Shamsa Khan

Shamsa Khan



Thesis title: Can Personal Identity be defined by emotional continuity?

Start year: 2016


Research topic

The primary aim of my research project is to show that our emotional responses to experiences shape our personal identity. I will outline the two key definitions of identity; the physical and psychological criterion. The first view likens a person’s identity to that of an object, because for an individual to be the same at point A and point B, they must be materially identical. The form and body is the key to identity. The latter view takes the body out of the equation, if a person were to switch bodies but still had the same mental capacities, i.e. thoughts, memories then they would be the same person that they were before the switch. The key to identity lies within the psychological capacities of an individual, this suggests the person can still be the same because their mental capacities remain intact and continuous with the person that existed before the body was taken away. I will be exploring the idea that personal identity is dependent on the memory and consciousness of our past actions. This causes an issue when we look at individuals with amnesia or dementia; the question is; are they completely different people because they do not remember certain things? Additionally, I will be investigating the different types emotion and the influence they have on us. Additionally, the intertwining of philosophy and psychology is important for my project. This is because I aim to question the methodology commonly used when discussing personal identity; this being thought experiments. These are defined as imaginary cases which often place a theory in an experimental scenario. These sometimes involve bizarre science fiction situations which can isolate philosophy as purely theoretical and incapable of being practised in logical terms, thus we lose the connection between philosophy and reality. I will also look at examples whereby a person may commit an immoral act which they may later describe as something completely out of character or a loss of control. I would state that this is an example of disrupt in emotional continuity and the individual in that instance is not necessarily the same person as they were before, their sense of personal identity has broken down and become disconnected. My novel contribution lies in the idea that the term ‘psychological continuity’ may be too vague and we should narrow the focus to the emotions. I will postulate that our emotional responses to experiences shape our sense of self, so personal identity just is emotional continuity, an overlapping chain of connecting emotions.


Personal Identity, Self, Physical, Psychological, Continuity, Connectedness, Emotion, Psychopath, Emotional Breakdown

General research interests

Philosophy of Mind, Personal Identity, Emotions, Psychopaths, Mental Illnesses, The Philosophy of Psychology, Psychoanalysis

Academic and professional training

  • 2015–Present Bachelor of Arts Philosophy 2:1 Oxford Brookes University
  • Dissertation: Is Personal Identity a unitary, continuous entity?
  • 2016–Present Master of Arts Philosophy Merit University College London
  • Dissertation: Critically Evaluate the Stoic account of Emotion

Other experience and professional activities

  • Received a Gold award in the Oxford University Young Ambassadors Programme. I was responsible for presenting schools with information about higher education and career prospects.
  • Participated in ‘The Philosophy Foundation’ programme which involved creating interactive philosophy sessions based on the Socratic Method for school pupils.