In the movie “Shaun of the Dead,”
personal identity plays an important role regarding determining the identity of
someone who has become a zombie. Personal identity in philosophy relates to the
persistence of a person. Additionally, personal identity defines who we are
over time and how we are able to prove the persistence of our identity. In the
movie, during the scene where the characters are moving from a backyard to
Winchester Pub, Shaun’s mother Barbara is bitten by a Zombie. She is then
infected and transforms into a zombie. At this point, Shaun and David argue and
disagree on whether or not to kill Zombie Barbara. This issue lies in whether
or not Barbara is the same person as she was before being bitten by a zombie.
David believes Zombie Barbara should be killed because she is no longer Human
Barbara and may even endanger their lives. Shaun, on the other hand, believes
Zombie Barbara is his mother and refuses to kill her. The reason for the
difference in attitude is due to the fact that they assume Barbara’s identity
through different personal characteristics. These personal characteristics fall
under different criterions of personal identity theories. In my opinion, the
assumption made by Shaun about Zombie Barbara’s personal identity is most problematic. 


First, we will analyze Shaun’s
method for assessing Barbara’s identity. The observation Shaun uses to
determine Barbara is still his mother is the fact that she still has the same
body. Although Barbara can no longer interact as a human, she is in the same
functioning body. This fact is enough to cause Shaun to ignore the possibility
that Zombie Barbara could kill everyone in the room. As to him, she was still
his mother. From these observations, we can conclude Shaun’s method for
assessing Barbara’s identity falls under the Bodily Criterion. The Bodily
Criterion of personal identity proposes that our identity is directly tied to
our bodies. The relationship between our identity and our bodies can be
described as “a person P2 at T2 is the same person P1 at T1 if and only if P2
has the same body as P1 had.” (Warriner, “Week Seven” 14). Having the same
“body” means having the same “functional organization.” Functional organization
individuates a living thing from other living things; the functional
organization of a human can be understood as a living body of a particular
shape (Nguyen, “T07” 9). Assuming that the movements of Zombie Barbara indicate
that the functional organization within her is still contributing to sustaining
her single continuous life, her body still separates Barbara from other living
individuals. Therefore, Zombie Barbara is still the same person under the
bodily criterion.


Next, we will analyze David’s
method for assessing Barbara’s identity. David points a gun at Barbara and
warns the others that she will be back as a zombie. Since she will be back as
Zombie Barbara, he is willing to kill Barbara. He is able to do this because
his method of identifying Barbara is very different from Shaun’s. First, David
believes Zombie Barbara will kill them because she will not be able to
recognize anyone present including her son Shaun. However, even if normal
Barbara acted this way but not through becoming a zombie, it is doubtful that
David would have such a severe reaction. Therefore, we can conclude that David
is willing to kill Zombie Barbara not only because of her behaviors, but
because he identifies Zombie Barbara as a different person altogether. This is
because David assumes the zombie transformation as a permanent change, and this
would mean the loss all the memories she used to have while being a human. By
losing these memories, she is no longer human in David’s eyes. From these
observations, we can conclude David assesses Barbara’s identity using the
Memory Criterion. The Memory Criterion is proposed by John Locke and follows
the conditions that “a person P2 at T2 is the same person P1 at T1 if P2 has the
same consciousness as P1 had,” (Warriner, “Week Eight” 13). Locke breaks the
ties between identity and the body and states that it is the consciousness that
allows one to distinguish himself from all other thinking things (Essay,
II.27.9). Locke then further explains “as far as this consciousness can be
extended backwards to any past action or thought, so far reaches the identity
of that person; it is the same self now that it was then,” (Essay, II.27.9). In
other words, it is self-consciousness, or the ability to associate one’s memory
as being their own, that gives one the ability to perceive one’s own identity.
Therefore, according to Locke, personal identity can only be associated with
the continuity of consciousness linked by memory (Warriner, “Week Eight” 13).
Since Zombie Barbara is unable to access her memories or perceive her memories
as her own, Zombie Barbara is a different person under the Memory Criterion.


I believe the Bodily Criterion is
more problematic than the Memory Criterion. We can analyze this by observing
how personal identity is utilized in rewarding and punishing an individual.
Using a reasonable person test, I will analyze which criterion is more
applicable in two separate hypothetical scenarios. A reasonable person will be
defined as rational person who is able to attribute an effect with its relevant
cause.  For the first hypothetical
scenario, we will analyze a reward scenario involving a sleeping achiever and a
Body Hopping Achiever. Sleeping Achiever is an athletic person with a weak
mental will and is unable to complete a marathon. Body Hopping Achiever is
frail person with a strong mental will who is also unable to complete a
marathon. While Sleeping Achiever is asleep, Body Hopping Achiever transfers
his memory and consciousness over to Sleeping Achiever’s Body and achieves a
record-breaking marathon. In this scenario, a reasonable person would not necessarily
be able to conclude which achiever is more deserving of credit in their
accomplishment. This is due to the fact that a marathon is something that
requires both the mind and the body to achieve. Therefore, perhaps we could
reach a different conclusion by using a punishment example. The next example we
will use involves a Sleeping Killer and a Body Hopping Killer. Sleeping Killer
is a kind person with an athletic body. However, Body Hopping Killer is a
malicious person in a frail body. One day, the Body Hopping Killer jumps into
the Sleeping Killer’s body and commits a murder. Suddenly in this example, a
reasonable person would associate the murder with the body hopper, even though
having the sleeper’s body helped him to commit the murder successfully. This is
due to the fact that we associate the level of wrong in killing through the
conscious intent of a person. That is why under the law, the less intention you
have when killing someone, the less punishment you would receive. Additionally,
perhaps it is also relevant that in the marathon example we can imagine both
the sleeper and the body hopper to have the conscious desire for achievement.
While in the killer example, we distinctly perceive the act of murder as the
conscious desire of only the body hopper. After analyzing these two examples,
we can understand that the mind is a necessary condition in attributing an
action to a specific identity while the body is not. Without the contribution
of the mind, it is possible that we can completely dissociate a person’s
identity from the actions of their own body. On the hand, as long as the mind
plays a role in an action, even if the person’s previous body could not achieve
the same feat, we would still partially attribute their identity to the effect
of a cause. Therefore, it is possible that we can dissociate the identity of
Barbara completely from her Zombie body. Nevertheless, it would be impossible
to dissociate the identity of Barbara completely from her mind and


To sum things up, memory and
consciousness is at least a necessary condition to identify personal identity
while the body not. Memory is our basis for human interaction, self-awareness,
and maintaining our connection with others. On the other hand, while the body
can help us identify a person from afar, without the memories that go with a
person, it may as well serve to mislead us. Therefore, Shaun’s assessment of
Zombie Barbara using the bodily criterion is more problematic than David’s
assessment using the memory criterion.