The Sense and Reality of Personal Identity

Erkenntnis 83 (6):1139-1155 (2018)
Authors
Thomas Sattig
University of Tuebingen
Abstract
The vast majority of philosophers of personal identity since John Locke have been convinced that the persistence of persons is not grounded in bodily continuity. Why? As numerous ‘textbooks’ on personal identity attest, their conviction rests, to a large extent, on an objection to the bodily approach, which concerns episodic memory. The objection invites us to a thought experiment in which we meet a person who experientially remembers events from the past of a person with a different body. The nature of such first-personal memory-links is viewed as strongly suggesting that the rememberer is identical with the remembered, and hence, given the possibility of such a case, as suggesting that a person can transgress its bodily limits. The memory objection is as influential as it gets in the metaphysics of personal identity. Textbooks often portray it as the starting point of the contemporary debate about personal identity. And it has been widely perceived as a success. As everyone who has taught an introductory course on personal identity knows, the recognition of episodic-memory links in body-switching cases has the power to turn any group of novice students against bodily criteria of personal identity. In this essay, I shall specify and undermine the memory objection. I shall attempt to establish two theses. The first thesis is that the memory objection is only viable if construed as resting on the view that episodic memory contains a sense of personal identity, which teaches us about the reality of personal identity. The second thesis is that there is no such sense of personal identity, that episodic memory teaches us nothing at all about personal identity.
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DOI 10.1007/s10670-017-9933-z
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