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Self-identity and personal identity

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The key to understanding self-identity is identifying the transcendental structures that make a temporally extended, continuous, and unified experiential life possible. Self-identity is rooted in the formal, temporalizing structure of intentional experience that underlies psychological continuity. Personal identity, by contrast, is rooted in the content of the particular flow of experience, in particular and primarily, in the convictions adopted passively or actively in reflection by a self-identical subject in the light of her social and traditional inheritances. Secondarily, a person’s identity is rooted in others’ characterizations of that person in the light of the social conventions and constructs of the cultures and traditions that have shaped the personal identity of the ones who make the attributions. Personal identity, on this view, is fundamentally rooted in beliefs, traits—especially character traits—sentiments, and moods, that is, in the subject’s convictions about the true, the good, and the right—and in the commitments to the pursuit of (apparently) worthwhile goods and to the practical identities rooted in those convictions.

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  1. Consider the Brave Officer case: Suppose a boy of ten (A) is flogged for stealing apples from an orchard. At forty, a general (B) bravely takes a standard from the enemy and remembers his having been flogged at ten. At eighty, the general (C) remembers taking the standard, but he has forgotten having been flogged. On the memory version of personal identity, A is the same person as B, and B is the same person as C. But A is not the same person as C. This result, however, is contradictory, for the general (B=C) both is and is not the same the boy who was flogged (A); see Reid 2002, 276.

  2. I have discussed tradition at greater length in Drummond 2000.

  3. Husserl 1931, unpublished archival Ms. A VI 34, 19. I thank Julia Jansen, the Director of the Husserl Archives, Leuven, for permission to quote from Husserl’s unpublished manuscripts. Affective experience encompasses several related and interwoven, but non-identical, experiences and states: intentional feelings, emotions, affective traits, character traits, sentiments, and moods. See Drummond forthcoming for a more complete—but still incomplete—discussion of different kinds of affective experience.

  4. Husserl 1900–1914, unpublished archival Ms. M III 3 II 1, 29–30.


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Drummond, J.J. Self-identity and personal identity. Phenom Cogn Sci 20, 235–247 (2021).

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