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The Problem of Personal Identity

Personal identity as a concept has attracted a wide range of philosophical discussion for a long time. The concept draws its’ argument or rather interest from the idea of trying to account what constitutes an individual and his or her existence. The concept deals with the questions that are normally raised concerning human beings and the mere virtue of being people and the immortality issue. The prominent driving questions to this philosophical argument are questions like: What am I? What happens when I die? Is there life after death? The answer and criterion in terms of personal identity is: what changes does a person survive? The debate portrayed by Perry John (who is a renowned philosopher who has contributed a lot in philosophy) was aimed at provoking an understanding of the nagging question about personal identity. In the debate, Perry uses two characters who engage in an argument or rather a debate with an aim of unearthing the facts about immortality.

The theme of the debate is the possibility of life after death, which is analyzed using different approaches. The revolving question throughout the debate is whether the soul or body or both the soul and the body constitute what is referred to as the personal identity of an individual. Some experts challenge their ally; Miller is convinced r that there is life after death. The debate has a number of analogies and examples to explain the points that the two sides feels that can be used to account for and against the topic. Weirob argues that there is no truth in the hypothesis that there is life after death while Miller proposes that once an individual dies, the individual continues to live; however, only that they live in another world (Perry 1976).

Numerical vs Qualitative Identity

The debate takes in to account of exploring the personal identity in two different forms; that is numerical identity and qualitative identity. These two aspects of identities are referred to as identity and exact similar by Perry. The numerical identity concept holds that everything is on its’ own. X can only be numerically identical to Y if X and Y is one thing in counting. However, X and Y on their own can be qualitative identical if they possess a series of similarities. This can be best described by using an analogy of two identical chalks. They are different identities numerically yet qualitatively identical.

Despite the fact that qualitative identity is, by correspondence, an essential provision for synchronic personal identity, it is neither obligatory nor adequate for diachronic personal identity. In other words, the persistence of a person at different instances could possibly illustrate qualitative identical entities of different human beings or qualitatively different slices of the same person. Nevertheless, it does not rule out numerical personal identity just by virtue of lack of similarity over time. It is also pertinent to note that, based on what determines personal identity, certain qualitative changes in an individual’s psychology or physiology may eradicate the person (Perry 1976).

Personal Identity by Soul

Perry debate has reflected several philosophical encounters which try to describe personal identity in terms of soul, bodily or memory aspects. The debates start by Miller’s suggestion that there is life after death since people are identical by soul, rather than bodies. She supports her argument by disclosing that the soul is something, what cannot be destroyed, unlike the body. When one dies the soul is retained inform just that it “vaporizes” to heaven (a new place different from earth) where it continues to live as before. The correlation of the soul in the bodies is accounted for in the sense that the body portrays or exhibit psychological characteristics that are manifested in forms of behaviors. The behaviors can be used to describe the control of the soul. To support the point of body and soul correlation, Miller argues that, by the virtue that he posses soul body, and he can justify their existence, the fact can be generalized to others, too (Perry 1976).

Personal identity can be shown to exist irrespective of bodily existence. Reflecting from Descartes concept of meditation where an individual can imagine things without seeing them, then personal identity can be asserted without affirming bodily identity. The idea of judging personal identity as a soul rather than bodily aspect can also be traced in other philosophical disclosures. Christian traditions and other religious beliefs hold that the soul is immaterial. Therefore, it cannot be seen, smelled, tasted, touched or even heard. It is beyond what the common sense can detect. Psychologically, the soul is believed to be the foundation of mental life and, just like Millers argued, soul activities commonly referred to as mental processes that are manifested into actions (Raj Sirswal 2008).


It is common knowledge that a person lives as long as the soul lives. Otherwise, the person no longer exists when the soul disappears. Descartes concept of dualism suggests that the soul can exist on its own without the body. The dualism concept is expressed by scholars as being conceivability. It is possible to conceive ourselves as surviving in the future without the bodily matter. People often use the “I” expression that barely affect the bodily concept. Expressions such as “I have a headache” are concluded directly and not on the basis of bodily observation or inference (Raj Sirswal 2008). This can lead to a conclusion that personal identity is metaphysically unimpeded by physical continuities.

However, conceivability cannot be strongly taken to propose the personal identity as soul based. This is because the personal can then be accredited to the bundle theory where what counts is the immaterial events that do not inhere in any object.  The dualism concept can also be explained to emanate from the idea that nothing is purely physical.  The main down tore of this concept is the existence of immaterial thing such as soul (mind) that depend on the materials things such as brain for functionality (Korfmacher 2006).

The epistemic concept also emerges as another challenge to the inference of a personal identity in terms of soul. This is because it could be complicated to proof that one has a soul and that they are not pretending to possess such immaterial concepts. It is through senses that an individual acquires knowledge about the environment. The soul cannot be sensed; thus understanding its existence becomes tricky (Garrett 1998).

Personal Identity by Bodily Nature

The other angle of the debate as proposed by Weirob is benched on the hypothesis that soul cannot be the image of personal identity. The articulating point in this idea is that of life after death. Soul has been described as something that cannot be distinguished or isolated using the ability of common sense, cannot be accessed from the outside. Consequently, it is difficult to ascertain that the person X that I saw yesterday is the same person X by judging using the soul. This is because what I have accessed is clearly and evidently the material body. In this vein, the person may portray a different soul into different occasion since it is difficult to sense the soul. In this connection, it would be an assumption that people are identical to the soul, which leaves complexity in accessibility. Other philosophers denote this description as an intentional fallacy (Perry 1976).

The fact that there exists a certain soul whenever a body presumes does not have to support the idea of correlation between the body and soul fully. In order for this disclosure to be elucidated clearly, there must be an independent way of justifying the existence of souls when that idea is thought to hold some weight. Lack of means to justify the correlation between the soul and the body leads to a conclusion that soul existence is a contentious judgment. In an attempt to support this idea of disagreeing with the correlation of body and soul further, Weirob gives the analogy of the river flow likening it to the functionality of the soul. Since no one knows how the soul functions to bring about the behaviors, the psychological manifestation of an individual cannot be wholly likened to the soul sameness. The individual is deemed to change over time and so is the soul, yet the personal identity remains. The nature of the soul makes difficult to justify that the psychological similarity of souls flowing in and out of the body indicate actual identity per se. The flow of the soul to and from the material body can be ascertained if only they can be analyzed or sensed, which is downright impossible with immaterial things. Therefore, one cannot have a legitimate principle of personality identity benched on the soul (Korfmacher 2006).

Weirob continues to disqualify Miller’s ideas on soul as the definer of personal identity by explaining that, though the concept of mediation and introspection distances the body from the soul, it does not directly show that soul identity is what reflected as personal identity (Perry 1976). The argument that personal identity is more linked to the body than the soul can be traced from other philosophical encounters (theories). The brain theory holds that a person is identical to the physical base of his/her mental life that is the central nervous system. The identity of a person in this theory is inclined to the biological composition of the body. However, this theory faces criticism from philosophers such as Thomas Nagel. In his account, he said, “he is more than three pound” (weight of his brain) noting that the brain is just part of him, and cannot be used to identify him (Locke 2002).

The issue of soul and body seemed weak to justify fully that there is life after death, which was the main theme of the debate. The debate takes into account another explanation, which includes the continuity of mental process of the person to constitute his/her identification. The analogy of river properties at any point which makes it different from the other rivers takes a new approach in supporting the issue of life after death. In addition to river analogy, the analogy of a street comes in support. The personal identity is likened to a street in that, despite a street having different characteristic such a building structures at a different place it is still possible to identify the street by its name. The connectivity of the street, through union of its’ different parts, constitutes the street. Likewise, the possibility of a person having continuous, conscious bits connected in the right way is what identifies the person as a different entity from the others (Perry 1976).

Psychological Continuity

The theory of psychological continuity comes to prove the possibility of life after death. As long as there is survival of mental processes that exist even when there is a replacement of the brain and destruction of the body, then there is a possibility of life after death. This theory has been used in other encounters in supporting the distinction of the brain from the body. The psychological theory does not conflict with any reasonable description of composition essentialism. However, it has some limitations in that it is not possible to believe in existence of mental processes if the body does not exist. In other words, the psychological processes that are taking place in the body are not in a ghostly substance. Moreover, psychological theory portrays a concept of reductionism which raises ambitions to a greater extent than just the basic understanding of the theory (Raj Sirswal 2008).

This theory does not strongly convince the possibility of life after death. The continuity of psychological connections in the right way is difficult to differentiate from memories a person may be having. In that case, possession of memories is also a contentious issue to crack. It is difficult to proof that a person has memories as he/she claims to have and he is not pretending to have the memories. Theoretically it is possible to distinguish fake memories from real ones by appealing to the causal process. Interestingly, the theoretical bit of this appeal is difficult to grasp (Locke 2002).

Involvement of God in Life after Death

A further analysis of the memories sets in, and the question of God involvement in the continuity of living emerges as a crucial input in the debate. The idea of having God supernatural power is introduced by Miller in an effort to account for the fact that there is life after death. The creation of a being in heaven that possesses the memories of someone who ever lived here on earth can be traced to support the debate. Interestingly, it is not clear whether the same God, who possibly created such being, could not have created a person with the same traits and placed them in different locations; heaven and earth. Therefore, imagination being the fulcrum of the associating God with living complicates the debate to a further degree. The existence after death then becomes dependent on something outside the identity (Perry 1976).

The conclusion of the debate leaves the idea of personal identity on the bodily continuity rather than psychological continuity and the notion of life after death being controlled by forces outside the persona.

Personal Identity is Similar to the Body

The debate on personal identity is what led to the question of life after death in the debate. In my own view, I would support the idea of personal identity as determined by the continuity of the body, as opposed to psychological continuity. A person who has his brain transplanted with another person’s brain will still exist but with different memories. To illustrate the existence of this person, consider an intuition where ones memories are erased and then the person is subjected to punishment. Consider, for example, persons “M” and “N”. The memories of person “M” are transferred to person “N”, and those of person “N” implanted to person “M”. The resultant individuals will possess different psychological processes, but their identity still remains to be “M” and “N”. Bernard Williams conduct an experiment to distinguish the personal identity by provoking torture after memories of an individual are erased and replaced with fake memories (Korfmacher 2006). Such a statement is objected strongly by the person to be affected. In most cases, when asked to propose who to receive the punishment or reward for the two identities, the possessor of memories or the possessor of the material body, they prefer that who have the body receive the reward instead of punishment. This intuition can be used to deduce that, even after memories are lost, an individual still holds to be who he was. Thus, personal identity can be argued to the bodily continuity.

Using an analogy, I will illustrate why body continuity counts more in personal identity than psychological continuity. Consider a building like the White House in America. Despite the years that the house has existed, it still retains its identity as the White House. The same case with the body, by virtue of being able to characterize an individual in terms of physical characteristics, we are able to distinguish people. Once the body dies, so does the memories that he/she possessed, they disappear and cannot be accessed. It is particularly possible to prove for person X because of the features detectable by the senses, which are singularly different from accounting that the psychological continuity of the person, which is brought about by the soul, is not of pretense. Individuals are who they are because of the biological composition.

A person H who suffers an accident and suffers a coma state is quite different from person G who is also in a coma state. The two individuals, while taking medication, are referred to as different people in the hospital; however, neither the relatives nor the doctor can take them as one just because their psychological state is the same. This case disregards psychology continuity as sufficient for personal identity. On the other hand, the two individuals with similar mental life continue to be different since they have different embodiment.

In conclusion, the personal identity is determined by the body material or the biological nature of the human being but not the psychological continuity. In this connection, once the body is destroyed, the person ceases to exist. Consequently, there is no life after death. However, the possibility of supernatural power involvement, in the form of God, can create a new entity (N) that takes the characteristics of an old (already dead) entity (O), but this does not imply that O continues to live even after death.

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