Relativism and the Self
Johnston (Mark)
Source: Krausz: Relativism : interpretation and confrontation
Paper - Abstract

Paper StatisticsBooks / Papers Citing this PaperColour-ConventionsDisclaimer

Author’s Introduction

  1. Is there any object, property, relation, state, event, process, or fact in this world, or in any other, which demands and therefore justifies particular responses on our part? Here is an example, bland enough, I hope, to be uncontroversial: if p is conclusive evidence for q (for example1, if p is [r and if r then q]), then the fact that p is conclusive evidence for q demands and justifies the response of believing q given that one continues to believe p. Someone who continued to believe p and did not as a result come to believe q would be open to censure. He would have failed to make a response that was required or demanded by his believing p.
  2. These bland remarks are seemingly compatible with the following surprising view about conclusive evidence. For any p and q, if p is conclusive evidence for q, then the fact of p's being conclusive evidence for q merely is its being the case that we are standardly disposed to believe q in consequence of believing p, and perhaps also that we are standardly disposed to censure someone who continues to believe p and fails to believe q. Of course, the counterpart of the usual objection to simple subjectivism will have to be avoided: it cannot be that the relations of conclusive evidence would change if our standard dispositions were to change. So the advocate of the surprising view should say that p's being conclusive evidence for q is merely its being the case that we, as we actually2 are, would typically come to believe q in consequence of believing and continuing to believe p and typically censure someone who believed p and did not believe q. "We" is meant to embrace those of us who are standard in matters of belief fixation and epistemic censure, and "typically" is meant to leave room for our tolerating certain excuses. So, for example, someone in the position of Saul Kripke's Pierre3 has an excuse, someone whose belief that p does not consist in a state that is relevantly related to the state that is his thought that q would not be censurable for believing p and not believing q.

Author’s Epilogue
  1. None of this as yet constitutes a complete argument for the view that our substance kind is the kind Protean Person. All we have so far is an illustration of how this view emerges from the attempt to render consistent in a non-arbitrary way the consequences of the claim that personal identity is at most a dependent justifier. Let me then conclude with a sketch of how the foregoing in conjunction with views about personal identity which I have developed elsewhere might be turned into the required argument.
  2. "Johnston (Mark) - Human Beings" addresses the question of how we could settle on an account of the kind of thing we are. Not, it argues, by giving a primary role to "the method of cases" — the method of taking very seriously our reactions to imaginary cases which decompose in various ways the physical and psychological continuities and connections which go together in the ordinary run of cases of personal identity. For there are many reasons to think that our reactions to such imaginary cases are the products of several potentially distorting influences. In order to sort out which of these influences are really distorting, we need recourse to different methodology. So it is proposed that the investigation into the kind of thing we are should be guided by a certain reconstructive aim. There is the humble and ubiquitous practice of reidentifying ourselves and each other over time. Philosophical skepticism aside, this practice is a reliable and mostly unproblematic source of knowledge about particular claims of personal identity. So the first question for a philosophical theory of personal identity to attempt to answer is this: What kind of thing is such that things of that kind can be reliably and unproblematically reidentified over time in just the way in which we reliably and unproblematically reidentify ourselves and each other? This constraint not only rules out Cartesian views of the facts of personal identity but can be wielded to support a conception of ourselves as of the kind Human Being, where4 a human being is typically constituted by a human animal5 but can be reduced to the condition of a mere functioning brain.
  3. However, the limits of this alternative methodology must be frankly recognized. There is nothing about the reconstructive method which will settle the answer to this question: Even if we are of the kind Human Being, is this kind a substance kind or a crytophase6 kind? After all, it could have been the case that due to a universal disease human beings always died in adolescence. Applying the alternative reconstructive method from within such a situation we would get the (correct) result that the victims of the universal disease are of the kind Pre-Adult Human Being. Although they certainly are of this kind, what is left open by the reconstructive method is whether this kind is a substance kind or a crytophase kind. So also the corresponding question is left open in the case of ourselves, the Human Beings.
  4. Given a reasonable skepticism about the probative force of appeals to imaginary cases in order to answer this question, where can we look for an answer? We can look only, I think, to the deliverance of philosophical reflection on the nature of the facts of personal identity, and in particular on the conceptual dependence or independence of personal identity on our person-directed expectations and concerns. But once we take the view that the facts of personal identity are at most dependent justifiers — constituted out of our person-directed expectations and concerns — and then attempt to find a consistent and non-arbitrary form of this view, we get a very surprising result. Indeed, the kind Human Being is for us only a phase kind. Our substance kind is a higher-order kind non-arbitrarily defined across such phase kinds as Human Being and Series Human Being. The kind Protean Person is such a higher-order kind. Surprising as this upshot is, it is I think indicative of a general strategy which will allow the relativist consistently to see his own practice merely as one among many, each perhaps equally valid on its own terms. Such relativism makes sense against the background of a higher-order constancy.

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1: The text does say “if p is [r and if r then q]”, but this doesn’t seem to make sense, so I assume it ought to say “if p is r and [if r then q]”

Footnote 2: For the use of “actually” in getting around such objections to simple subjectivism, see Martin Davies and Lloyd Humberstone, "Two Notions of Necessity," Philosophical Studies 38 (1980): 1-30.

Footnote 3: See Saul Kripke, "A Puzzle about Belief," in Meaning and Use, ed. A. Margalit (Reidel, 1979).

Footnote 4: Aha! This is Johnston’s definition of “Human Being”.

Footnote 6:

Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)

  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2019
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)

© Theo Todman, June 2007 - Jan 2019. Please address any comments on this page to File output:
Website Maintenance Dashboard
Return to Top of this Page Return to Theo Todman's Philosophy Page Return to Theo Todman's Home Page