Narrative identity and dementia

Thornton, Tim orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-0137-1554 (2020) Narrative identity and dementia. Hungarian Philosophical Review, 2020 (1). pp. 40-59.

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It seems obvious that one of the harms that dementia does is to undermine the person’s identity. One reason for thinking this is that personal identity has long been associated with continuity of a subjective perspective on the world held together by memory that that memory is severely curtailed in dementia. Hence dementia seems to threaten an individual’s identity as a particular person, gradually undermining it. But the necessity of the connection has been criticised by a number of philosophers and healthcare professionals who subscribe to a narrative account of personal identity. If personal identity is constituted through a personal narrative rather than, for example, a memory connection, then while the capacity to author a self-narrative also seems to be threatened by dementia, that need not undermine personal identity providing that the narrative that constitutes identity can be co-constructed. In this paper I set out the danger of any such view, explore its motivations and provide a minimal account of the role of narrative in dementia making use of the Wittgensteinian notion of secondary sense.

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