Persons: Notes on Their Nature, Identity and Rationality
Margolis (Joseph)
Source: Southern Journal of Philosophy, 1980, 463-472
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction

  1. An adequate theory of persons must provide a systematic account of:
    • (i) the nature of persons, and
    • (ii) effective criteria for the numerical identity1 of persons.
    No theory can be relevantly systematic that fails to examine the conceptual relationship between (i) and (ii) — on the obvious grounds that how things are individuated and reidentified depends on the sorts of which they are instances and varies from sort to sort.
  2. A theory can hardly be adequate, then, if either it ignores that relationship or offers an account of it that fails to distinguish between persons and entities of lesser capacity.
  3. For example, it may be said, fairly, that Bernard Williams' theory of the numerical identity2 of persons fails to examine the nature of persons and that P. F. Strawson's theory fails to distinguish between persons and sentient animals3.
  4. Sometimes, it is useful, in addressing the issues of (i) and (ii), to isolate a strategic question that provides an effective lever for appraising competing views. This, for example, is the intended distinction of an extremely influential and much-discussed paper by John Perry ("Perry (John) - The Importance of Being Identical"). Perry hopes to answer, there, Joseph Butler's objection to Locke's account, that in effect Locke's emphasis on memory "rendered the inquiry concerning a future life of no consequence," failed to explain why it is "that our present self will be interested in what will befall us tomorrow4." The answer to this question appears to entail contributions to (i) and (ii). But more as well, because it also purports to link such contributions to an additional topic of importance, namely,
    • (iii) the bearing of the nature and identity of persons on the rational concerns of persons.
  5. Clearly, to be able to bring these issues together through the simple device of considering why we take an interest in our "future selves," that is, in the future stages of our present selves, promises a remarkable economy. For example, it might show whether utilitarianism — at least as far as taking a special interest in oneself as opposed to all others, or rejecting such a privilege — is a rationally defensible position.

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 3: Footnote 4: See "Butler (Joseph) - Of Personal Identity".

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