Reductionism and the First Person
McDowell (John)
Source: Dancy - Reading Parfit, 1997, Chapter 11
Paper - Abstract

Paper StatisticsBooks / Papers Citing this PaperNotes Citing this PaperColour-ConventionsDisclaimer

Author’s Introduction

  1. Locke's discussion of personal identity centres on the thesis that a person is ‘a thinking intelligent being, that has reason and reflection, and can consider itself as itself, the same thinking thing, in different times and places'. What Locke stresses here is that the continuity that constitutes a person's continuing to exist has an 'inner' aspect. Normally this inner aspect is realized in substantive knowledge: what Locke calls ‘consciousness' holds together in a single survey some of the specifics of the career extended in time, of what the subject of this survey conceives as itself, ’the same thinking thing'. But if a person can survive with the details of its past and future blotted out, its being a person requires that it still conceive itself as a self-conscious continuant, capable of an ‘inner’ angle on its own persistence, but currently deprived of any specificity in what that capacity yields.
  2. Now a core thought in the reductionism that Derek Parfit recommends is that this 'inner' aspect of personal persistence should be understood in terms of relations between psychological states and events that are intelligible independently of personal identity. It is this claim that allows Parfit to play down the importance of personal identity. If the relations that constitute the phenomenon that Locke stresses are independent of personal identity, they must be detachable in thought from the continued existence of persons, even though Locke’s idea has to be that they are constitutive of it (as they indeed are in the normal course of things). And what matters for the rationality of the sort of concern with the future that, with our usual unimaginative restriction to the normal case, we conceive as self-interested is Locke's phenomenon: hence, according to Parfit, what matters is those independently intelligible relations, rather than the facts about personal identity that they help to constitute.


There is an annotated photocopy filed with "Various - Papers on Identity Boxes: Vol 10 (M1: Ma-Mc)".

Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)

  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2021
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)

© Theo Todman, June 2007 - Jan 2021. Please address any comments on this page to File output:
Website Maintenance Dashboard
Return to Top of this Page Return to Theo Todman's Philosophy Page Return to Theo Todman's Home Page