Social Philosophy and Policy



PERSONAL IDENTITY AND POSTMORTEM SURVIVAL


Stephen E.  Braude  a1
a1 Philosophy, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

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Abstract

The so-called “problem of personal identity” can be viewed as either a metaphysical or an epistemological issue. Metaphysicians want to know what it is for one individual to be the same person as another. Epistemologists want to know how to decide if an individual is the same person as someone else. These two problems converge around evidence from mediumship and apparent reincarnation cases, suggesting personal survival of bodily death and dissolution. These cases make us wonder how it might be possible for a person to survive death and either temporarily or permanently animate another body. And they make us wonder how we could decide if such postmortem survival has actually occurred. In this essay I argue, first, that metaphysical worries about postmortem survival are less important than many have supposed. Next, I'll consider briefly why cases suggesting postmortem survival can be so intriguing and compelling, and I'll survey our principal explanatory options and challenges. Then, I'll consider why we need to be circumspect in our appraisal of evidence for mind-body correlations. And finally, I'll try to draw a few tentative and provocative conclusions.



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