On Two Arguments for the Indeterminacy of Personal Identity
Cartwright (Helen Morris)
Source: Synthese 95, 1993, 241-273
Paper - Abstract

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Philosophers Index Abstract

  1. Both arguments are based on the breakdown of normal criteria of identity in certain science-fictional circumstances.
    1. In one case, normal criteria would support the identity of person A with each of two other persons, B and C; and it is argued that, in the imagined circumstances, 'A = B' and 'A = C' have no truth-value.
    2. In the other, a series or 'spectrum' of cases is tailored to a sorites1 argument. At one end of the spectrum, persons A and B are such that 'A = B' is clearly true; at the other end, A and B are such that the identity is clearly false. In between, normal criteria of identity leave the truth or falsehood of 'A = B' undecided, and it is argued that in these circumstances 'A = B' has no truth value.
    These arguments are to be understood counterfactually.
  2. My claim is that, so understood, neither establishes its conclusion.
    1. The first involves a pair of counterfactual situations that are equally possible or 'tied'. If 'A = B' and 'A = C' have no truth value, a counterfactual conditional with one of them as consequent and an antecedent that is true in circumstances in which either is true should have no truth value. Intuitively, however, any such counterfactual is false.
    2. The second argument can be seen to invite an analogous response. If this is right, however, there is an important disanalogy between this and the classical paradox of the heap. If the disanalogy is only apparent, the argument shows at most that the existence of persons can be indeterminate2.
  3. Note: the paper starts with reference to Parfit3's reductionist programme.

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