Reasons and Reductionism
Johnston (Mark)
Source: Philosophical Review, July 1992; 101(3): 589-618
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction

  1. My aim here is to present a systematic position that quite generally stands in the way of arguing from claims in meta- physics to revisions in our practices, and to examine how this position bears upon the fascinating and ingenious arguments of part 3 of "Parfit (Derek) - Reasons and Persons". There Parfit1 argues that since a so-called Reductionist view of personal identity, and hence of continued existence, is correct, one's survival or continued existence is not important in the way we naturally think. What matters2, or what is of rational significance in survival, can be secured in cases in which people do not continue to exist but are replaced. There is no reason to turn down a painless and practically undetectable replacement by the right sort of replica, even if one is convinced that this involves one's own death! Survival is not everything it has seemed to us to be.
  2. In more recent writing, Parfit3 suggests that since Reductionism is true, no one deserves to be punished for even the great wrongs they committed in the past. He adds that the very idea of just compensation is based upon a mistake about the nature of personal identity4. Reductionism thus appears to show that contrary to our primordial and habitual practice, the facts of personal identity and difference are not, as Parfit5 puts it, "deep enough" facts around which to organize our practical concerns and patterns of reason giving.
  3. The issues raised by Parfit6's arguments force consideration of fundamental questions about the relations between metaphysics and our practical concerns.
    • Do we, as Parfit7 maintains, have a false metaphysical view of our natures as persons?
    • How far does any such view guide us in our ordinary activities of reidentifying and caring about people?
    • How much should the discovery that we have a false metaphysical view of our natures impact upon our practical concern with survival?

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 4: See "Parfit (Derek) - Comments".

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