Review of Bernard Williams' 'Problems of the Self'
Perry (John)
Source: Journal of Philosophy 73, No. 13, The Mind and the Self, Jul. 15, 1976pp. 416-428
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction

  1. Williams's papers usually are admirably clear, and always reward careful and sustained study. In the first eight he deals with various problems concerning the nature of persons. In the remaining essays he is concerned, for the most part, with ethical and meta-ethical problems. These essays connect in various ways with the first eight and with each other. But the book is not unified around a single argument, theme, or problem. I concentrate here on Williams's treatment of personal identity, a problem with which he deals in most of the first eight essays, and to the understanding of which he has made a major contribution.
  2. Williams thinks that persons are material objects. The "most forceful" objection he finds to this is that the identity of persons is not the same as the identity of bodies. When not based on an explicitly Cartesian conception of persons, the motivation for denying that personal identity is just human-body identity usually derives from cases of putative body transfer. Locke's cobbler with the prince's memories, and Sydney Shoemaker's Brownson with Brown's brain and memories and Robinson's body, are perhaps the most famous of such cases. If the same person could at one time have one body, and at another time have a different body, then being the same person cannot amount to having the same body; and then it seems that in some sense (though perhaps not in others) persons are not just bodies. It is William's involved and imaginative treatment of these cases, which he discusses in several of these essays, that I shall examine.


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