I am currently working on a philosophy essay plan, which is due Monday. It’s driving me insane. Here is the question:
Although the principle that our personal identity is preserved as long as we inhabit the numerically same body is plausible and well established (same body = same person idea), it seems questionable at times. Consider the situation of Robert. Robert used to be a very athletic person who spent all of his free time playing basketball and riding motorcycles. In August 2002 Robert crashed his motorcycle and is now paraplegic. Although Robert still has the same (numerical) body as before, he feels that he is not the same person since he cannot do the things he loves most.
Do you agree with Robert? Explain and justify your reasoning to this by: Drawing on the works of at least two philosophers and one film from this course.
The thing is, in some ways I agree with Robert in that he is not the same person… but in other ways I don’t. I believe it’s called ‘fence sitting’ and is not something I can do in writing this essay.
I will have to start by examining the body theory of identity, which to me is a logical theory, but is not in itself enough to constitute identity. The fact that the body is constantly changing does not in itself constitute a change of identity (as far as I am concerned) as it is gradual and the cells themselves share a commonality as they grow and are expelled from the body. We identify others by their physical appearance. However, if person A had their consciousness transferred into a different body then would we still continue to identify them as the same person? Intuitively I would think so.
If we look at identity being defined by psychological continuity, or by memory, then post-accident Robert is indeed still the same person as both his thought processes and memories are continuous with pre-accident Robert. There are of course flaws with these theories also. For example, if Robert lost all his memories in the accident, and his psychological continuity was eliminated, I would still consider him the same person.
These is also the theory that there is no self, and to think we have one is merely an illusion (Hume), and we are nothing more than a collection of perceptions. But then what holds us together over time? What gives our current perceptions context and meaning? Our memories, perhaps. Or maybe it’s just the thread that is woven between our perceptions creating an illusion of self. If it is the case that we HAVE no self then what does this mean for Robert?
I like to think of people as a constantly changing and evolving thing. Like the river analogy. While you can’t step into the same water twice (as it’s constantly moving and changing) we would still identify it as the same river. I think personality has the same fluidity, whether in regard to body, memory or perception. Our past selves share commonality with our current selves, so while we are constantly changing we still remain identifiable as the same person.
I guess I do disagree with Robert after all.
I think my head just imploded.
Your thoughts and ideas about how I could formulate a reasonable essay plan around this question would be greatly appreciated. I’ll buy you something pretty.