n Filosofia Theoretica: Journal of African Philosophy, Culture and Religions - Mental surgery : another look at the identity problem, a conversation with Jonathan Chimakonam

Volume 4, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 2276-8386
  • E-ISSN: 2408-5987



The question of what constitutes the personal identity of an individual has been pondered upon by many philosophers and Jonathan Chimakonam is one of such philosophers. His paper entitled "Mental Surgery: Another look at the Identity Problem" addresses this issue headlong and his conclusions are fascinating to say the least. Chimakonam in his essay adopts a approach to the identity problem. For him, personal identity is basically a social property and a sociological concept (2011, 201). He also goes on to suggest that personal identity lies in the physical body and not in any metaphysical entity, soul or mind. Indeed, Chimakonam goes further to deny the existence of an independent spiritual mind or soul, which is the basis of the Cartesian mind-body dualism. What is implied here is that without the body, personal identity is inconceivable. It also implies that although personal identity is resident in the physical body of an individual, it must also be perceived and recognised by other individuals within the society such a body finds itself. To fortify this line of thought, Chimakonam articulates a thought experiment which describes a mental surgery in which the "minds" of two individuals (a dying Professor C. S. Momoh and Jonathan Chimakonam) are interchanged and with no short term memory, the mind of the professor, now inhabiting the body of Chimakonam, though bemused by the change in his bodily appearance, begins to gradually accept a new identity (that of Chimakonam) based on the insistence of those around him, which invariably alludes to the view that personal identity is determined by the opinions of others and thus, a sociological property (2011, 197 - 200). Peter Bisong, in a response to Chimakonam's paper, argues that the spiritual soul/consciousness is the primary criterion of personal identity. He disputes Chimakonam's sociological stance by making us aware of the fact that a change of society by a subject may present differing views on the personal identity of that subject and as such, the individual's identity becomes contradictory (2014, 60-63).

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