Personal Identity: Philosophical Views

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Personal Identity: Philosophical Views

Tim V Kolton

Alan Watts once said, "Trying to define yourself is like trying to bite your own teeth." The task of personal identity is to define a quality of a human which makes him or her a unique self. The person whose identity is in question must realize themselves, and other people must identify this person. In other words, what makes John unique from Bob? One must consider both internal (mind) and external (body) perspectives. There are several general philosophical theories of this identity problem. In the following paragraphs one will find the body theory, soul theory, and a more detailed explanation of the conscious theory.

One theory of personal identity is known as the body theory. This is defined as a person X has a personal identity if and only if they have the same body Y. However there are two problems with this definition. The first is qualitative. It is necessary to have the same body, but if that body is changed, is one the same person? Someone's body is surely different at age 40 than at age 4. Also a problem arrives in alterations to a body. If John goes to war, becomes injured by a mine, and then has his legs amputated is he not still the same person, John? Therefore, the preceding definition of body theory is not sufficient, since it does not account alterations to the same body. Yet another problem is numerical. If someone were to get a finger chopped off, would that finger be considered another person? What if a scientist was to use someone's DNA and replicate another person with the same body? Surely just because there are two identical bodies, these bodies cannot be the same person. They would live two different lives. Therefore, the body theory alone cannot be considered a necessary and sufficient definition when defining personal identity.

Another common theory of personal identity is the soul theory. This theory is: a person is has personal...
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