Close this search box.
Symposium V – Narrative and Personal Identity
Mark Schroeder (USC) & Marya Schechtman (Illinois)

2022 Joint Session of the Aristotelian Society and the Mind Association

University of St Andrews

8–10 July 2022

Symposium v – Narrative and personal identity


Mark Schroeder

University of southern california

Narrative and Personal Identity


Marya Schechtman


Space, Time, and Quality: A Response to ‘Narrative and Personal Identity’


In this paper I am going to explore how and why personal identity might be essentially narrative in nature.  My topic is the question of personal identity in the strict sense of identity – the question of which person you are, and how that person is extended in space, time, and quality.  In this my question appears to contrast with the question of personal identity in the sense sought by teenagers and sufferers of mid-life crises who are trying to “find themselves”.  But in fact it will be key to my argument that these questions are not distinct and independent.  Whereas Parfit was concerned, in his work on personal identity, with how he was extended over time, the teenager who is finding themself is concerned with how they are extended in quality.  Indeed, the core of my argument will be that because narrative is the key to understanding how we are extended in quality, and quality is just one more dimension along which we are extended, along with space and time, narrative must also be the clue as to how we are extended in space and time.  You, I will be arguing, are the protagonist in the best story of your life.

In ‘Narrative and Personal Identity’ Mark Schroeder defends an important and exciting account of personal identity. This account starts from insights he finds in Locke and Frankfurt but moves beyond them in ways that complicate and improve their respective notions of personhood and agency. I argue that he nonetheless retains too much from the views he rejects, especially an undue emphasis on the role of agency in personal identity and an impoverished picture of our embodiment. This paper explains the ways I think Schroeder does not go far enough and offers an account that takes his insights a step further.


Mark Schroeder is professor of philosophy at the University of Southern California where he is founding director of the Conceptual Foundations of Conflict Project.  He has published widely in metaethics, epistemology, normative ethics, the philosophy of language, action theory, and related areas, and his work has appeared in EthicsPhilosophical ReviewMindNoûsPhilosophy and Phenomenological Review,Philosophical StudiesAustralasian Journal of PhilosophyOxford Studies in MetaethicsOxford Studies in Normative Ethics, and many other venues.  He is author of Slaves of the Passions (OUP 2007) Being For(OUP 2008) Noncognitivism in Ethics (Routledge 2010), Explanation and Expression in Ethics volumes 1 and 2 (OUP 2014 and 2015), and Reasons First (OUP 2021), co-author (with Nathan Howard) of The Fundamentals of Reasons (OUP forthcoming), and co-editor (with Berislav Marusic) of Analytic Existentialism (OUP forthcoming).  He is currently at work on a book about applications of the metaphysics of interpretive objects to language, life, and the law, and on a popular book about what the metaphysics of persons can teach us about interpersonal conflict.

Marya Schechtman is Professor of Philosophy and a member of the Laboratory of Integrative Neuroscience at the University of Illinois, Chicago.  Her work focuses on personal identity and memory with a particular interest in the ways that metaphysical, ethical, empirical, and literary treatments of these topics intersect.  She is the author of The Constitution of Selves (Cornell, 1996) and Staying Alive: Personal Identity, Practical Concerns, and the Unity of a Life (Oxford, 2014), as well as many essays on these and related topics. 

About the Joint Session

the postgraduate session

Student Subsidies

The Supplementary Volume