Taylor and Parfit on Personal Identity: a Response to Lotter
Baker (Deane-Peter)
Source: South African Journal of Philosophy, Aug99, Vol. 18 Issue 3, p331, 16p
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Abstract

    In this paper the author attempts to show that Lotter is not justified in ignoring orthodox views of personal identity on the basis of arguments offered by Taylor. It is argued that Taylor's arguments against the orthodoxy do not establish what he, and Lotter, hope they establish, namely, that the orthodox position, represented by the work of Parfit1, fails to account for personal identity. The author also attempts to show the importance of this area of debate between orthodox theories of personal identity and the concept of personal identity offered by Taylor, Lotter, and others.

  1. Introduction
  2. Taylor on 'Identity'
  3. Parfit2's theory of personal identity
  4. Taylor's objection to Parfit3's theory
  5. Should we accept the theory of personal identity offered by Taylor and Lotter?

Reading List
My Initial Comments4
  1. I have had no dealings with Charles Taylor until recently, when he was referenced in a very introductory on-line philosophy course, which I was attending as I'd recommended it to friends and family as an easy (and free) way into the subject, which I hoped might pique their interest. An interview article with CT in Prospect Magazine was referenced as background on CT (Prospect - Charles Taylor interview, discussed by me at "Rogers (Ben), Taylor (Charles), Etc - Prospect Interview with Charles Taylor"), and had a rather hot-headed discussion on the philosophy of religion with Anthony Grayling, who I know quite well.
  2. I can't but think that there are two different uses of the term "personal identity". One is a moral or psychological term and the other a logical / metaphysical one.
  3. There are many accounts of just what persons actually are. I think everyone agrees that persons are beings with higher psychological or moral properties, but there's a disagreement as to whether persons are substances in their own right, or whether personhood is a property of a substance that is not essentially a person. I incline towards the animalist5 persuasion, whereby the persisting thing is the human animal6, which starts off as a fetus7 (only a potential person) and may end up as a mentally-incompetent geriatric (an ex-person, on some accounts). So, a human animal8 is a person, properly so-called, during only part of its existence. The idea I'm trying out is that a "person" is a "phase sortal9" of a human animal10 (or, maybe, a chimpanzee or a dolphin, or an appropriate alien or an angel, if there are such things). Something like “husband” or “student”. On that account, one is the same person if one remains the same animal (and remains a person), no matter how much psychological change one undergoes. Others (eg. Lynne Rudder Baker) take the view that persons are individuals identified by a unique "first-person perspective11" that are substances in their own right, constituted at any one time by some other thing such as a human animal12.
  4. But (it seems to me) both Parfit13 and Taylor think of persons in a different way, as collections of mental states, and a particular person doesn't survive too much of a disruption in these states. Not only that, they probably aren't too interested in the logical / metaphysical questions at all, but talk of "an identity", rather than identity as a logical equivalence relation that a things bears to itself and to no other. The sort of questions I'm interested in relate to "just what sort of things are we", what "accidents" could we survive - events like teletransportation14, resurrection, metamorphosis15, (half) brain transplants16 and the like. Questions of "who is the real me" and the like are off-topic, of interest to existentialists or Russian novelists but not analytic philosophers (it is said).
  5. Following the psychological approach can lead to confusions, it seems to me. Parfit17 places such store on one’s “projects” that he has it that there can be mostly-unrelated individually psychologically-connected “selves” that at different times inhabit the same body, and that it might be rational for an earlier self to make no provision for a later one (a communist ought to make provision for another communist, not for his capitalist subsequent-self). But, it seems to me, this is dangerous stuff. I am identical to my human animal18 and “stuck in it” – so it will be me that has to endure whatever privations befall my future self, whatever projects I then have. While I don’t follow Lynne Rudder Baker in reifying persons as such, I consider her notion of a first-person perspective19 to be a useful, indeed vital, one.
  6. Of course, having an integrated personality, and having a life which has meaning in a narrative sense, are very important topics, and maybe more interesting and important than questions of logic and metaphysics, though I suspect they supervene20 on them.
  7. I intend to go into D.P. Baker’s paper in some detail, as it raises, or at least approaches, a lot of these questions in a fairly straightforward way.

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 4: In response to a correspondent, who requested a copy of the paper.

Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)

  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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