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Alex Carr

PhD thesis

Autobiographical Memory and Personal Identity


Research interests

Philosophy of mind, philosophy of psychology, cognitive science and memory and personality research.

Current research

I am interested in exploring a subject matter which is contributed to by both philosophy of mind and the cognitive sciences.  In particular I want to investigate how the empirical literature on autobiographical memory can be applied to philosophical accounts of personal identity.

Human memory is one of the oldest and extensively researched areas within the cognitive sciences. As a cognitive faculty memory is involved in the encoding, storage and retrieval of information. Autobiographical memory (AM) can tentatively be considered one of the many memory systems (amongst episodic, semantic, procedural and perceptive), which has its own distinctive features and functions. AM seems to have two key features:  the self-concept organises the sense of self and how one should behave.; and the self-narrative which is created, and at the same time drawn upon, by the self-concept in order to understand the present and past, and predict the future. AM seems to have three agreed-upon functions: self-definition; the facilitation of social relations and behaviour; and the direction of present and future behaviour and cognition. The AM literature seems to be highly relevant to the philosophical topic of personal identity.

Within this topic shall be focussing on the psychological continuity and narrative approaches to what Schechtman calls the ‘reidentification problem’ of personal identity: what enables persons X and Y to be numerically the same person at times t1 and t2? Psychological continuity approaches draw influence from Locke and posit that personal identity persists through time due to the continuity of psychological states such as memories, beliefs and desires. They also typically endorse the reduction of a personal identity into temporally finite person stages. Narrative approaches argue that the continuity of psychological states does not sufficiently account for personal identity persistence: what is crucial is a descriptive and explanative treatment of past and future mental states and actions which mediates self-interpretation and self-creation, a self-narrative. Furthermore, narrative approaches typically reject the reduction of personal identity into person stages.

It is hoped that my thesis will constitute a multi-disciplinary and empirically up-to-date contribution to a classical philosophical topic.

Other information

I completed a BSc in Psychology at the University of Essex, an MSc in Cognitive Neuroscience at Birkbeck (University of London), and most recently an MA within the Philosophy department at the University of Sheffield.