Ancient Concepts of Personal Identity

Christopher Gill

in The Oxford Handbook of Hellenic Studies

Published in print August 2009 | ISBN: 9780199286140
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Classics and Ancient History

Ancient Concepts of Personal Identity

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  • Classical Studies
  • Classical Philosophy
  • Ancient Greek History



The burgeoning science of human nature recognized the implications for human identity. In the later fifth or early fourth centuries BCE philosophers started to develop a systematically dualistic account of human beings as composites of body and soul. In this view, the body is something that embeds the person in a particular community, and the soul is the true ‘self’, the locus of desires and beliefs which those communities could shape. This article suggests that personal identity is for these thinkers social identity, and it is no coincidence that Plato's utopian designs for a polis in the Republic are largely structured around rethinking the educational curriculum, or, conversely, that Protagoras assigns the central role in moral education to the city as a whole.

Keywords: human nature; body; human soul; personal identity; social identity; Republic; Plato; Protagoras

Article.  4499 words. 

Subjects: Classical Studies ; Classical Philosophy ; Ancient Greek History

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