Problems in Personal Identity: Preface
Baillie (James)
Source: Baillie (James) - Problems in Personal Identity, 1993, Preface
Paper - Abstract

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Preface (Full Text)

  1. This book is concerned with what it is to be a person, and with what is involved in being the same person over time. I begin by making a survey of the major theories of personal identity. I mark some important divisions and distinctions between them. Primarily, I distinguish Reductionism1 and Non-Reductionism2 and, within the former, between the Physical and the Psychological Criterion3, and argue that none of these has proved to be satisfactory. I stress the importance of the work of Derek Parfit4, and in particular his shifting of the agenda away from the relation of identity to that of ‘Relation R’, and his claim that it is the holding of this latter relation — namely psychological continuity5 by any means — that contains ‘all that matters' to us regarding the future, and not necessarily whether I survive. I show how this theory avoids the pitfalls that defeated the other theories, and propose various developments of it.
  2. A critical eye is then cast over the methodology of thought-experimentation6, so long the cornerstone of philosophical studies into personal identity, whereby conclusions are derived from considerations regarding what we would say if certain hypothetical states of affairs were to occur. The concept of ‘theoretical possibility’ is employed in order to determine the limits of applicability of such thought-experiments7. Many influential arguments are found to be flawed due to misuse of this methodology.
  3. The remainder of the book is concerned with identifying and discussing issues that remain once a more modest methodological framework is imposed. These concern the nature and the limits of psychological unity8 and continuity. They focus on real-life conditions, both typical and pathological, and are rooted within scientific research rather than in imaginative speculation.
  4. My conclusions are for the most part negative, arguing that not only the answers but also the questions that have traditionally been posed regarding personal identity cease to be relevant, once the flaws in the framework that supported them have been exposed.

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