What Makes up Personal Identity?

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What makes up personal identity? This question was first posed within Dan Dennett’s, “Where am I?” When it comes to personal identity there are two things people fixate on, which is the brain and body. We see that many philosophers engage in this argument of whether the brain or body makes you a person. Till this day, there isn’t a right or direct answer to this question, and this is why a plethora of philosophers speak out about their opinions on personal identity. What is personal identity? Personal identity can be described as things in your life that are given to at one time that you can’t control such as skin color, race, and ethnicity. The definition of personal identity then poses the question about what makes a person a person. Within Dennett’s article, he explains his take on what makes a person through his journey to disarm a nuclear device. Within my essay, I will discuss what makes a person a person whether it is the brain, body, or point of view.

Within Dennett’s “Where am I” we see that he is on a mission to disarm a nuclear device. In the article, Dennett has to leave behind his brain as the mission could harm it. So scientist figured out a way to leave Dennett’s brain (Yorick), back in the lab while his body (Hamlet), goes on to perform the mission. Dennett goes through with the surgery to remove his brain; however, Dennett’s brain and body are still connected by a switch. While Dennett’s on his mission, the question of where is Dennett is proposed. Some people might say that Dennett is where his brain is. This person is presumed to be a Bundle Theorist. A bundle theorist believes that mental events such as experience are the things that make up a person. The bundle theory can be supported by the process of teletransportation as well as the split brain case. The teletransportation process and the split brain case both explain that the body is useless and doesn’t make a person. Instead, the brain and its eternal thoughts and experiences help to build a person. However, philosopher Parfit would argue that the split brain theory can’t even prove anything in regards to personal identity. The split brain case is the process of splitting one's brain in half and putting them into different bodies. Parfit has an issue with this because although it’s the same brain each side could perceive things differently. For example, the left hemisphere might see the color blue while the right side sees red. Parfit states that although it is the same brain it can’t explain personal identity if the hemispheres are having different experiences. Parfit being a bundle theorist he basis the foundation of personal identity on experiences and mental events. With all this being said, the opposite of the bundle theory is the ego theory. The ego theory is the belief that the body is the foundation of what makes a person. Ego theorist also believes that mental events and things of such nature don’t make up a person. While most people fall in between being a bundle or ego theorist, Dennett disagrees with both theories.

Dennett argues that neither the mind or body make up a person. In the article, he begins by stating why the body wasn’t important with personal identity. He begins by stating the claim “where Hamlet goes Dennett goes.” He begins to explain that this theory is easily refuted by philosopher because of the brain transplant theory. He goes on to explain that if two people switch their brains, and were put into different bodies that person would undeniably still be the same person, but in a different body. This is when Dennett comes to the conclusion that he can separate himself from his body, but not his brain. Dennett goes on to explain why the brain doesn’t make up personal identity. The explanation of why the brain isn’t apart of personal identity was quite hard to understand; however, once broken down it can be understood. Dennett once again introduces another claim. This claim is “where Yorick goes Dennett goes.” Immediately, Dennett refutes this claim as he feels as though how can he not go anywhere when he is looking at his brain through a vat at this point in the article. He began with a scenario, and he states what if he went to California and robbed a bank would he be tried in Texas because his brain is there or would he be tried in California where he has committed the crime. He furthers this by implying that Yorick, his brain gets put into jail, while his body Hamlet is set free. Dennett proves that the brain isn’t important to personal identity because if the brain were to get arrested and punished then the body would be out having a great life, while the brain suffers in prison. When in doubt, the body has committed the actions and the brain has nothing to do with those actions. At this point, Dennett has proved why he disagrees with both the brain and body as factors to explain personal identity.

After Dennett goes through why he doesn’t believe in both the brain and body to define personal identity he makes his own opinion on what he believes. Dennett believes that the foundation of personal identity lies within point of view. He even says that point of view deals with personal location. Dennett feels that a person can switch back and forth from different points of views. He even goes on to say that he feels that he can train himself to see the point of view of his two brains. In addition, he feels that if he were to have been practicing before his brain was removed, his point of view would’ve been second nature to him.

Similar to Dennett, philosopher Parfit, showcased his opinion about what defines personal identity. Although, Dennett and Parfit don’t necessarily agree they both had different ways of approaching what personal identity was. Parfit made it known that he didn’t agree with the Ego theory so much that he said it’s was nonsense. He felt this way after the use of the teletransportation process was introduced. Within the teletransportation process, a person would go into the machine after having their brain removed, and from there a replica would be made of that person with their brain. Him being a bundle theorist he felt as though the replica was still the same person. However, the Ego theory wouldn’t say it’s the same person as the bodies had been switched. This is quite the opposite of Dennett’s use of point of view. He feels as though he can switch between both of his brains. This is while Parfit, argues that if your brain is put into someone’s body it is still you; however, Parfit never touches on the use of switching between two brains. However, we see that both philosophers show that the body isn't imported, but rather the brains are a key factor when discussing personal identity.

All in all, I believe that personal identity is a very controversial topic when discussed amongst philosophers. Each theory and belief provides great evidence to support its claim. If I must say, I believe that the bundle theory is the most plausible. The reason being that I believe the brain holds everything from memories to each experience, and without these things a person wouldn’t be the same.

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What Makes up Personal Identity?. (2020, Jun 26). Retrieved June 25, 2024 , from

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