Philosophy of Mind Term Paper

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Philosophy of Mind

Is bodily continuity necessary for personal identity?"

In order to approach and deal with the central question in this paper, one first has to ascertain the approximate meaning of identity, as well as the way that the term 'personal identity" is understood. The issue of identity is one fraught with philosophical as well as psychological questions and interpretations; for example, epistemological as compared to metaphysical perceptions.

A primary view of identity is as follows: "...Identity is standardly characterized as a relation: the relation that each item bears to itself. "(Belshaw and Price) According to Chris Belshaw and Carolyn Price in their study, Personal Identity, the definition of identity as relationship has two important asepcts. The first is termed the "all-or-nothing "requirement. This refers to the view of identity, which emphasizes that, "...identity is an all-or-nothing matter, not a matter of degree. Two items can be more or less similar to each other, but a single item cannot be more or less identical to itself. It simply is identical to itself" (Belshaw and Price).

The second aspect is the transitivity requirement. This refers to the view that the relationship of identity is transitive. In the light of this interpretation of identity,

..if a is identical to B, and B. is identical to C, then a is identical to C. For example, if Kirk is the captain of the Enterprise, and if the captain of the Enterprise is Spock's best friend, then Kirk is Spock's best friend.

Belshaw and Price, p. 61).

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These two views play an important role in the debate about the meaning of identity and particularly with regard to the debate about the significance of the body in the understanding of continuity in personal identity. The debate about identity is also made more complex by distinguishing between numerical identity and qualitative identity. In qualitative identity, for instance, "Two items are qualitatively identical if they are exactly similar - if they have all their properties in common" (Belshaw and Price, p.69). There are also other complicating factors, such as metaphysical issues that relate identity to the more abstruse concept of "being."

Term Paper on Philosophy of Mind Assignment

An extremely important concern that should be borne in mind in this discussion of the question, "Is bodily continuity necessary for personal identity?" is the aspect of change and the problem of identity over time. This posits the following important question that has to be taken into account.

How much can an individual change and yet remain the same individual? Are there particular kinds of change that an individual cannot undergo without ceasing to exist?

What we ordinarily think, then, is that something can change over time and yet remain the same thing.

Belshaw and Price. P.4)

This leads to many other questions concerning the issue of identity over time, such as; to what extent can a person undergo change and still retain his or her identity. Another important question that forms part of the problematics of identity continuity is, "If someone's mind is suddenly and radically changed, does the original person simply disappear, to be replaced by someone else? (Belshaw and Price. P.4).

All of these questions relate to the issue of what constitutes identity. Theorists have wrestled with issues such as, what are the indictors of personal identity and, is personal identity indicated by psychological or physical aspects.

2. The body-mind dilemma identity

As noted in the study by Belshaw and Price, central to the debate about personal identity is the belief in the duality or the division between body and mind. This duality has created a problem area in the discourse on this subject. As the authors state, the question of personal identity tends to focus on issue of mind and question such as, can I survive amnesia? On the other hand the issue of identity in many theories is also related to the body, with questions such as, can I survive the replacement of all my body parts?

These differences in weighting and perception motivated by the mind-body split are also seen in theoretical perception of personal identity. This leads to a central area of concern in the literature; namely, bodily continuity and psychological continuity. In terms of the bodily continuity approach "...personal identity is equated with bodily continuity: I survive so long as my body survives. (Belshaw and Price. P.71). A more formal representation of identity from this perspective is as follows. "...where x and y are people, x is the same person as y if and only if x's body is continuous with y's body" (Belshaw and Price. p. 71).

The psychological stance is "...where x and y are people, x is the same person as y if and only if x's psychological states are continuous with y's psychological states. (Belshaw and Price. P.71). However, as will be discussed in the following section, what has to be borne in mind is that both these positions are abstract or artificial to a certain extent. The question also arises in the literature as to whether the division between mind and body is representative of reality or if it is in reality an academic abstraction.

3. Bernard Williams and Derek Parfit

These questions and theoretical trajectories lead to the theories of Bernard Williams and Derek Parfit. These theorists differ to a certain degree in terms of the perceived importance of the body in the question of personal identify and its continuance as a criterion of identity.

Bernard Williams on the one hand tends to favor the view that bodily continuance is important in the understanding of personal identity; while the view of Derek Parfit tends towards the acceptance of psychological continuity as the core of personal identity. However, it should also be noted that neither of these theorists offer simple or simplistic views about identity and there are many areas of complexity and ambiguity to their theoretical stances - as might be expected in a subject as philosophically convoluted as personal identity. The different theorists also have certain philosophical predilections that influence their attitude towards the question of personal identity; such as the anti-utilitarian attitude evinced by Williams.

Parfit's view is that psychological continuity, "... is close to being a criterion of Identity" (Belshaw and Price, p.88).

In essence, this view refers to the following hypothetical stance. "Parfit is using the term in its metaphysical sense: in this sense, X is a criterion of Y if X is sufficient for Y. So if psychological continuity is a criterion of personal identity, then psychological continuity is sufficient for personal identity" (Belshaw and Price, p.88).

It is important to note that at the start of his paper, Personal Identity (1971), Parfit make a distinction between the nature of personal identity and the importance of personal identity. " My targets are two beliefs: one about the nature of personal identity, the other about its importance" (p. 421). This distinction is significant as Parfit theorizes against the importance of personal identity when it is seen in a narrow sense and suggests that what is of central concern regarding the issue of continuity is the extension of psychological identity. In other words, the body, when it is construed in terms of the importance of identity, is not as significant as the psychological extension of life or being. In essence this refers to the view that, while it cannot account for the transitivity of identity, "...Parfit thinks that... even if psychological continuity is only close to providing a criterion of identity, it can be a ground for speaking of identity when it is one-one"

(Belshaw and Price, p.88).

In order to illustrate this point, Parfit refers to a hypothetical scenario where subject a has his brain divided into two separate bodies, B and C. This leads to the following assertion.

Parfit believes that half a brain can sustain consciousness, memory and character, and can function so as both to respond to and to control the body in which it is housed. So, he thinks, there is no reason to doubt that B. And C. are people. But who are they exactly? And what has happened to a? As Parfit says, there seem to be three possibilities: (i) a does not survive at all; (ii) a survives as either B. Or C; (iii) a survives as both B. And C.

(Belshaw and Price, p.88)

As a result of these speculations, Parfit comes to the conclusion that the importance of identity is the issue that should be questioned. The last scenario (iii) becomes a possibility for Parfit. "if a is identical to both B. And C, then B. must be identical to C. Clearly, though, B and C. are separate people, living separate and, as time goes on, increasingly different lives" (Belshaw and Price, p.88).

However, the type of thinking that leads Parfit to this conclusion is the important aspect. His thinking suggests that in terms of the hypothetical scenario and consideration of the variables in the continuity of personal identity, an answer to the question of personal identity can be… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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APA Style

Philosophy of Mind.  (2008, April 26).  Retrieved February 23, 2020, from

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"Philosophy of Mind."  26 April 2008.  Web.  23 February 2020. <>.

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"Philosophy of Mind."  April 26, 2008.  Accessed February 23, 2020.