chapter  8
7 Pages

The meaning and development of identity

WithDaniel Hart, Julie Maloney, William Damon

Over the past thirty years, the meaning and development of personal identity has increasingly come under the scrutiny of philosophers and psychologists. Philosophers have been particularly interested in identifying what dimensions of the individual provide the sense of sameness into the future (e.g. Williams, 1970). The concept of personal identity is important to philosophers because, as Parfit (1971) has pointed out, questions of morality and self-interest depend upon individuals having a sense of identity. When an individual makes a decision that sacrifices immediate gratification for later benefit, the underlying assumption is that he or she will be the same person in the future, and therefore he or she will be the one to benefit from this decision. An individual does not purchase a pension maturing in twenty years if he or she expects to die in six months, or if he or she believes the beneficiary of the pension in twenty years will be an unknown, unrelated person. This latter case is what would exist if persons had no sense of sameness into the future.