Ayer on Personal Identity

Philosophy 51 (195):47 - 55 (1976)


In ‘The Concept of a Person’ Ayer presents a theory of personal identity which has never, to my knowledge, attracted the close attention which it deserves. The theory puts forward bodily continuity as the central criterion of personal identity. In this, of course, Ayer does not differ from many other philosophers who have written on this subject. The real interest of Ayer's view is that it is quite explicit that the body is taken as the principle of unity underlying one's experiences, as that in virtue of which a series of experiences are the experiences of one person. Without the body, ‘not only is it not clear how the individual experiences are to be identified, but there appears to be no principle according to which they can be grouped together; there is no answer to the question what makes two experiences which are separate in time the experiences of the same self’ . Some link between experiences there must be. Memory cannot serve as this link, since remembering an experience already implies thinking of it as one's own. The only acceptable candidate is the body

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