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Commentary on "Minds, Memes, and Multiples"
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Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology 3.1 (1996) 31-36

In his paper "Minds, Memes and Multiples" Stephen Clark discusses the problem of multiple personality, to some considerable extent in response to Stephen Braude's recent book First Person Plural, with eloquence, subtlety and some apposite historical references. I am delighted to have been asked to make some comments on it, developing some points I made in discussion when Professor Clark read his paper at a seminar in Edinburgh.

Multiple personality is certainly a fascinating subject on which anyone with views about the nature of human persons does well to cast an eye. I am grateful to both Clark and Braude for having raised my awareness of it. Clearly, Clark has been persuaded by Braude of the reality of the phenomenon as something more than just a form of extreme role-playing or play acting, but also agrees with him that there is an ultimate single self behind the genuine multiplicity (Clark 1969; Braude 1991). What this ultimate self is Clark seeks to explain by reference to a single "light" which illumines all the variety (extreme in the case of multiple personality), of ideas, thoughts, emotions etc. by which we are variously swayed.

Let us for simplicity take the case where the putatively distinct "persons" associated with the one human organism are three. Prima facie, there are, in these cases, three distinct centers of consciousness associated with a single human organism each capable turn and turn about of being the dominant one (that which is using the first person pronoun out aloud to speak of itself and whose desires and wishes are what is most immediately expressed in behavior).

There seem to be three main features of genuine and full blooded multiple personality (as described most famously -- I shall assume correctly -- in Morton Prince's The Dissociation of a Personality and Thigpen and Cleckley's The Three Faces of Eve). First, the different centers of consciousness exhibit very different personalities, so different that the individual seems in some ways even physically altered according as to which is dominant. By personality here I mean a system of character traits rather than the principle of personal identity, whatever we think that to be. The expression "multiple personality" tends rather to blur the distinction between personality in this sense and person. Someone can change quite radically in personality without ceasing to be the same person -- or at least that is how we ordinarily look at it. Second, at least one of them does not "remember" the experiences and conscious behavior of at least one of the others, while one of them does. If they really are different persons, some would think that "memory" is the wrong word here. But I am using "memory" to refer to any cognitive relation sufficiently akin to that in which we stand to our own past experiences when we remember them. Third, they co-exist in the sense that at least one other of the centers is often "looking on" at the contents and public manifestations of the then dominant one.

Another important factor is that they have attitudes to one another, often of hostility, which seem much more like the attitudes one can have to another person than one normally does to oneself. However, important as this is, it should not be taken as part of the definition of multiple personality, since so many of these attitudes are ones many people direct at themselves, (e.g. self-hatred and self-pity). To say that these are distinct from the hatred and pity felt towards others just because they are self-directed seems rather to beg the question.

It seems to me that unless the first three conditions are met, we do not have multiple personality in a full sense. I cannot consider all possible cases in which only one or two of the conditions are met but here are some examples. Suppose that the first condition is met but not the other two. Then we would have a person subjected to striking mood swings, each mood bringing with it a contrasting set of personal loves and hates, political opinions, aesthetic tastes, sporting enthusiasms, and so forth. But since she...

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