I'm sure these kinds of questions fall within some fairly central fields of philosophy: what makes "me now" and "me 10 seconds, months, or decades ago", the same person? In what sense are these "the same person" and when would we be justified to treat them (fully or to an extent) as different people? It can't be continuity of self, because we hold that a person is "the same person" even after a discontinuity (change of consciousness, belief, physical body..). How do we distinguish "It was me but I wasn't the same then/I wasn't responsible for myself" from "It wasn't me period".

(As a side issue, one argument more heard societally is, are there times when "that wasn't me!" (the me-that-is-now) is a legitimate argument or defence for a poor choice or action at another time? Relevant wiki article)

I'm curious to learn more about the different philosophical perspectives on this that are raised, but I'm not sure how to look it up or any key words or major perspectives to look for.

A starter in this area would let me explore more by myself. Thanks!


To answer the question in the title directly, metaphysics and philosophy of mind are the two areas of philosophy that deal with the question of personal identity. (One might argue that philosophy of mind is itself a subfield of metaphysics).

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has a pretty good entry on the question of personal identity.

Also, see these posts for relevant discussion and references:

https://philosophy.stackexchange.com/a/33967/13808 ,


How can a stream of thoughts and perceptions have freewill?,

and https://philosophy.stackexchange.com/a/34287/13808.

And check out Douglas Hofstadter's "I am a Strange Loop".

  • I love Douglas Hofstadter. I was recommended Godel Escher Bach as a young teen to give me something to chew on instead of getting bored - it was a blaze of wonderfulness at that age. – Stilez Jul 10 '17 at 21:33
  • That first paper is a gorgeous comment on the question. I confess to being strongly influenced by Hofstadter's view that assumptions about intelligence, determinism and emergent phenomenae must be considered more carefully in the context of a system with sufficient complexity, chaotic behaviour or self reference, to be opaque to our understanding. I'm not sure where that puts me. Also not sure yet whether concepts applied are adequate, similar to how "edge" or "inside/outside" become fuzzy close up. Perhaps "person" is a term that looks clear only from far away? – Stilez Jul 11 '17 at 2:42
  • Alexander gives a good answer but it is very narrow. For a full investigation of your questions you would need to go beyond the Western academic world, where speculation rules, and read people who actually study these things 'first-hand'. Maybe have a look at the philosophy of Buddhism and the metaphysics of Nagarjuna, or any source that speaks from experience rather than guesswork. . – PeterJ Jul 11 '17 at 11:43
  • @PeterJ - If you actually followed the links I posted, and saw the references I mentioned, you would realize that I do bring up Buddhist Philosophy. – Alexander S King Jul 11 '17 at 14:37
  • @Alexander - Maybe I was too quick off the mark. I was misled by your opening sentence, which mentions two conjectural methods for answering the question but not the obvious one, which is to go and look. This would give us three specialist areas, each with its own literature and methods- philosophy of mind, metaphysics and direct experience or 'mysticism'. But then, I'm one of those who would make philosophy of mind a sub-field of metaphysics. – PeterJ Jul 11 '17 at 17:09

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