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Cafe Inquiry

Tuesday, June 25
6:15 pm - 8:15 pm

Shaw (Watha T. Daniel) Neighborhood Library
1630 7th St NW
Washington, DC 20001 US

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Organized by:
Center for Inquiry–DC (CFI–DC)


Sorry for the late topic notice. This month’s discussion topic is: Personal identity

Personal identity is broadly speaking, an individual’s conception of self. How do you know you are the same person you were as a child? Is it because you remember yourself growing within the same body you have now? Or is it because you perceive that you have the same mind?

Some argue that personal identity is innate to a person. Very early in childhood, many people already show an inclination towards certain personality characteristics. For instance, most people who are shy as a child also tend to be more reserved as adults. Personal identity, in this conception, is the unique personality characteristics that people start showing as young children. However, while there is a correlation in many personality characteristics, some people’s inclinations change dramatically as they mature so it’s not clear if personality characteristics are actually immutable.

Personal identity might also be defined by our experiences and memories. Basically, what makes us the “same” person you were as a child is the continuity of our memories over time. We build our personal identity out of the experiences through our life, and our conception of self changes through time with our experiences. Taken to an extreme, however this would deny a continuity of identity for people who suffer brain and head injuries.

Finally, personal identity could be defined by our relationship to others and culture. In this conception, it is our relationship to our family, friends, and local community. Our personal identity is defined in this as largely in relationship to our community. Personal identity here is cheering for the local sports team or college, attending the local church, or celebrating cultural and familial holidays and traditions. However, many people also redefine their relationship to their family, church, or cultural over the course of their lives.

All of these conceptions have some truth. What is most important to your conception of personal identity? How does personal identity evolve over a person’s life? How does it remain stable, giving a sense of continuity to a person’s conception of self?

After the discussion we will head over to Beau Thai down the street for those who wish to have food and continue the conversation.