How To Be A Conventional Person
Braddon-Mitchell (David) & Miller (Kristie)
Source: Monist, Oct2004, Vol. 87 Issue 4, p457-474, 18p;
Paper - Abstract

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Philosophers’ Index Abstract

  1. Focuses on the concepts of becoming a conventional person.
  2. Use of realism about personal identity to refer to the view that personal identity over time is not a matter of convention;
  3. Contrast between conventionalism and realism about personal identity;
  4. Changes needed to casually instigate more changes of convention until such time as enough have changed.

Authors’ Introduction
  1. It is an increasingly influential view that personal identity across time is in part a matter of the attitudes or desires of the entities that constitute persons. Thus some talk of "person-directed practices" – practices of reasonable self-regard that entities have for some of their continuants. In some versions, these practices are social as well as personal.
  2. On these views a person's identity over time is, at least in part, determined by the various person-directed practices of the individual and/or of the community. These practices include the attribution of blame and reward for past actions, encouragement for future actions, the transmission of property, the attitude of anticipation or self-regard for future continuants and so forth.
  3. On this view someone survives some event just if, given her person-tracking practices, or those of her community, the being that exists prior to the event is treated in the same person-directed way as the being that exists after the event. Yet had these practices been somewhat different, she would have failed to survive the event even though, as it was, she did survive.
  4. We will sometimes call these person-directed practices 'conventions of identity', and later come back to discuss whether 'convention' is exactly the right term. If these practices are conventions, then it seems that personal identity is sometimes, at least in part, a matter of convention. Call such a view conventionalism about identity.
  5. The job of this paper is to defend the coherence of this view, and in particular to defend it from some important recent criticisms by Trenton Merricks.

Authors’ Conclusion
  1. Perhaps some of the resistance that many have to conventionalism – and especially logical conventionalism – has to do with the idea that if conventionalism were true, our personhood would be a matter of mere convention. But there is all the difference in the world between convention and mere convention. Mere convention is where we must make a decision between a number of options, but it does not matter to us which option we choose. Or it is where we operate on a particular convention, but see that, if we all switched to another convention, matters would be just as good; and as a result, we do not much care for our convention except insofar as we see we have to have one or another.
  2. Our personhood, though, is something we care about deeply. We operate on certain conventions, but care greatly about them. Some of the most interesting issues in personal identity in fact arise from seeing that there are cases where we care enormously about certain conventions, even while seeing that there is nothing in nature that makes our caring about those conventions any more rational than caring about some other conventions.
  3. In puzzle cases, the psychological-continuity theorists and the physical-continuity theorists continue to fight it out in metaphysics class, even when they realise there is no further fact that could settle the issue. We should not let this blind us to the fact that most of us have as settled convention that we have self-regard for future entities that are both psychologically and physically continuous. Nor that that settled convention – or perhaps the disjoined version – mattes a lot to us. Most of us are human beings, but that is not all that we care about in ourselves. We care about caring about things: and that is why our concept of person determines that there are persons only when these conventions of care are instantiated. Being merely human is not enough.
  4. Showing that our concept does work this way is of course a bigger job than we can attempt here, though it is begun in much of the conventionalist literature. Our task is to show how it could work that way: to show how to be a conventional person, and to show how to be a logical conventionalist.

  1. "Bickerton (Derek) - How Protolanguage Became Language",
  2. "Braddon-Mitchell (David) - Masters of Our Meanings",
  3. "Braddon-Mitchell (David) & West (Caroline) - Temporal Phase Pluralism",
  4. "Chalmers (David) - The Foundations of Two-Dimensional Semantics",
  5. "Frankfurt (Harry) - Freedom of the Will and the Concept of a Person",
  6. "Heller (Mark) - The Ontology of Physical Objects: Four-Dimensional Hunks of Matter",
  7. "Jackson (Frank) - Why We Need A-Intensions",
  8. "Johnston (Mark) - Relativism and the Self",
  9. "Lewis (David) - Convention",
  10. "Merricks (Trenton) - Realism About Personal Identity Over Time",
  11. "Merricks (Trenton) - No Statues",
  12. "Nozick (Robert) - Philosophical Explanations",
  13. "Olson (Eric) - Relativism and Persistence",
  14. "Parfit (Derek) - Reasons and Persons",
  15. "Perry (John) - Can the Self Divide?",
  16. "Robinson (Denis) - Failing To Agree Or Failing To Disagree?: Personal Identity Quasi-Relativism",
  17. "Sider (Ted) - Criteria of Personal Identity and the Limits of Conceptual Analysis",
  18. "Unger (Peter) - Identity, Consciousness and Value",
  19. "Tooley (Michael) - Abortion and Infanticide",
  20. "Williams (Bernard) - Are Persons Bodies?",


In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1:

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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