Personal Identity and the Phineas Gage Effect

15 Pages Posted: 20 May 2015 Last revised: 18 Jun 2015

See all articles by Kevin P. Tobia

Kevin P. Tobia

Georgetown University Law Center

Date Written: May 15, 2015


Phineas Gage’s story is typically offered as a paradigm example supporting the view that part of what matters for personal identity is a certain magnitude of similarity between earlier and later individuals. Yet, reconsidering a slight variant of Phineas Gage’s story indicates that it is not just magnitude of similarity, but also the direction of change that affects personal identity judgments; in some cases, changes for the worse are more seen as identity-severing than changes for the better of comparable magnitude. Ironically, thinking carefully about Phineas Gage’s story tells against the thesis it is typically taken to support.

Keywords: personal identity, Phineas Gage

Suggested Citation

Tobia, Kevin P., Personal Identity and the Phineas Gage Effect (May 15, 2015). Available at SSRN: or

Kevin P. Tobia (Contact Author)

Georgetown University Law Center ( email )

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Washington, DC 20001
United States


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