Abstract: Many of the difficulties of pinning down personal identity result from conflating different aspects of this rather complex notion. We need to tease out these different aspects so that we shall see it in the round, and grasp what is fundamental, what underpins all the various aspects of identity that are highlighted in different circumstances. First, there is my sense of who and what I am at any given time; and, secondly, there is my sense of being the same who or the same what over time. These subjective dimensions in turn have many elements, and I will examine these. I will argue that this question about the endurance of personal identity over time, while important, and a main theme of this talk, is not the fundamental question. Fully to address it, to grasp the essence of personal identity, we need to understand the sense of self, at any particular time. There are also what we might call “external” aspects of identity: those characteristics by which I am identified and classified by others, or by myself, taking an objective view on myself. It is these that supply objective criteria for my being counted, recognised, acknowledged as such and such a kind of person and as the same person on different occasions. They are closer to what is utilised in identification. They underpin my claim to be identical with Raymond Tallis, a person others have met before, of whom certain things can be expected, who has rights, duties, possessions and so on. Identity cards underline the link between identity and entitlements. These external aspects also fall short of being fundamental: they would not have any meaning without the subjective aspect of identity. The (in my view erroneous) primary focus on identity over time and (the equally erroneous) focus on external criteria for identity both distract from the core of the matter—the experience “That I am…” It explains, what is more, the tendency among some contemporary philosophers, to reduce personal identity to impersonal facts; to imagine that a third-person account will reveal the true nature of first-person being. Once this is appreciated, it will be seen that personal identity requires not only psychological continuity but also bodily stability. The talk will put forward an account of personal identity that combines both of these features.
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