Functionalism and Personal Identity - a Reply
Shoemaker (Sydney)
Source: Nous, 38:3 (2004), pp. 525-533
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction

  1. Two recent papers in this journal, "Agar (Nicholas) - Functionalism and Personal Identity" (2003) and "Olson (Eric) - What Does Functionalism Tell Us About Personal Identity" (2002), address an account of mine (in my 19841 and 19972) which appeals to a functionalist view of mental states in support of a psychological continuity3 view of personal identity. Despite my title, this paper is not primarily a reply to Agar's paper. Agar and I are not in disagreement, although he thinks we are (he and one of my past selves are in disagreement). I agree with his "functional necessary condition for two mental states to be copersonal," namely that "it is possible to trace a chain of actual and potential causes between them that includes no non-psychological intermediate" (p. 62), and that this rules out the possibility of teletransportation4 and the like. This is in accord with, and is a helpful supplement to, the view in my 1997 that persons are "autonomous self-perpetuators," and that the successive stages of their careers are linked by immanent causation5. While this rules out teletransportation6 and "brain state transfer7" procedures as person preserving, it does not rule out the possibility of changes of body by way of cerebrum8 transfers.The latter is part of what is at issue between me and Eric Olson.
  2. According to Olson, my functionalist argument for a Neo-Lockean view of personal identity offers "what looks to be the only serious defense of the psychological continuity9 view against a crucial objection" (p. 682). But this turns out to be not much of a compliment; he goes on to claim that my view has "extremely surprising consequences," which include its ruling out our being material beings, and he concludes his discussion by saying that "functionalism offers no support for a psychological-continuity view of personal identity" (p. 697).
  3. Briefly put, the functionalist view in question says that the psychological continuity10 that Neo-Lockean views take to constitute personal identity is best viewed as the playing out over time of the functional roles of the various sorts of psychological states, and that given that such states are individuated by their functional roles, and given that persons are subjects of such states, psychological continuity11 of this sort must constitute the persistence of persons over time. …

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1: See "Shoemaker (Sydney) - Personal Identity: a Materialist Account".

Footnote 2: See "Shoemaker (Sydney) - Self and Substance".

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  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2020
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)

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