Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Charles B. Guignon, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Stephen P. Turner, Ph.D

Committee Member

Roy Weatherford, Ph.D


personhood, memory, consciousness, mind, self


The purpose of this thesis is to provide a brief examination of the historical accounts of philosophical theories of personal identity and show the influence that each has had on the development of contemporary theories. In doing so, the thesis explores the problems associated with these theories, attempting to establish a meta-theory (i.e. a theory about theories) of personal identity. What is demonstrated is that the fundamental problems of personal identity arise from issues related to the use of language, as well as assumptions involving the concept of personhood.

By demonstrating that our understanding of personhood is relative to frameworks of understanding based on assumption, the meta-theory states that propositions made about persons are not factual statements, but are, rather, matters of contingency. As such, propositions about persons contain truth-value only within a particular frame of reference that is based on these assumptions. Therefore, the problems that traditionally arise in theories of personal identity -- problems with dualism, the mental criterion, and bodily criterion -- result from a flawed approach to the problem altogether. The conclusion is that it is possible to construct a theory of personal identity (a relative theory), but not the theory of personal identity (one which is definitive and strictly conclusive).