Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2015

Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Bruce A. Russell


Since the entire discussion of personal identity revolves around the identity of a person it is difficult to address these issues without presupposing that identity is maintained. In this dissertation, I propose an alternative approach to discussing the topic of personal identity (at least initially). This alternative approach is from the perspective of what I call ‘continuance’. I use ‘continuance’ to refer to some kind of ‘continuing life’ that is embodied in some person or persons. The term will be used as a neutral term for discussing the continuity of a person without any implications of identity. That is, in some cases, continuance will refer to a continuing life of one person but in other cases it will refer to a continuing life of some other person. In the literature on personal identity up until now, there has been no such neutral term. As a result, when considering the various cases, it is difficult to talk about the resulting person in those cases without presupposing that he is identical with the original person. The use of the term ‘continuance’ will allow us to talk of the resulting person without such presuppositions.

Most theories of personal identity can be grouped into two main types: physical and psychological. These theories place the determining factor of whether or not a person persists on physical continuity and psychological continuity, respectively. We can address them in terms of continuance in the same manner. The question then becomes: what kinds of continuance are necessary and sufficient for persistence? I argue that neither a purely physical nor a purely psychological continuance theory are sufficient for persistence. Rather, persistence requires both a physical component as well as a psychological component. I argue that the physical substratum requirement is satisfied by continuance of at least part of the brain. Regarding the psychological component, I argue that memory, although sufficient, is not necessary. This is because I believe that what I call ‘Frankfurtian continuance’ (a continuance theory inspired by Harry Frankfurt’s “self” involving higher-order desires and volitions) is also sufficient.

I then address split-brain (fission) cases. Most psychological continuity theorists take what is called a “non-branching” approach to split-brain cases. This allows them to claim that a person will survive if only one half of their brain is transplanted, but if both halves are, then neither of the resulting persons are identical to the original. My view is slightly different. I argue that branching is acceptable provided that transplanting the other half takes place after a sufficiently long period of time has passed.

Finally, I address Parfit’s very influential work on personal identity. He argues that identity itself does not matter. Although I concede this point, I offer many extrinsic considerations for why identity matters. These considerations are not intended to show that identity itself matters, but they do show that there are numerous contingent reasons why one may prefer a scenario in which they do survive over one in which they do not.

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Philosophy Commons