Persons and Personal Identity
Snowdon (Paul)
Source: Lovibond & Williams - Identity, Truth & Value: Essays for David Wiggins, 1996
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction

  1. David Wiggins has written, a number of times1, about the nature and identity of persons. As to their nature, Wiggins has been, like many of us, strongly influenced by P. F. Strawson's famous account of persons in Chapter 3 of Individuals ("Strawson (Peter) - Persons"), objecting primarily, and, it seems to me, rightly, to Strawson's overly even-handed treatment of the mental and the physical aspects of a person. Part, at least, of Strawson's even-handedness is revealed when he allows that just as a person's body can outlive the person's consciousness, a possibility which is not seriously in question, so a person's consciousness can outlive his or her body. This claim is questionable because it seems to be inconsistent with materialism. The simplest reply to Strawson is that it needs far more than the 'not very great' exercise of imagination, cited by him, to convince us that there is such a possibility. Wiggins himself has gone further and argued that conceptual analysis can reveal what he calls the necessary 'matter-involvingness2' of both persons and their psychological attributes.
  2. My concern here, though, is the so-called problem of personal identity. Strawson, in Individuals, said little about this problem, and suggested it should be regarded as 'of relatively minor significance and relatively little difficulty'. This is an assessment which Wiggins, again rightly, does not share, and he has recently proposed, and argued at length for, the thesis that the, or a, fundamental truth about personal identity is that persons are animals; a person remains in existence so long as the animal which that person is remains in existence.
  3. It is, surely, a very important task for current philosophy to determine what the most plausible defence of this thesis is. Wiggins is not alone in defending it, but his is the profoundest and most developed exposition of it currently available. My aim is to consider some of the propositions3 which Wiggins has endorsed (or which I interpret him as having endorsed) in the course of presenting his account.'' I shall argue that a number of them are dubious, and I shall hint at an alternative approach. This exploration is intended to be a tribute to his work on personal identity, and a contribution to the provision of a theory along lines inspired by it.

  1. Introduction;
  2. The Accept-All Theory and Some Problems for it;
  3. Wiggins's Response;
  4. Some Questions about the Term 'Person';
  5. The Animal Attribute Theory of Persons;
  6. An Alternative Proposal;
  7. Persons as Animals;
  8. Persons as Humans;
  9. Other Grounds;
  10. Summary and a Suggestion


In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1: Footnote 2: Footnote 3:
  • I shall more or less totally ignore five important aspects of Wiggins's treatment, each of which could be the subject of a paper.
    1. First, I shall not be concerned with his attempt to defend Locke's treatment of persons against what he sees as inadequate objections.
    2. Second, I shall not attempt to assess the general assumptions about identity which shape Wiggins's approach.
    3. Third, I shall not consider the (modified) Fregean semantic theories which also shape his account.
    4. Fourthly, I have not attempted to plot the significant differences between
      "Wiggins (David) - Sameness and Substance" (1980a) and
      "Wiggins (David) - The Person as Object of Science, as Subject of Experience, and as Locus of Value" (1987b).
    5. Finally, I have not attempted to consider what seems to me to be a very interesting, but not, perhaps, articulated or defended, conception of the geography of the personal identity debate which influences his discussion in "Wiggins (David) - Sameness and Substance" (1980a).

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