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Philosophy: What am I? The Whitman article describes a case of mass shooting committed by a young man called Whitman in Texas. Having killed his wife and mother, he goes on to kill 13 people and wound 30 more before being shot and killed by a policeman. He leaves a suicide note explaining that he does not understand what has happened to him, and most significantly “I have been a victim of many unusual and irrational thoughts”.
In the light of the evidence it would be most appropriate to acquit the man because his brain and personality had been severely damaged by the tumor and it would not be reasonable or fair to make him responsible for the biological and psychological consequences that were beyond his control. The concept of self that most matches this analysis is that of Descartes. It is precisely Whitman’s ability to think that was affected by the tumor. Once this ability is compromised, the self is also damaged, and so the person who committed the crime does not recognize himself any more. He has the impression that he was a different person than the one who was healed and sits in court, horrified by what he has done while his normal thinking processes were so dreadfully impaired. The concept of self that least matches this scenario is Hume. Whitman is not just a bundle of perceptions that changes all the time, but he is a person who is conscious of a spell of discontinuity between his real self and the temporary murdering self that committed the crime. The experience of guilt and shame shows an awareness of the continuity of self, and though this was broken for a time, it was restored in the end. ...
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