I understand psychological continuity as view that only preservation of psyche is important in determining if somebody survived or not. Like if my body, including the brain, is gradually replaced by robotic parts one by one, will I survive in the end, when the whole body will be replaced by robotic parts? Psychological continuity says "yes" if my psyche survive said body transformation.

Holding such view in the mind, let's take on another problem. Suppose Ivan is a zealous (Soviet-style) communist. Communism-related beliefs became integral part of his personality and consequently, his life. His best friends are zealous communists like him, he takes part in protests, volunteers and donates money for communist cause, votes for communists.

Now suppose he decided to challenge his communist beliefs. He started reading books that try to debunk said beliefs. And he found out said books completely destroyed all his communist beliefs. He then started reading books on views that were in opposition with his previously held beliefs. Out of several alternatives he was mostly convinced by ones that were promoting ideas of Anarcho-capitalism, with unregulated Free Market and unfettered capitalism, with abolition of the State and replacement of all State services, like law enforcement, with private agents.

Can we say, that from the point of view of psychological continuity, Ivan commited suicide? Communist beliefs were supposedly integral part of Ivan's character. But they aren't just no more, Ivan believes completely opposite things from now on.

  • This is definitely not what psychological reductionism means. It is closer to psychological continuity view of personal identity, and is problematic. The "suicide" idea is even more problematic because "radical" changes in all sorts of dynamic processes may well be inherent in the dynamics itself, small changes reach a tipping point and cause a major shift. There is no reason why this can not happen to psyche. Some sort of memory wipe or mind control would fit better.
    – Conifold
    Jun 13, 2019 at 7:12
  • Did Ivan believe that his name was "Ivan"? Does he still believe that? In practice there are likely zillions more such viz Who are his parents? Where he was born?
    – Rushi
    Jun 13, 2019 at 7:16
  • An implicit premiss of your reasoning is that "core beliefs" are integral to psychology, by "core" you mean "necessary". Psychological continuity seems a bit different from psychological nature, since you could take the example for physiological continuity and physiological nature to see that, to the degree of an approximation, one might lose an organ and remain "alive". Going back to your implicit premiss, the question becomes "how core can a belief be ?", leading to : "is a radical change of beliefs comparable to a suicide if said individual maintains some psychological activity after it ?"
    – Gloserio
    Jun 13, 2019 at 9:15
  • Suicide carries an implication of irreversible change. While Ivan can hold beliefs, those beliefs can change... So, no.
    – christo183
    Jun 13, 2019 at 11:07

1 Answer 1


I'm not sure that one can in any direct way voluntarily change one's beliefs. I can't decide to believe that my front door is green rather than black; and I can't decide to believe in Papal Infallibility as I might choose to light a cigarette. There are elements of voluntarinesss in belief (as e.g. in self deception) but not, I think, elements that reinforce your position.

I think there is an ambiguity in your use of 'integral'. If Ivan's communist beliefs are integral to his personality in the sense that they are central to Ivan's self-image and explanatory of Ivan's behaviour, then Ivan can abandon those beliefs and remain Ivan - but Ivan with a different set of central beliefs.

In contrast if you take 'integral' as meaning 'definitory' of Ivan's personality, it follows trivially that if Ivan abandons his central beliefs, he ceases to exist as Ivan. 'Suicide' would be a dramatic metaphor for this transformation but no more than a metaphor.

  • By voluntary I meant without being, say, hypnotized into believing things by somebody. Jun 13, 2019 at 11:17
  • Thanks for clarification. G
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Jun 13, 2019 at 11:53
  • Also, are you sure that beliefs can ever be definitory for personality? Maybe using beliefs (no matter how important) to define Ivan is as wrong as trying to define the personality of a particular person by their hairstyle Jun 13, 2019 at 14:25
  • I don't accept that 'beliefs can ever be definitory for personality'. The view that they are is one horn of a dilemma to which I take your argument to be exposed. If certain beliefs are definitory of personality then any abandonment of any such beliefs would extinguish personality, which would no longer satisfy the definition. This is trivially true. On the other hand, if beliefs are merely central to Ivan's self-image and explanatory of Ivan's behaviour, then abandonment of those beliefs would leave Ivan the same personality but the same personality with different beliefs.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Jun 13, 2019 at 20:20

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .