Shaftesbury on Persons, Personal Identity, and Character Development

Philosophy Compass 13 (1):e12471 (2018)
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Shaftesbury’s major work Characteristicks of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times was one of the most influential English works in the eighteenth century. This paper focuses on his contributions to debates about persons and personal identity and shows that Shaftesbury regards metaphysical questions of personal identity as closely connected with normative questions of character development. I argue that he is willing to accept that persons are substances and that he takes their continued existence for granted. He sees the need to supplement metaphysical debates of personal identity and believes that we have to turn to the character that is realized by a substance if we want to understand who we are. For Shaftesbury persons have a particular character, can act, and govern themselves. I propose that Shaftesbury’s approach to persons has a developmental dimension, which is meant to encourage personal development and improvement of character. The developmental dimension can be understood as an intellectual journey that invites us to search for our true self, to develop our character, and to seek happiness, which ultimately involves understanding our place as persons in the order of the universe. I show that my developmental interpretation is preferable to other existing interpretations.

Author's Profile

Ruth Boeker
University College Dublin


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