One of the most important questions in modern philosophy concerns the notion of ‘identity’. Famous scholars such as Bertrand Russell, John Locke, and Sam Miller have long pondered what it is that makes someone unique, and the accompanying qualities that build the “soul” and mind.

“Who I am?” is a question that has preoccupied philosophers for centuries. Miller, in the late 19th century, speculated that he was the soul that set him apart from others. As he was aware of the decomposition of the human body over time, he speculated that there must be something about him and others that was consistent regardless of time and place.

When she tried to comfort a dying friend, Gretchen Weirob, she stated that she believed that the soul is the core of identity and that there must be an afterlife, as the soul is not controlled by time.

Weirob, in rebuttal, created one of the most famous counterarguments to the “soul” identity hypothesis. She claimed:

(1) If the identity of people is in their immaterial and unobservable souls, when we make a judgment about another, we are actually judging their immaterial and unobservable souls.

(2) If such judgments were on immaterial and unobservable souls, those judgments would be unfounded and without foundation.

(3) People’s judgments about others are not always unfounded and groundless.

(4) We should not be judging immaterial and unobservable souls.

(5) A soul is not what makes a person.

Similarly, John Locke disagreed with Miller’s soul hypothesis, arguing instead that one’s identity was held within their consciousness, specifically within memories. Since memories were an objective experience that was totally unique to a specific person and not subject to change over time, Locke hypothesized that this was where one’s identity lay.

(1) A person considered at a given moment is the same person considered at a different moment, if and only if they contain the same memories.

However, Locke ran into the problem of people forgetting memories. For example, according to Locke’s original hypothesis, a baby and an adult would be different beings, since they would not share the same memories, since the adult would struggle to remember life at the age of two.

Therefore, Locke revised his memory hypothesis as follows:

(1) A person considered at one point in time is the same person as one considered at another point in time, if and only if there is an overlapping chain of memories connecting them to each other.

It is thus that an old man is the same person as himself at thirty, who is the same person as himself at fifteen, who is himself at eight, and so on. The overlapping chain of memories is a sufficient requirement to indicate equality in being, and it satisfied Locke’s questions about the notion of identity.


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