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A Dialogue on Personal Identity and Immortality (Hackett Philosophical Dialogues) Paperback – March 15, 1978

ISBN-13: 978-0915144532 ISBN-10: 0915144530

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Product Details

  • Series: Hackett Philosophical Dialogues
  • Paperback: 56 pages
  • Publisher: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc. (March 15, 1978)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0915144530
  • ISBN-13: 978-0915144532
  • Product Dimensions: 0.2 x 5.5 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #18,930 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


Perry's excellent dialogue makes a complicated topic stimulating and accessible without any sacrifice of scholarly accuracy or thoroughness. Professionals will appreciate the work's command of the issues and depth of argument, while students will find that it excites interest and imagination. --David M. Rosenthal, CUNY, Lehman College

About the Author

John Perry is Professor of Philosophy, Stanford University.

More About the Author

I teach philosophy. I am a professor emeritus at Stanford, and a half-time professor at the University of California, Riverside. I co-host a radio program, Philosophy Talk, with my friend and Stanford colleague Ken Taylor. I have three grown children, and ten grandchildren, the youngest of whom is now fifteen. I live in California, in the Bay Area, with Frenchie, my wife of fifty years. Sites for more about Philosophy Talk, Structured Procrastination, and my work in philosophy:

http://structuredprocrastination. com

Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
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43 of 45 people found the following review helpful By ctdreyer on April 29, 2004
Format: Paperback
This is an excellent introduction to the issue of personal identity for the beginner, and it's a pretty good recap of the main issues for someone with more philosophical training who hasn't thought about this particular issue in a while. Perry's book manages to covers a lot of ground without getting bogged down in details, and the dialogue format makes it more engaging than your usual, textbook-format introduction to some philosophical question. Moreover, its compression makes it an excellent book to teach. Since the arguments are compressed and the bigger issues are usually just hinted at, there's a lot that can be said about the arguments presented in the book beyond what Perry comes right out and tells you.
What is the question of personal identity? Basically, it's the question of what makes a person one and the same person through time. I assume I'm very same person I was two days ago, two months ago, two years ago, two decades ago, etc. Given that I've changed a great deal over that period of time, how could this be? What is it about me that makes me the same as the guy who was sitting in class two days ago, the guy who was anticipating spring break two months ago, the guy who was entering grad school two years ago, the kid who was sitting in some kindergarten class two decades ago, etc.? There's been a lot of physical and psychological change over time, and yet I think I'm the very same person I was at those various times. How could that be?
Perry discusses three views here. The first view is a sort of dualism according to which personal identity is a matter of the identity of souls across time. If this view is correct, what makes me the same as those guys is that we share a common soul.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Dianelos Georgoudis on November 26, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In this delightful booklet John Perry, a philosophy professor at Stanford, discusses personal identity and immortality. It is implied that immortality is meaningless without personal identity, and therefore almost the entire argument is about personal identity really.

The setting of the dialogue is dramatic: a philosophy teacher, Gretchen, lies dying in a hospital after a motorcycle accident. She is visited by two friends: Sam, a chaplain, and Dave, a former student. She asks them to comfort her and gives them an apparently easy task: to show that it is possible for personal identity to survive the death of the body. She does not ask them for good evidence or some probability estimate of this happening - but just for the logical possibility of the survival of personal identity. In other words she questions whether the idea of personal survival is even coherent, if it makes any sense at all. Of course Sam and Dave find it very difficult to convince her.

I found the dialogue very readable with some flashes of humor, expressions of passion, anger, sadness - the whole lot one would expect in such a setting. And at the same time we get a good philosophical debate. Excellent.

In the second night all three agree that personal identity is contingent on memory, or rather on the continuity of memory, but in a way I found very puzzling they all also immediately agree that there is an important distinction to be made between what one really remembers and what one only seems to remember. This, I think, is a big mistake. There is of course an obvious difference between an atomic explosion and the simulation of an atomic explosion, but as far as experience goes "is" and "seems" are identical.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Don A. Merrell on March 27, 2002
Format: Paperback
Out of the two reviews I've read of Perry's dialogue here on Amazon, one speaks very highly and the other thinks it's worthless. I'm puzzled about the variation, for I think this dialogue is as good as they get, which leads me to believe that the negative reviewer perhaps didn't understand the subtleties of the dialogue. I recently used Perry's dialogue along with five others in my intro to philosophy classes. Perry's far outranks all the others in depth and sophistication, which is also to say that it is more difficult than the others (the others included free will, personhood in animals and machines, phil religion, relativism, abortion). Keep in mind that popular philosophy dialogues always have one big drawback: the authors usually attempt to present the participants in a real-life setting, which often results in some dead ends or useless material. Such is the case with light and colloquial conversations. Perry's is not immune. Weinrob (the skeptic) often blusters and sometimes comes off a bit too arrogant. But at the end of the day she wins (well actually, she dies!) by taking apart the arguments of Miller (the soul, then Lockean, then causal theorist). There's no room here to go over the specifics of the argument but suffice it to say that all the major positions are covered in good detail. Highly recommended.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By John Harllee on April 23, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If you are interested in a philosophical analysis of personal identity, you will not find a better introduction than this little volume. It is, however, just an introduction. It raises issues without fully developing them, which is fine, since it does not pretend to be more than an introduction. For the same reason it omits various issues. The most important omitted issue IMO is the view of the Buddha, David Hume, Derek Parfit and doubtless others that personal identity is in a sense an illusion. To get deeper into these issues, I recommend Part III of Parfit's Reasons and Persons.

One quibble: notwithstanding the book's title, it does not discuss immortality. Survival after death is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for immortality.
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