Personal Identity - Memory Theory vs Body Theory vs Soul Theory

Topics: Soul, Mind, René Descartes Pages: 6 (1636 words) Published: October 17, 2012
Personal Identity
REFERENCE: Perry, Dialogue on Personal Identity and Immortality.

. Thesis .
Identity refers to “a relation that everything has to itself and to no other thing”, and our perception of personal identity is the knowledge that we are ourselves, and who we have been – basically, that I am the same person I was last week, last year, etc. Leibniz’s Law states that if one thing (A) is identical to another (B) at one given point in time, they share the exact same properties, making them the same, one thing (A = B). In this paper, I will argue that the Memory Theory of Personal Identity is the closest to the truth. I will do so by showing that the opposing theories – Body and Soul Theories – have evident flaws and that the arguments against the Memory Theory can be responded to adequately. In order to succeed in this task, I will explain the basis of the three aforementioned theories are, examine the Memory Theory’s main arguments, acknowledge and respond to the arguments against it and demonstrate that the Memory Theory is the theory closest to the truth. I have included visual diagrams of the important concepts presented in order to reiterate them.

. The Body Theory and The Soul Theory .
The Body Theory states that every person is identical with a living human body, that can be seen, touched, interacted with physically, etc, through the various senses. Our judgements of personal identity are usually justified on the basis of physical appearance (how they look) or behavioural similarity (how they act). I need to point out that the Body Theory is very widely accepted theory that most people have unknowingly committed themselves to believing. However, the logic behind this theory is unstable when attempting to identify when a living, human body begins and/or ceases to exist. The Soul Theory on the other hand, is considered to be very similar to the aforementioned Body Theory, except it states that every person is identical with an immaterial soul instead of a living, human body. The Soul Theory also claims that behavioural similarity is due to that immaterial soul. The issue concerning this theory is the inability to explain, or justify, the judgements of personal identity via an ‘immaterial soul’. A judgement of personal identity is being able to identify a person to actually be that person at a different point in time – for example, not seeing someone for a few days, but judging it is that same person as the one you saw a few days ago. These theories are touched on by Descartes within his meditations (Descartes, 1641) and by the participants in the conversations detailed by Perry (Perry, 1977), which is discussed within this paper.

. Memory Theory .
The Memory Theory disregards Descartes’ concepts of the mind and body being separate (Descartes, 1641) as they have no significant relevance in disproving the notion of streams of consciousness creating personal identity. As originated by John Locke in the 17th century (Perry, 1977, p. 334), the Memory Theory states that a person is not a body, soul, any kind of substance, nor something that exists at one place at one time. A person is a temporally extended series of mental states, or a stream of consciousness: with each part of that stream being a ‘person-stage’. The Memory Theory creates the notion of a ‘memory chain’ in which each person-stage remembers the preceding one, visually demonstrated below. [pic]

As above, the relationship between A1 to A2, and A2’s relationship with A3 is shown – a real life example this can be applied to is a forty year old woman (A1) remembering her twenty year old self (A2), who at the time, remembered her ten year old self (A3). This does not imply that the forty year old woman remembers her ten year old self, but due to the connection of her person-stages, she remains to be the same person, who has the current “apparent memory” (Shoemaker, 2008, p. 341) of her forty year old self – consisting of her “personal memory”...

References: Perry, J., 1977, 'A dialogue on personal identity and immortality '. Hackett Publishing.
Shoemaker, S., 2008, '36 - Personal identity: a materialist account '. In Metaphysics: The Big Questions. Blackwell Publishing, Carlton, Australia (pp. 333-347).
Swinburne, R., 2008, '39 - Personal identity: the dualist theory '. In Metaphysics: The Big Questions. Blackwell Publishing (pp. 368-384).
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