Preface (Full1 Text)
- The main purpose of this book is to provide an account of our identity. It is especially concerned to decide between what John Rawls has called the Humean and the Kantian conceptions of the self. This difference is associated with different ethical orientations. The Kantian view takes seriously our identity over time, just as Kantian ethics takes seriously our responsibility for the things we have done in the past. Derek Parfit has defended the Humean view. This book defends the Kantian one.
- I have titled the book "The Kinds of Things" to call attention to its devotion to more general metaphysical issues. Since an account of our identity will apply the concept of identity to ourselves, it is better supported by a theory of how to re-identify things of other kinds as well. A number of books on the subject have already been written on the same conviction. This book differs from most of them in its resolve not to rely on the metaphysics of ordinary thought. We commonly think of the things around us, and ourselves, as objects which persist undiminished through relatively long stretches of time. Hume, however, like Heraclitus and Buddha, denied this degree of permanence; and Hume's attitude towards persistence is reflected in his view of the self. Since the Humean is not wedded to our common metaphysics, we cannot hope to settle our main issue by a "descriptive" metaphysics which is content merely to lay bare how we ordinarily think of ourselves and other things.
- To avoid begging the question against the Humean, we must not merely rely upon, but must defend, the metaphysics of persistence in which the Kantian view finds its home. As I explain in the first chapter, we cannot, therefore, resort to the orthodox "method of cases," which hopes to gather and systematize our linguistic intuitions concerning identity; these are bound only to reflect, and not to support, common metaphysics. My alternative is to follow a roughly Kantian strategy.
- Arguments are called "transcendental" insofar as they resemble those for which Kant is famous. As I understand them, such arguments attempt to show consequences of premisses which are, in some relevant way, unavoidable. It is controversial whether they are effective against traditional forms of skepticism. But that is immaterial to me, since I put them to a different use. Since we are concerned to justify a view of what we are2, the idea that can justify our views forms for us a non-arbitrary starting point. To the best of my knowledge, this book is unique in offering a theory of personal identity based on transcendental argument. The virtue of this approach, I believe, is that it offers a level of justification which is deep enough to refute alternative metaphysical outlooks such as the Humean adopts.
- I do not assume, without argument, that the metaphysical question of our identity is practically important. In Chapter 3 I argue that we cannot avoid having intentions and desires which are expressed by I-thoughts; in Chapter 2 I argue that such thoughts belong to only one thing. Together these chapters show that it is not trivial to think that persons who are distinct from me cannot really carry out my decisions or fulfill desires involving myself. The boundaries of our existence circumscribe the reach of our will and limit our hopes for the future. This shows something of the importance of our death.
- The transcendental arguments unfold in stages. In Chapter 4, I argue in favor of the reality of persistence by showing that "continuants," which genuinely persist through time, are epistemically primary. Having seen in Chapter 2 that individuation terminates in self-awareness, we see that we are among these epistemically primary things, so that whatever principle of identity applies to these things will apply to us. Chapter 5 exploits and develops Ross Harrison's account of judgment to show that we are justified in applying the concept of identity to these first things in order to apply rules which enable us to confirm our empirical judgments. Chapter 6 explains how our Kantian epistemology leads to an Aristotelian metaphysics; the identity of each of our primary things is determined by how it tends to contribute to its own future. Although Chapter 6 also explains how this conception is far from vacuous in settling questions of identity, it is not clear enough to determine in a specific case whether a certain tendency of this kind is truly determinative of identity. The next two chapters develop a theory for answering this question for our primary things in general. Chapter 7 presents a conceptual framework for thinking of substantial change and accordingly of the "constitution" relation which obtains between a thing and its "matter." Chapter 8 applies to this the previous results so that we are able to tell in many cases whether a change is truly substantial or is merely an alteration, and so whether a property is possessed essentially or accidentally. In Chapter 9 this more general account of how to determine questions of identity is applied to the question of personal identity. By taking seriously questions of justification we find strong support for the view of Kant and common sense that in normal human life even changes in deeply held affections and ideals do not erode the basis of our identity. Since it is not as if we "die a bit" through these changes, anticipating them should not diminish our hopes or our sense of responsibility.
- Over the years in which I have worked on this project I have benefited especially from conversations, in person or in writing, with Charles Chihara, Timothy Gould, (the late) Paul Grice, Richard Haynes, Mark Hinchliff, Charles Jarrett, Richard Mendelsohn, (the late) George Myro, Stephen Schiffer, Peter Simons, Barry Smith, Barry Stroud, Stephen Tighe, David Warner, and David Wiggins.
Footnote 1: But with the last half-paragraph of acknowledgements omitted.
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