… [ … snip …] …
- Occasionally, but not often, philosophers discover something genuinely new — a new problem or a subtle change in an old problem that brings a new set of issues into focus. When this happens circumstances are ripe for transformations not just of what we believe but also of what we think is worth considering and how we think we ought to proceed.
- Beginning in the late 1960s something genuinely new happened in the centuries-old philosophical debate over personal identity: more precisely, something new would have happened, had it not happened once before, in the eighteenth century (this earlier discussion then was forgotten). What was new, on both occasions, is that tacit and extremely natural assumptions about the importance of identity in a person's so-called self-interested concern to survive were called into question. As a consequence, the traditional philosophical focus on metaphysics gave rise to new normative and empirical inquiries about what matters2 in survival. In these new inquiries fundamental and potentially unsettling questions were raised, for the first time (and as if for the first time), about the significance of the distinction between self and other.
- The revolutionary and controversial thesis that identity is not what matters3 primarily in survival has been a principal focus of the more recent debate. The version of this idea that has gotten by far the most attention is the normative thesis that identity is not what should matter primarily in survival. This normative thesis has been endorsed by several influential philosophers. Subsequently, however, other influential philosophers have vigorously defended the traditional idea that identity should matter primarily in survival, or at least that it is a precondition of what should matter primarily. Currently the traditional idea seems to have made a comeback.
- In my view, the question of what matters4 in survival is crucial to philosophical self-understanding and, hence, needs to be discussed. However, I doubt that there is a feasible way of showing either that identity matter primarily in survival or that it should not matter. I want, then, to try to motivate a shift in the philosophical debate from the normative question of whether this or that should matter in survival to the largely descriptive question of what - that is rationally permissible - actually does or might be brought to matter. In my view, to many people, whose beliefs and values are rationally permissible, identity does not or will not on reflection matter primarily — at least, it will not matter at the familiar theoretical level at which we articulate our beliefs. However, it is not crucial to what I mainly want to say that I be right about this. For one thing, in addition to this theoretical level of belief, which is the only level that so far has been discussed in the debate over what matters5 in survival, there is also an experiential level at which beliefs or things that function as if they were beliefs make their presence felt; and, in my view, these experiential beliefs, or quasi-beliefs, throw into doubt virtually all of the conclusions about what matters6 in survival that have been advanced based just on a consideration of theoretical beliefs. For another, I do not intend to defend any thesis about what matters7 in survival but, rather, to provide a rationale and a model for a new kind of investigation of our deepest egoistic survival values, the ultimate purpose of which is not merely to discover what our values actually are, but to do that in a way that facilitates their transformation.
- Had it not been for "Parfit (Derek) - Personal Identity" (1971), and subsequently his "Parfit (Derek) - Reasons and Persons" (1984), I would not have written the present book. Parfit8 showed me, perhaps without intending that any reader should draw such a lesson from his work, how to connect to the philosophical debate over personal identity what I had taken to be extra- philosophical reflections on the experience of self. Before Parfit’s9 paper appeared I had been relatively uninterested in the analytic personal identity debate because of its preoccupation with what I regarded as trivial questions of conceptual analysis and because of its neglect of experience. Parfit10 showed me (and everyone else) how to make the transition from that traditional debate to the question of what matters11 in survival. He did this by taking the focus off of language (and conceptual analysis) and putting it squarely on questions about our deepest so-called egoistic values. It seemed (and still does seem) to me that it is but a short step from these values to experience. In the present book I take that step.
- I have also learned a great deal from the writings and in some cases the patient criticism of several other personal identity theorists, particularly Sydney Shoemaker, Robert Nozick, John Perry, Peter Unger, Ernest Sosa, Stephen White, and Ingmar Persson. To varying degrees, their influence resonates throughout the present book.
Footnote 1: Omitting the acknowledgements.
Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
- Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2019
- Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)