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    The bundle theory of personal identity

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    At any given time, we are changing. Our cells are replaced periodically, and our ideas and perceptions of the world can be changed by experiences. Because of this it seems difficult to determine what makes an adult the same person they were as a child, as these two at such a different time, share very little with one another. To say that these bodies are the same person requires more than their physical construction, and the bundle theory of identity posed by Derek Parfit seems to be the most adequate to explain this connection. This theory on its own, however, comes with the drawback that it gives an unsatisfactory solution for gaining and losing personhood, so I propose a way to reconcile that utilizing a view of a person as an organism.

    To a bundle theorist, an individual dies every moment in changes that alter the numerical identity of the body and mind. This is a valid view, but for practical use it creates some concern, as the same body at two different times could be entirely different people, only causally linked to one another. Events that happen to people bind their input to their output surely, but more is required to view that input and output as the same person.

    For instance in childbirth, the child is considered to be a third, separate identity from the two parents, despite being a biological product of the two and, just as causally related to those two as the other outputs of the human body. This means that for bundle theory, the child can be viewed as the same person as the parents. This being an undesirable conclusion, I would propose that the presence of an organism, that is, an organization of matter capable of self-maintenance and undertaking self-appointed tasks, is necessary for a subject to be considered a person. This helps to bring together that problem by defining a boundary where the fetus(previously indistinguishable from its mother as a person) undertakes its own personhood.

    Any theory must be tested to be agreed upon, and the situations of hemispherectomies, split brain persons, and the digital “uploading” of a mind create difficult situations that make for good tests. Upon a Hemispherectomy, Bundle Theory would reconcile the result as a singular person, even if a hemisphere is transplanted to another body. The previous person, to a bundle theorist is just as dead as if the body was killed, and just as dead as the person that existed the instant before.

    In the case of a split-brain patient, the bundle theorist believes that the resulting situation is the same, as the two halves of the brain still constitute one person. This is explained by Parfit to be the only suitable conclusion, as the alternatives would be death of the subject entirely, or require an arbitrary favoring of one of the hemispheres. The previous two tests give no significant roadblock for bundle theory, nor does the digital uploading of the mind, but for the proposed alteration, the requirement of a self-maintaining organism makes a digital mind insufficient for the status of personhood. The mind may regain its personhood if it regains its ability to maintain itself.

    Every moment that one spends alive is one they spend changing. By all numerical measures a person and that same person at a later time may be difficult to reconcile as the same person. The bundle theory of personal identity poses what I find to be a nearly entirely satisfactory solution to this, perhaps improved by requiring a person be an organism as a prerequisite. This makes the prison system out to be misguided, to be replaced by a system based on making illegal activities unnecessary, although this could be argued in long form on its own.

    • Parfit, Derek. “Personal Identity.” The Philosophical Review, vol. 80, no. 1, 1971, pp. 3–27. JSTOR,

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