Into the darkness: Losing identity with dementia<sup>1</sup><sup>,</sup><sup>2</sup>

Jennifer Radden and Joan M. Fordyce

in Dementia

Published on behalf of Oxford University Press

Published in print December 2005 | ISBN: 9780198566151
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191754418 | DOI:

Series: International Perspectives in Philosophy & Psychiatry

Into the darkness: Losing identity with dementia1,2

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That some sort of personal identity is lost when dementias ravage the brain seems indisputable. But what kind of identity is lost and what unchanged aspect of the person other than the endurance of the body, might—at least for a time—be retained? One short answer lies in philosophical traditions deriving from Locke's discussion, wherein personal identity depends on the very memory whose failure is a harbinger of dementia: from the onset of the disease, on such an account, identity disappears. Personal and self-identity are complex, multi-stranded concepts, however, which show up in many different discourses. This is particularly evident in English-language writing on the identity of persons, which has undergone a sea change in the last 15 or 20 years. Such writing now reveals greater acknowledgement of Continental European traditions and reflects emotional valences absent from previous discussions. Our guiding presumption here is that there are several ways of talking about identity—so when some forms of identity are eroded through dementia, other forms may yet be ascribed. These more enduring aspects of identity, it is our hope, can illuminate certain ethical quandaries over how to feel about and respond to those suffering from the conditions that cause dementia.

In Part 1, we introduce some variations on traditional discussions of identity and personal identity from Leibniz and Locke, respectively. These variations include Paul Ricoeur's contrast between ipse and idem identity and aspects of one loose but influential sense of identity informing present day identity politics. In Part 2, we explore the implications of these alternative conceptions of identity in relation to dementia and to some of the ethically troubling questions it raises.

Chapter.  8175 words. 

Subjects: Psychiatry

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