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Abstract

This article seeks to undermine the two fundamental tenets of the traditional view of personal identity originally articulated by John Locke. One is the metaphysical claim that the self consists in a unified, continuous stream of consciousness, and the second is, the epistemological claim that introspection is a reliable method of apprehending the self. The paper considers psychologist Michael Gazzaniga’s research with split-brain patients, which reveals that the brain is highly modularized and that each hemisphere possesses a distinct stream of mental states that is superficially unified by the left-brain interpreter. These findings imply that consciousness is neither unified nor continuous. It then discusses behavioural studies conducted by Richard Nisbett and Timothy Wilson that demonstrate private introspective access to mental processes is far more limited than anticipated. Based on these findings, the paper makes two suggestions: 1) that the traditional view of personal identity is untenable, as is any view that relies on either of its tenets, and 2) that personal identity should be studied by means of naturalistic methods.

S.M.E. HARRISON is a fourth year student at Huron University College completing an Honours Double Major in English Language and Literature and Philosophy as well as the Scholar's Elective Program. In September 2015, she will begin attending McMaster University for her MA in English and Cultural Studies, where she has been awarded a CGS-M SSHRC.


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