PHIL 331 Selected Topics: Personal Ontology and Identity

Spring Semester 2013 | Day | Burnaby


INSTRUCTOR: D. Anderson, WMC 5605 (


What are you? You are many things, of course: a student, a mammal, a son or a daughter, a member of the class of beings reading this course description right now. Which of the many things that you are most accurately or fundamentally characterizes you? A tradition dating back at least to Aristotle might answer that you are a particular kind of animal. This has some puzzling consequences, however. It seems at least theoretically possible for your consciousness (including all your memories, beliefs, desires, habits, etc.) to be transported into a different body (good science fiction writers might be able to convince you of this if you don’t think it possible). Clearly, however, an animal cannot ‘change bodies’. Perhaps, then, what you most fundamentally are is a mind or an immaterial spirit. But this view has problems of its own. In this course on the problems of personal ontology and identity we will consider several proposals about what we are, in addition to several proposals about how (or whether!) we persist through time.


  • Olson, Eric. 2007. What are we? A study in personal ontology. OUP, ISBN 978-0195176421
  • Perry, John. 2008. Personal Identity, 2nd ed. University of California Press, ISBN 978-0520256422
  • Additional material will be circulated via email/WebCT


  • Vaughn, Lewis and J.S. McIntosh. 2009. Writing Philosophy: a guide for Canadian students. OUP, ISBN 978-0195430547


  • Participation – 10%
  • Discussion Questions - 20%
  • Midterm paper - 30%
  • Final Paper – 40%

 Students will be required to submit written work to, for plagiarism-checking and also, possibly, for anonymous peer review or as the basis for class discussion.

Prerequisites: One of PHIL 100 or 120.