Philosophy and Identity – Here I go . . .   no comments

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To start with I am going to look at what Philosophy thinks identity means. This was a slightly naive aspiration as this is a fairly large area of philosophy. Below I have put some notes of the progress I have made so far.

Identity is not a simple question in philosophy. There are several theories surrounding the issue of “who am I?”.

Dualism (Maslin, 2001)

  • Humans are composed of 2 entities: non-physical soul/mind and the physical body
  • The “person” is the consciousness or the entity that experiences and it is identical to the soul but does not include the body

Identity Theories (Reductionism)

Part of philosophy investigates the concept of mind and body, mind-body problem. What is the body? Who does it belong to? What is the mind? Is it the brain or is it something more? (Mullen, 1977).

Mind/Brain Identity Theory (MBIT)

  • MBIT denies Dualism
  • Mind is not separate from the brain
    • everything is physical, including consciousness and thoughts => exemplifies Materialism

MBIT defines a “brain event” as the living brain and the mental events. Identity theorists explain that mental states are brain states. However, this isn’t a bi-directional relationship. I understand it in terms of

Mind = Brain Events BUT NOT Mind  ≡ Brain Events

So to explain this in terms of maths:

x + 3 = 5

In my example:

x = 2

However 2 will NOT always equal to x.

So when identity theorists refer to Mind and Brain events, it is not correct to interchange the terms whilst describing one side of the relationship. These theorists are not proposing an Analytical Reduction relationship like the following statement “All trilateral are identical with three-sided figures”As trilateral means three-sided figure, this statement is always analytically true – it can never be false. (Maslin, 2001)

Identity Theory can be further broken down into the following theories:


Example  – “love and love and love”

Token = 5 “Token” Words

Type = 2 Types

  1. love
  2. and

Types are a broad class which categorises a number of tokens.

Token-token Identity Theory  (Maslin, 2001)

  • mental tokens are just physical events (e.g. occurring in the brain)
  • Every token of mental state  could be identical with token type of physical state but that mental state will not always generate the same brain state, at a different point in time.

Type-type Identity Theory  (Maslin, 2001)

Water = H2O

Lightning = Pattern of Electrical Discharge

The contents on the right explain the hidden nature of the left-hand items. All lightning flashes will always be patterns of electrical charge but not all electrical charges will be lightning.

Mental State  => Brain State

The Brain State for a particular Mental State will have to be observed, can’t just be predicted.


Identity through labels (Mullen, 1977) – haven’t quite figured out the term for this

Someone can be labelled as:

  • a father
  • son of . . .
  • brother of . . .
  • owner of a golden retriever
  • CEO of Google

Is our identity defined by the labels placed on us by those around us? If this is the case, does our identity depend upon those around us?

Do these different labels/roles result in different behaviours and acceptable personas. What does this mean for our identity on the web? Some argue each label/role has an accepted scope of behaviours linked to it. When we accept the label we accept these conditions of behaviour for the period of time that we are still defined by that label.

Semantic Web  – How will all these personas appear in a semantic web where you are represented by one URI? Sometimes different areas of your life shouldn’t interact e.g. photographs of a young working professional out drinking on a Friday night and a primary school head teacher as these are different segments of this persons life.


Maslin, K.T., 2001. An Introduction to the Philosophy of Mind. Polity ; Blackwell Publishers, Cambridge, UK : Malden, MA.

Mullen, P., 1977. Beginning Philosophy. Edward Arnold, London.

Written by Anna Weston on October 27th, 2013

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