Failing Identity? Brain Disorders as a Test for Psychological and Philosophical Terminology

Document Type: 
ASSC Conference Item
Article Type: 
Clinical disorders
Personal Identity, Personality Disorder, Thoughtexperiment
Deposited by: 
M.A. Cordula Brand
Date of Issue: 
Event Dates: 
23-26 Jun 2006
Event Location: 
Event Title: 
10th annual meeting of the Association for the Scientific Study of Consiousness
Event Type: 
ASSC Conference
Presentation Type: 
This project combines classical philosophical theories on the phenomenon of personal identity with psychological theories of personality and scientific data concerning psychiatric disorders within an interdisciplinary terminological study. “Personal identity” is used as a technical term for the identity of one and the same person over a period of time. The classical philosophical discussion distinguishes three different criteria to determine personal identity. The substantial criterion, among others presented by Swinburne (1973), is less discussed nowadays. Two other criteria are confronted with three main problems. Firstly, neither the physiological nor the psychological criterion suffices to define personal identity. The psychological criterion originally developed by Locke (1689) fails to prevent duplication-cases, thus identification is impossible. The criterion of physiological identity, provided by Williams (1973), allows only a gradual relation with physiological continuity. That also impedes identification. Secondly, the difference between the first- and the third-person perspective is rarely considered. A third problem arises from methodological deficits concerning the frequently used thought experiments. In many cases they are not only counter intuitive, but also badly composed in different ways. This mainly applies to a fourth kind of theory, the reductive approach by Parfit (1971). Because of this difficulty there has been some effort to find a new strategy of argumentation. Studies by Wilkes (1988) and Northoff (2003) show how thought experiments can easily be substituted by real cases. A huge amount of examples is, e.g., provided by the so called “identity disorders”. We will present our own argumentation-strategy to show that real problem-cases can be used to test different criteria or theories of personal identity and that a biological criterion provides many satisfying answers. The other two problems in the personal identity discussion can be related to the theory of personality. In the philosophical debate of personal identity, many theories are based on a concept of personality lacking accurate definition. We attempt to gain more intelligibility regarding this term. Moreover, this might initiate a fresh discussion about personal identity as a means to understand the phenomenon of personality disorder philosophically and establish a modified biological criterion for personal identity.
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