I am not sure how familiar you are with the definition of social personality from Dennett. It consits of 6 steps, like you can read here.

(1) persons are rational. (2) they are the subjects of Intentional ascriptions. (3) a certain stance or attitude must be taken towards them, a point that introduces the idea that persons are, inter alia, moral objects. (4) they can reciprocate when such a stance is taken, which similarly introduces the idea that they are, inter alia, moral agents. (5) they are language users. Finally, (6) they have a special kind of consciousness, perhaps self-consiousness.

I've been to a seminar about digital Identity and philosophical personality. Now it's kind of an exercise to understand, why this Definition from Dennet doesn't work properly with digital Identities. (related to Social Networks etc.) It is the first time, that I am doing anything related to philosophy and I would love to get some hints or help on this.

Unfortunately my native language is german, so I hope I made my question clear.

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    Adding a definition of "digital identity" would help.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Commented Nov 22, 2015 at 18:11
  • I'm slightly lost as to the claim that "digital identity" itself engages in any of (1) - (6). could you better explain why you think so? It seems more likely that a social person uses digital means to do so. how does a "digital identity" (and not the person using it) "use language" or "reciprocate" or "have a special kind of consciousness"? If you could explain these better, it would make it clearer where they hang up is.
    – virmaior
    Commented Nov 23, 2015 at 14:55

2 Answers 2


As it became clearer by your comment to the answer of @JordonS: I think the difference is made through a notion of agency, while this difference is hard to sustain within Dennett's conceptual framework.

First, let me apply the definition to digital identity in common-sense terms:

(2) and (3) seem to be true, by mere being a representation of a person (or the conceiving of the digital identity as a representation of a person). Even if a digital identity would be generated without having a person that is represented by it, (2) and (3) would hold even if it was created and maintained by a computer.

(1) is arguably true as digital identity is created and maintained by rational entities (that could be computers) and so it is itself in some sense rational. It "acts" with regularities within judgements that can be expressed by rules.

(4) Even a computer could be programmed to parse comments etc. so that it is fulfilled independent of its creator and the problem of representation.

But what about (5) and (6)? It would indeed sound strange to say that a digital identity would itself be a language user. It is constituted by language, the creator speaks through it by language and so on. But the digital identity is not itself a user of language.
And especially (6) is hard to think of how this could work. Because a conciousness/self-conciousness would implicate a certain independence. But representation implicates a certain form of dependance on the represented that is hard to think as (self-)conciousness.

First conclusion: Using "common sense", applying will most probably result into a rejection of the idea that digital identities are persons.

Talking about Dennett:

But in terms of Dennett, it could not be freedom that constitutes a difference, because he rejects such a thing. So for him, it will be very hard to find anything independent. Everything is determite. Applied to the concept of persons, agency will loose its special feature. And therefore you have to differentiate:

Do you speak of an application of Dennett's definition of digital identity in common sense terms or in Dennett's terms?

Perhaps this is the problem behind Dennett's reductionalism: In his terms, the figure of a book is as good a "person" as we are. It would be totally determined (by the author), but "acts" like a self-concious being, moral actor and so on. So we cannot possibly know if we and our lifes are not "scripted" by a person of an "ontologically higher being" either, as we are determinate. It is philosophically poor to just say that there are metaphysical entities like this as we have no possibility whatsoever to state their truth, but there is no reason to reject the possibility of the existance of these entities either. That's the paradox that evolves out of his rejection of spontanity/freedom as part of (moral) agency.


So for Dennett, digital identities could be described as persons, following his definition. For the common sense, I think it is counter-intuitional. So you have to develop a positon of your own on this. Do you follow Dennett in determinism? If so, will there be any chance of not applying social personality in a full sense to digital identities?

  • I don't see how your conclusion follows given that you've rejected (6)
    – Dave
    Commented Nov 23, 2015 at 13:52
  • @Dave: I may have been unclear because I argued out of my own standpoint, not stating Dennett's position apart from that clearly enough. I will edit it to clarify the divergence.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Commented Nov 23, 2015 at 13:57

(As was commented) - What is digital identity to begin with? Perhaps this line of thought could be fruitful to inquire: If digital identity is the representation of a person upon digital medium (thus - a person's Facebook, email's exchange, blogs, etc) - then it so seems that the question at stake concerns whether or not all those 6 items you cite work with person's representation (rather than with the person herself).

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    Yes, with digital identity I mean the representation of a person through profiles of social networks etc., like you mentioned. Commented Nov 23, 2015 at 0:04
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    In which case then I think that point (1) and (6) you cite could be what draw difference between digital identity of a person and the person herself. Possibly that you could find direction to handle the assignment by appealing to philosophical analysis of representation and its limits: maybe the following links would be helpful: ->
    – Jordan S
    Commented Nov 23, 2015 at 0:22
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    – Jordan S
    Commented Nov 23, 2015 at 0:34

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