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Personal Identity and Psychological Reductionism

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Personal Identity and Psychological Reductionism

When we tackle the question of 'What makes us the individual persons that we are?', one approach that we can take is to seek an answer to the question of what it is that is required for a person to continue to exist over time. If we could agree on what is required for it to be true that you continued to exist, then we would have good grounds to believe that we had discovered what makes someone the particular person they are, and by extension, what makes any person the person they are. In essence, what we are searching for are the necessary and sufficient conditions for personal identity over time.

In this essay we will focus on the claim that it is in fact, only the psychological characteristics of a person that are essential to personal identity over time. These characteristics include memory, beliefs, intentions and personality. It might also be the case that persons require some kind of body, or at least a physical means of sustaining thought, but it is the thought, not the physical basis of it, which matters. This stance, known as 'Psychological Reductionism', argues that all other features, be it physical or otherwise, are neither necessary nor sufficient for personal identity over time.

Looking at the history of Psychological Reductionism may be useful in helping us understand how this view came to be considered as a possible model for personal identity over time.

Descartes, in a way, set the scene for Psychological Reductionism by identifying thinking as the essential characteristic of the 'self'. His famous "I think therefore I am" placed at the core of the 'I' the capacity to think. However, by no stretch of the imagination, could we label Descartes a Psyc...

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