The Memory Theory

This theory claims that what makes one person identical to another at some other time is that they share at least one experience memory (John Locke).

The power of this theory is that it can explain how a “body switch” is possible without assuming the existence of some non-physical stuff.

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However, there are 3 major objections:

1. Inconsistency Objection

Reid’s Brave Officer example show that the memory theory does not allow identity to be transitive, which it is.

This objection can be overcome by including intermediate “person stages.”

2. Circularity Objection

(Butler) The memory theory appears to be circular. To identify a “real” memory, we already need to know that it is the same person who had the previous experience.

This objection may be overcome by speaking of “quasi-memories.”


3. Insufficiency Objection

Memory may be important to identity, but it is not sufficient. Who we are also includes our desires and intentions. To be the same person, one must be psychologically contiguous.

(thus, giving us the Psychological Continuity Theory of personal identity)


The insufficiency objection introduces the fourth theory of personal identity, the psychological continuity theory. To understand this account, we must first understand a few terms.

1. A person has a quasi-memory if and only if (a) she seems to remember an experience, (b) somebody actually had the experience, and (c) the person’s seeming to remember the experience is caused by the actual experience.

2. A person has a quasi-desire if and only if (a) she seems to desire something, (b) somebody actually does desire that thing, and (c) the person’s desire is caused by the actual desire.

3. Two people are psychologically connected if they quasi-remember and quasi-desire the same thing.


Psychological connectiveness is not transitive. If A and B are connected, and B and C are connected, this does not guarantee that A and C are connected.


Now, if two people form part of an overlapping series of persons who are psychologically connected, then they are psychologically continuous.


• Psychological Continuity Theory

This theory claims that what makes one person identical to another at some other time is that they are psychologically continuous with one another.


The power of this theory is:

1. Simpler than the Soul Theory

2. Accounts for a “body switch”

3. Allows for an afterlife

4. Avoids all 3 of the problems for the memory theory

a. answers Ried’s brave officer example (psychological continuity is not transitive)

b. Is not circular (because of the quasi-memory)

c. it allows for more than memory to be a part of identity (thus overcoming the insufficiency objection)


There is a major problem however:

Psychological continuity is a one-many relation, identity however is a one-one relation. The examples of the transporter and Williams’ “Guy Fawkes” are meant to show this. Many different people could be psychologically continuous, but they cannot all be one person (they are numerically different, thus they cannot be numerically identical).

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