Personal Identity and the Importance of One's Own Body: A Response to Derek Parfit. International Journal of Philosophical Studies 8 (3):329 – 349.
    In this essay I take issue with Derek Parfit's reductionist account of personal identity.Parfit is concerned to respond to what he sees as flaws in the conception of the role of 'person' in self-interest theories. He attempts to show that the notion of a person as something over and above a totality of mental and physical states and events (in his words, a 'further fact'), is empty, and so, our ethical concerns must be based on something other than this. My (...)
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  7. Robert Audi (1976). Eschatological Verification and Personal Identity. International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 7 (4):391 - 408.
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  8. James Baillie (1996). Identity, Relation R, and What Matters: A Challenge to Derek Parfit. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 77 (4):263-267.
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