Personal Identity and the Phineas Gage Effect

Analysis, Vol. 75 (2015)

15 Pages Posted: 20 May 2015 Last revised: 22 Feb 2021

See all articles by Kevin Tobia

Kevin Tobia

Georgetown University Law Center; Georgetown University - Department of Philosophy

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, Personal Identity and the Phineas Gage Effect (May 15, 2015). Analysis, Vol. 75 (2015), Available at SSRN: or

Kevin Tobia (Contact Author)

Georgetown University Law Center ( email )

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Georgetown University - Department of Philosophy

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