Daniel Dennett’s and John Perry’s contrasting views on the nature of individual identity

Being the same person from one day to the next means to carry forward a whole complex of characteristics across time. This essay will argue that self-identity is constituted of three key components, namely, mind, brain and body. Based on the essays by John Perry and Daniel Dennett, it can loosely be stated that individual identity is primarily a concept of the mind, with the brain and the body providing supporting physiology. Though the role of brain and body are secondary, they are nonetheless essential to self-identity.

Daniel Dennett and John Perry address two facets to the question of identity. Dennett’s preoccupation is with various manifestations of identity during an individual’s lifetime. Perry, on the other hand, treats the idea of the self in the backdrop of mortality and impending death.

Weirob identifies qualities of memory and anticipation as key markers of identity. In the context of mortality, an individual’s afterlife can be spoken of only as a continuation of his collected memories. Moreover, the possibility of meeting future expectations (anticipation) is a precondition to any meaningful sense of afterlife. As Weirob elucidates to his religiously-minded friend Miller, soul as a transferable entity across physical bodies is a vain idea. In other words, if the soul is thought to exist after an individual’s mortal remains have perished, one might as well believe that soul-transplant operations can be done when the individual is alive. The impossibility of the latter suggests the impossibility of the former idea.

I think Weirob’s observations are spot-on. By taking a practical, reasonable approach, readers are disabused of all esoteric speculations on extra-mortal identity. Identity, then, is fairly construed to be a function of body-mind, whose integrity is maintained through mechanisms of bio-chemistry and cognition. It can be summed up as ‘I have a body and therefore I exist’. Moreover, the act of proclaiming the ‘I’ indicates the presence of the mind. Weirob’s reasoned position is quite lucid that it is difficult to contest it on grounds of logic. Hence critics such as Miller and Cohen can only counter by making claims to supernatural phenomena. In other words, the biggest challenge for Weirob’s pragmatic view of self/identity is religious dogma. But this challenge cannot be taken seriously for scholarly analysis.

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