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Locke, Kierkegaard, and the phenomenology of personal identity
journal contributionposted on 2008-01-01, 00:00 authored by Patrick StokesPatrick Stokes
Personal Identity theorists as diverse as Derek Parfit, Marya Schechtman and Galen Strawson have noted that the experiencing subject (the locus of present psychological experience) and the person (a human being with a career/narrative extended across time) are not necessarily coextensive. Accordingly, we can become psychologically alienated from, and fail to experience a sense of identity with, the person we once were or will be. This presents serious problems for Locke’s original account of “sameness of consciousness” constituting personal identity, given the distinctly normative (and indeed eschatological) focus of his discussion. To succeed, the Lockean project needs to identify some phenomenal property of experience that can constitute a sense of identity with the self figured in all moments to which consciousness can be extended. I draw upon key themes in Kierkegaard’s phenomenology of moral imagination to show that Kierkegaard describes a phenomenal quality of experience that unites the experiencing subject with its past and future, regardless of facts about psychological change across time. Yet Kierkegaard’s account is fully normative, recasting affective identification with past/future selves as a moral task rather than something merely psychologically desirable (Schechtman) or utterly contingent (Parfit, Strawson).