The evidence question dominated the literature on personal identityfrom the 1950s to the 1970s (good examples include Shoemaker 1963,1970 and Penelhum 1967, 1970). It is important to distinguish it fromthe persistence question. What it takes for you to persist throughtime is one thing; how we might find out whether you have isanother. If the criminal had fingerprints just like yours, the courtsmay conclude that he is you. But even if that is conclusive evidence,having your fingerprints is not what it is for a past orfuture being to be you: it is neither necessary (you could survivewithout any fingers at all) nor sufficient (someone else could havefingerprints just like yours).
What matters in identity? What is the practicalimportance of facts about our persistence? Why doesit matter? What reason have you to care whether you yourselfcontinue to exist, rather than someone else just like you existing inyour place? Imagine that surgeons are going to put your brain into myhead and that neither of us has any choice about this. Suppose theresulting person will be in terrible pain after the operation unlessone of us pays a large sum in advance. If we were both entirelyselfish, which of us would have a reason to pay? Will the resultingperson—who will presumably think he is you—be responsiblefor your actions or for mine? (Or both, or neither?)
Persistence. What does it take for a person topersist from one time to another—to continue existing ratherthan cease to exist? What sorts of adventures is it possible, in thebroadest sense of the word ‘possible’, for you to survive,and what sort of event would necessarily bring your existence to anend? What determines which past or future being is you? Suppose youpoint to a child in an old class photograph and say, “That’sme.” What makes you that one, rather than one of the others?What is it about the way she relates then to you as you are now thatmakes her you? For that matter, what makes it the case that anyone atall who existed back then is you? This is sometimes called thequestion of personal identity over time. An answer to it is an accountof our persistence conditions.
This asks, in effect, what it takes for a past or future person to beyou. We have a person existing at one time and a person existing atanother, and the question is what is necessary and sufficient for themto be one person rather than two. (Such questions are said to concern“identity over time” because to say that xis y is to say that x and y areone—that is, numerically identical.)
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TRANSNATIONALISM, HOME AND IDENTITY: PERSONAL ESSAYSNatasha Garrett, PhD. University of Pittsburgh, 2011Through a collection of personal essays, this dissertation examines transnationalism as a contemporary mode of migration. The essays draw from my personal and professional experiences, as well as academic and literary sources, to create a collection that addresses significant aspects of the transnational experience, such as issues of identity, language, space/place and family, and explores the ways in which transnationalism as a postmodern phenomenon has transformed the perspective on those categories. The essay "Identifying Transnationalism and Transnational Identity," introduces the problem of identity for transnationals, both in the literature and in my personal life. The essay also examines how transnationals negotiate national/ethic and cultural identity. "Essay as Inquiry" is a discussion on the research method and a rationale for using the essay as a mode of inquiry when studying transnationalism. "International Students and Identity" suggests that the concept of transnationalism could be utilized to better illustrate and understand the experiences of international students in the United States. "Transnationalism and the Concept of Home" discusses the ways in which transnationals conceptualize space/place. In "Translating the Translator: Language, Poetry and Identity," the author draws from her experiences as a poetry translator to investigate issues of language and identity. Translation becomes a metaphor for understanding my own existence across two cultures. "Transnational Families" focuses on the changing family dynamics and the intra-generational relationships among transnational family members. The final essay, "Global Souls: Pico Iyer, Gogol Bordello and the Art of Academic Travel," discusses transnationalism as a source of global worldview and creative power.
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Those who ask 1 rather than 2 usually do so because they assume thatevery person is a person : nothing that is in fact aperson could possibly exist without being a person. (By contrast,something that is in fact a student could exist without being astudent: no student is essentially a student, and it would be amistake to inquire about the conditions of student identity by askingwhat it takes for a student existing at one time to be identical to astudent existing at another time.) This claim, “personessentialism”, implies that whatever is a person at one timemust be a person at every time when she exists, making the twoquestions equivalent. Person essentialism is a controversialmetaphysical claim, however. Combined with one of the usual accountsof personhood, it implies that you could not have been an embryo: atbest you may have come into being when the embryo that gave rise toyou developed certain mental capacities. Nor could you come to be ahuman vegetable. For that matter, it rules out our being biologicalorganisms, since no organism is a person essentially: every humanorganism starts out as an embryo and may end up in a vegetativestate.
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Whether we are organisms or were once embryos are substantivequestions that an account of personal identity ought to answer, notmatters to be settled in advance by the way we frame the debate. So itwould be a mistake to assume person essentialism at the outset. Askingquestion 1 prejudges the issue by favoring some accounts of what weare, and what it takes for us to persist, over others. It rules outboth animalism and the brute-physical view described in the nextsection. It is like asking which man committed the crime before rulingout the possibility that it might have been a woman.