Where Does Personal Identity Reside? : Tommy Vladek
Personal identity theory is a theory that questions our existence philosophically: it asks who we are and how do we know? In the essay “Will Tommy Vladek Survive?” John Perry described a controversial topic on identity by analyzing an essay called The Meeting by Frederik Pohl and C.M. Konibluth. In the essay there were two boys -Tommy Vladek a destructive boy, who was mentally challenged but healthy-bodied and Sam a normal boy, who had an accident that damaged his body but left his brain healthy. Tommy’s family was facing difficulties because of the special care needed for him. A Dr. Nicholson gave Tommy’s parents the choice of a new brain that will make “upgrade” Tommy and they had eighteen hours to make their choice. In the essay, Perry describes different views on the topic of identity, mainly on who will survive the operation, whether it would be the destructive Tommy or Sam the normal boy. The different views Perry has on identity are shown in the table below. In the essay Perry identifies concepts that could explain who Harry Vladek is likely to bring home from hospital; identity and similarity, body transfers, brain theory, and memory theory. Throughout the essay Perry hinted that he did not think Tommy will be the one to survive because of the theory which he thinks makes the strongest defense (explained more in later paragraph). The first concept that Perry discussed is identity and similarity. When Perry uses identity (identical), he means there is just one being (or thing) involved. For example, if you buy two cloud cars that are pink and the same model, they look identical. According to Perry they are not identical because if they were, only one cloud car would exist. Similarity is the state or fact of being the same. So if you bought two cloud cars you would say they are similar not identical. The difference between identical and similarity: Identical means one thing and similarity is the state of being the same. With this Perry examines the likeliness of both Tommy and Sam surviving. It could be said that Tommy’s physical appearance is the same and Sam’s mental state is the same. If one survives physically and the other mentally both boys are one person. In the story the person who thought both boys would survive as one person was Dr. Nicholson because he says “They’ll give you custody of the child—your child, yours and theirs” to Mr. Vladek. This alludes to Dr. Nicholson’s opinion that both boys are one identical boy. Which is not the case because as stated above it Sam’s brain existing within Tommy’s body. Body transfer is the theory that when you pass away your soul goes into another body. There is no speculation that the body that will emerge from the operation will be Tommy’s. The body itself has changed because now it contains Sam’s brain. However, even though the body is Tommy’s because of the body transfer, the survivor would be Sam because his soul entered Tommy’s body. In the story Dr. Nicholson and Mr. Vladek think that body transfer is most likely to occur and it is exhibited when the doctor gives Mr. Vladek a “sales pitch” for Sam’s brain. Mr. Vladek later said “Is that supposed to make it easier for me to murder my son” (TP 191). Personal identity is a problem with the theory of body transfers. If we were to die our soul entered a different body who are we? What is our identity? “John Locke, in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding, answers these question through a situation-- if the soul of a prince, carrying with it the consciousness of the prince’s past life, entered the body of a cobbler. Who exists? Locke seems to think the person with the prince’s memories would be the prince, though he would have a lot of trouble convincing people he was not the cobbler”. (TP 197) This is true because people cannot physically see whose soul is in you. The next concept that Perry discusses is body theory. According to this theory the body...
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