Putting your money where your self is: Connecting dimensions of closeness and theories of personal identity

Jan K. Woike*, Philip Collard, Bruce Hood

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

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Studying personal identity, the continuity and sameness of persons across lifetimes, is notoriously difficult and competing conceptualizations exist within philosophy and psychology. Personal reidentification, linking persons between points in time is a fundamental step in allocating merit and blame and assigning rights and privileges. Based on Nozick’s (1981) closest continuer theory we develop a theoretical framework that explicitly invites a meaningful empirical approach and offers a constructive, integrative solution to current disputes about appropriate experiments. Following Nozick, reidentification involves judging continuers on a metric of continuity and choosing the continuer with the highest acceptable value on this metric. We explore both the metric and its implications for personal identity. Since James (1890), academic theories have variously attributed personal identity to the continuity of memories, psychology, bodies, social networks, and possessions. In our experiments, we measure how participants (N = 1, 525) weighted the relative contributions of these five dimensions in hypothetical fission accidents, in which a person was split into two continuers. Participants allocated compensation money (Study 1) or adjudicated inheritance claims (Study 2) and reidentified the original person. Most decided based on the continuity of memory, personality, and psychology, with some consideration given to the body and social relations. Importantly, many participants identified the original with both continuers simultaneously, violating the transitivity of identity relations. We discuss the findings and their relevance for philosophy and psychology and place our approach within the current theoretical and empirical landscape.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0228271
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number2
Early online date12 Feb 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 12 Feb 2020

Structured keywords

  • Developmental
  • Cognitive Science

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