• Body and Soul introduction

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Problems with Personal Identity

Parable of the Cobbler and the Prince

The philosopher John Locke told a story of a cobbler and a prince who woke up one day to find themselves in each other’s body. The cobbler ‘woke up’ in the palace and realising this wanted to explain he had not broken in but could not say exactly how he got there. However, he had the appearance of the prince and so people did not understand his concerns. Similarly the prince ‘woke up’ to find himself in the body of the cobbler and demanded to be taken back to the palace. As he had the appearance of the cobbler we can appreciate the problems this too would have raised. The issue Locke was seeking to address was what constituted the cobbler or the prince (or what made them who they were)? Was it their body (appearance) or their mind (memory)?

Locke's story highlights some key problems associated with wanting to maintain that there is a continued 'personal' (individual) existence after death.

Personal Identity Criteria

How can we establish the criteria that can be used for identifying and re identifying persons? On what bases can someone, exist in the afterlife be identified with someone who once lived on earth? The parable of the cobbler and the prince identifies this problem. However there are 3 approaches to this problem:

Memory Criterion: The given person in the next life is identical to a given person in this life. If there is evidence of a continuation of memory then the person is the same.

Bodily criterion:' Argue that X is identical with y if and only if X and Y have the same body at 2 different times

• Some philosophers hold that there are certain objections to all theories of personal identity that cannot be met. So these philosophers no longer talk about personal identity in cases of survival of death. Instead of asking whether some X in the afterlife will be identical to some Y who lives now they asked whether X is the closest continuer of Y.

Problems with Continuity of Memory

If establishing what makes a person a person is at the heart of the debate about life after death, then the second issue is how you can test that the person x you have established as person x is genuinely the same person x after death. This brings us into the area of the criteria necessary for establishing a person as the same person over time. This part of the debate is known as the Continuity Criteria issue.


Argues that essentially what makes a person identifiable over time is the following:

• Evidence of a continuity of memory.

• Evidence of same personality traits and psychological disposition

• Awareness that you are the same person and others recognize you as the same person; this may include a body or not. If any of these strands are broken then a theory of life after death is unsound.


This is specifcally revision notes for Body and soul as part of the Philosophy module in the OCR Religious Studies exam. This note in particular Identifies the problems with a body/ sould distinction. For the main notes click here.

Note however this can be used for other purposes as well.

This was created by Chrisateen

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