Photo: H.L.Maibom: Varanasi, India 2010.

Photo: H.L.Maibom: Varanasi, India 2010.

Personal Identity and the Self

Who are we? What makes each one of us the same person over time? Is it our souls, our bodies, our consciousness? Can several persons inhabit the same human body? Can one person become another person during their lifetime? Can we loose ourselves? Is there a self at all? These are some of the questions we discuss in this course.

It used to be thought that the seat of the self was the soul. But for the ancients the soul was also the mind. In Ancient India, the Buddhists debated the Hindus about whether or not there was a self (atman). The Buddhist don’t think there is anything like a stable self over time. In the Western tradition, Hume was the first to propose something like this view. It has since become more popular, with Parfitt’s idea that what matters is not identity over time, or with Metzinger’s scientifically informed idea that the self is an illusion. But the Western tradition is usually more optimistic about finding a solid grounding of the self. Some insist that our identity is a function of our memories, or the stories we tell ourselves. Others argue that identity is a matter of psychological continuity and connectedness over time.

Some people seem to have a particularly fragile sense of self, such a people with dissociative personality disorder. We explore disorders of identity so that we may learn what is special about our identity from people who appear to have a fragmented sense of self.

I usually cover:

  1. Locke’s memory theory

  2. Hume’s bundle theory

  3. Lewis’s multiple occupancy view

  4. Parfitt’s psychological theory

  5. Narrativity theory, e.g. Dennett

  6. Metzinger and the ego tunnel

  7. Dissociative Personality Disorder

  8. Julian Jaynes on consciousness and self-consciousness

  9. Buddhist no-self views