I. THE PARADOX
- Life may turn sour and, in extremis, not worth living. On occasion it may be best, moreover, to lay down one's life for a greater cause. None of this is any news, debatable though it may remain, in general or case by case. Now comes the news that life does not matter in the way we had thought. No resurgence of existentialism, nor tidings from some ancient religion or some new cult, the news derives from the most sober and probing philosophical argument (the extraordinary Parfit, 1984, Part III), and takes more precisely the following form:
The Paradox. Even though life L is optimal (in all dimensions), and even though if it were extended L would continue to be optimal, it does not follow that it is best to extend it, even for the subject whose life L is. What is the argument?
- Section II will defend a certain view of the nature of persons and personal identity, and Section III will then argue for the Paradox on that basis, and reflect on its philosophical implications and on the options it presents.
II. WHAT CONSTITUTES SURVIVAL?
- We set out from two assumptions:
- One is not a soul, one' s existence does not consist in the existence of any soul, and one's perdurance does not consist in the perdurance of any soul.
- One is not any body or collection of particles, one's existence does not consist in the existence of any body or collection of particles, and one's perdurance does not consist in the perdurance of any body or collection of particles.
- Thesis 1 is often defended through epistemological arguments. Elsewhere I oppose these but propose other arguments ("Sosa (Ernest) - Subjects Among Other Things", 1987).
- Thesis 2 is made plausible through the importance of psychological continuity for personal identity, and through the fact that the body itself will stand in a supervenience1 or dependence relation to yet more fundamental entities. ("Sosa (Ernest) - Subjects Among Other Things", 1987, contains discussion and defense of both theses.)
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