A new look at personal identity
In his article, “A New Look at Personal Identity,” Michael Allen Fox, argues his opinion on the feisty historic debate about physical and psychological continuity views on personal identity (Fox, 2007). Hebrings in his view of the “self-developed by existential philosophy” as what makes a person. He does not invalidate the original views but says that the issue of what makes a person remains a task for philosophers to investigate.
Fox wants to handle the often tricky dilemma of personal identity that has been tackled by philosophers since time immemorial.
He identifies some questions to solve; “Who am I?” and “Might I be a very different person in the future?” He begins by stating that according to most responses, the conclusion boils down to either the soul or the body. He says that one cannot find ‘you’ or ‘I’in the soul, but it is easy to associate it with something tangible like the body.
He goes on to state the grounds for the belief of the first group; that we are souls and that we do not change. He counters it by introducing the belief that for something to exist it is imperative for to be able to locate in space and time. He then introduces the philosophers’ dominant stance on the subject that the soul is non-existent (Hamilton, 1995).
Seeking to find out whether the philosophers are right, Fox looks at history and resolves that people either believe in physical or psychological continuity as what makes a person. He says that according to the former, someone never changes as they have had the same body since their birth. To support the argument, he recounts an ancient enigma called ‘The Ship of Theseus.’ He states that Theseus was the king and that gradually his whole ship’sparts got replacement so that no part of it remained as the first. He further says that this is the philosophers’ basis of their argument; that incremental replacement occurs on the gut, the epidermis, red blood cells, bone and muscles. He also introduces organ transplant to strengthen on their claim. He goes on to say that the cerebral and visual cortex never regenerate and concludes that the most important parts of us do not change in relation to the subject at hand. He also introduces the concept of the DNA as another hurdle to the physical approach. He explains that as unique as the DNA is, it does not form part of all our body; only ten percent of the body DNA resides in our cells. He questions why philosophers have not ventured to use DNA as one of thebase of individual continuity.
The decision point comes when Fox discredits the latter approach as ancient and introduces the view of the “self-developed by existential philosophy” as an alternative. He argues that “a self or person is what it does,” an activity, what he or she does daily, by their means of choices and actions. He calls it the ‘continuity of responsible action’(Fox, 2007). He concludes by saying the matter is one that remains one for philosophy to investigate.
The article tries to elucidate on the subject of what makes a person. However, Fox was unable to give a rigid conclusion and left the matter open to discussion. Although he elucidated on physical continuity, I think that he should not have discredited psychological continuity; additional explanation should have been made to let the reader decide for themselves.
Is the author’s view the best alternative among the three?
Should philosophers continue their research on physical continuity?
Hamilton, A. (1995). A new look at personal identity. The Philosophical Quarterly, 332-349.
Fox, M. A. (2007). A new look at personal identity. Philosophy Now, 62, 10-11.