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032 Personal identity: mind, body, community
  1. R C Tallis

    Author information: Raymond Courteney Tallis BM BCh MA FRCP LittD (Hon Causa) DLItt (Hon Causa) F Med Sci FRSA Raymond Tallis was Professor of Geriatric Medicine at the University of Manchester and a consultant physician in Health Care of the Elderly in Salford. Most of his 200 research publications are in the field of neurology of old age (epilepsy and stroke) and neurological rehabilitation. In 2002 he was awarded the Dhole Eddlestone Prize; in 2006 the Founders Medal of the British Geriatrics Society; and in 2007, the Lord Cohen Gold Medal for Research into Ageing. He has published fiction, three volumes of poetry, and 18 books on the philosophy of mind, philosophical anthropology, literary theory, the nature of art, and cultural criticism. These offer a critique of current predominant intellectual trends and an alternative understanding of human consciousness, the nature of language and of what it is to be a human being.


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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