Vagueness and Personal Identity
Hossack (Keith)
Source: MacBride - Identity and Modality, 2006, Chapter 10
Paper - Abstract

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Editor’s Introduction1

  1. In 'Vagueness and Personal Identity' Keith Hossack considers the influential 'Bafflement Argument' put forward by Bernard Williams, an argument that threatens to undermine the materialistic2 conception of the self.
  2. The well-known thought experiments3 about personal identity suggest that there are possible situations — where, for example, a subject undergoes fission — in which it is indefinite whether the subject survives.
  3. If materialism4 is true it appears that this indefiniteness must be objective. For it appears that there are no sharp boundaries to the biological processes or physical mechanisms that sustain human life.
  4. By contrast, if dualism is true it appears that this indefiniteness can only be a matter of ignorance. For the kinds of issues in ethics and philosophy of religion that give rise to dualism suggest that the boundaries between souls must be sharp.
  5. Williams's Bafflement Argument suggests however that we cannot make sense of objectively indefinite identity in the case of persons, and so materialism5 must be abandoned. This is because we cannot make sense — we are baffled by — the suggestion that it is objectively indefinite whether I (or you) will continue to exist tomorrow.
  6. Hossack seeks to defend materialism6 by showing that the Bafflement Argument owes its persuasive force to a skewed conception of the self that fails to recognize that the correct way to understand the ‘I’ concept is as the intersection of subjective and objective ways of thinking about the self
  7. What is wrong with the Cartesian conception of the self is that it fails to give due weight to the location of the self in the objective worldly order.
  8. But what is wrong with the bodily conception of the self — a conception advanced, for example, by Strawson and Evans — is that by identifying the self with the body it fails to sufficiently stress the subjective aspect of the ‘I’ concept.
  9. The mistake that underlies the Bafflement Argument, Hossack maintains, is a misguided solipsistic conception of the self that arises from focusing exclusively upon the subjective aspect of the ‘I’ concept. Once this mistake is corrected by giving proper weight to the place of persons in the objective order — without falling over into the corresponding failings of the bodily conception of the self — the Bafflement Argument need no longer pose a threat to materialism7. .

  1. Unclarity of Personal Identity
  2. ‘I’ – the ‘Essential’ Indexical
  3. How Do I Know I Exist?
  4. Beyond Solipsism of the Present Moment
  5. The Solipsist as Rational Agent
  6. A Functionalist Conception of Human Beings
  7. Other Minds Theory
  8. Is Personal Identity Indefinite
  9. Conclusion
  10. Appendix: A Lichtenbergian Reconstruction of the Bafflement Argument

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1:

Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)

  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2021
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)

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