Real People: Preface
Wilkes (Kathleen)
Source: Wilkes - Real People: Personal Identity Without Thought Experiments
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  1. The subject of Personal Identity is one of the most enjoyable — as well as the most perplexing — in philosophy. The quality of the literature about it is in general very high. So too is the quantity. Why then add another book to the list?
  2. In the first chapter I try to explain why. Personal Identity has been the stamping-ground for bizarre, entertaining, confusing, and inconclusive thought experiments1. To my mind, these alluring fictions have led discussion off on the wrong tracks; moreover, since they rely heavily on imagination and intuition, they lead to no solid or agreed conclusions, since intuitions vary and imaginations fail. What is more, I do not think that we need them, since there are so many actual puzzle-cases which defy the imagination, but which we none the less have to accept as facts. To clear the way for discussion of these, then, the first chapter questions the methodology of thought-experimentation2, at least if it is deployed without very stringent controls.
  3. Whatever else they may be, typical persons:-
    • are rational,
    • can use language,
    • are Intentional systems,
    • require certain kinds of treatment from others,
    • are agents of responsible behaviour themselves, and
    • seem to have some special kind of (self)-consciousness.
    Problems arise when any of these strands are missing. Thus the second chapter considers (normal and abnormal) infants and foetuses; we shall see here the paramount importance of the question of the treatment they should receive. The third chapter looks at the adult insane. Here again we have to examine the sort of moral and practical stance appropriate to take to them; evidently, too, the problem of spelling out what it is in which human rationality consists arises centrally.
  4. In the fourth chapter we start off on a three-chapter examination of human (self)-consciousness, and the degree of ‘unity' and ‘continuity' of consciousness we expect to find. Chapter 4 looks at breakdowns in continuity suffered by those with fugue states, and breakdowns in both unity and continuity found in hypnotized individuals and cases of multiple personality. This last puzzle, I argue, is the one paradox which is completely intractable — the concept of a person cannot cope with full-blown cases. Chapter 5 examines the breakdown of unity shown by people with split brains — apparently two centres of consciousness in one body, working separately but simultaneously. This is argued to pose no difficulty for the concept of a person; it is a good example of something which is not ‘imaginable' but which is nevertheless a fact. Here we need to go into the concept of 'a mind' at some length. Chapter 6 tries to take consciousness itself to bits, showing how it is not a notion that can be relied on to set, or solve, any of the questions that have been perplexing us.
  5. The penultimate chapter is a somewhat self-indulgent sprint through interestingly different views of the person found in Homer, Aristotle, the post-Cartesians, and contemporary cognitive science with its so-called ‘computer model of mind'. It ends by suggesting that, knowingly or not, we are returning to the Aristotelian model of the individual; and that we are right to be doing so. In the final chapter, the 'Epilogue', it is suggested that all ‘persons' would have to be more or less human.

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