- Controversies about personal identity have been magnified by the fact that there are a number of distinct questions at issue, questions that have not always been clearly distinguished from one another. Parties to the dispute have differed, often without arguing the case, about which questions are centrally interesting. Some have concentrated on analyses of class differentiation, distinguishing persons from computers, apes, fetuses, corporations. Others have been primarily interested in criteria tor individuation and differentiation. Still others have been interested in the criteria for reidentifying the same individual in different contexts, under different descriptions, or at different times. Most philosophers who have been concerned with individual reidentification analyze conditions for temporal reidentification, trying to define conditions for distinguishing successive stages of a single continuing person from stages of a successor or descendant person. Yet others have been primarily interested in individual identification: What sorts of characteristics are essential to the identity of the person, so that if those characteristics were changed, she would be a significantly different person, though she might still be differentiated and reidentified as the same individual? Defining the conditions for individual identification does not reduce to specifying conditions for reidentification because the characteristics that distinguish or reidentify persons (e.g., fingerprints, DNA codes, or memories) may not be thought by the individual herself or by her society to determine her real identity. For instance, an individual might be re-identifiable by the memory criterion but not identifiable as the same person, because all that she considers essential to her identity has changed: her principles and preference rankings are different, her tastes, plans, hopes, and fears. She remembers her old principles of choice well enough and so, by the memory criterion, might consider herself the same old person; but by grace or re-education she can be counted on to choose and act in a new way. Though all these questions are distinguishable, and though a philosopher may legitimately be interested in one without being forced to treat them all, a particular sort of solution to one problem will certainly influence, though probably not dictate, a solution to the others.
- Behind these differences in emphases and interests, there are differences about whether we should concentrate on conditions for strict identity (with the consequence that a biological individual may not remain the same person throughout a lifetime), on conditions of loose typic identity (with the consequence that conditions for identity and conditions for individuation become distinct), or on conditions assuring continuity or survival (with the consequence that the conditions for significant continuity or survival still require to be specified).
- Also at issue are methodological disagreements about what is involved in giving a criterial analysis. Some of the debates have only incidentally been about personal identity; they have been primarily about whether criteria for identity should provide necessary and sufficient conditions, prepared to meet and resist any- possible counterexamples. If we look for necessary and sufficient conditions, puzzle and problem cases loom large in the discussion, as possible counterexamples to the analyses. Consider the problems that arise from Shoemaker’s Lockean transplant case: Brown’s brain is put in Robinson’s head, with the results that Brownson, the fellow with Brown’s brain in (the rest of) Robinson’s body remembers Brown’s experience, identifies Brown’s body as “his,” expresses Brown’s tastes and preferences. To give the question “Who is who?” some force, we might ask who goes home to which wife (“Do you love me for myself alone, or for my beautiful body?”). And if one of them committed a crime, who goes to jail?
- Those who are skeptical about the utility of giving analyses of logically necessary conditions see the Brownson case as presenting an interesting curiosity, a fringe case of personal identity. They hold that the strategic conclusions to which we are forced in extremities should not be taken to reveal the workings of these concepts in their standard uses. For them, the real point of such thought experiments is to untangle the various strands in our conceptions, to show that although they normally support one another, they are independent, and can sometimes pull apart.
- Thought experiments of this kind are always under-described: Suppose that Robinson limps painfully. Won’t Brown’s passion for dancing the flamenco be affected by the discomfort of expressing it in Robinson’s hulking, lumbering body? Suppose Robinson’s body suffers from an overproduction of adrenalin: will Brownson’s memories take on an irascible tone? ….
Also in "Gill (Christopher) - The Person and the Human Mind: issues in ancient and modern philosophy".
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