Personal Identity and Ethics - Conclusion: Notes on Method
Shoemaker (David)
Source: Shoemaker (David) - Personal Identity and Ethics: A Brief Introduction, 2009, Conclusion
Paper - Abstract

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  1. Introduction: Shoemaker states that his aim in the book has not been to propound one theory of the relation of Personal Identity to Ethics is being the correct one, but to set out the various stalls as a foundation for further study on the part of the reader. But, there are questions of methodology that need to be considered. Shoemaker identifies three:-
    → 1. The priority of Personal Identity over Ethics
    → 2. Theoretical or Practical Motivation
    → 3. Which are the motivating practical concerns?
    These cascade on from one another, and represent further decisions based on earlier bifurcations.
  2. Priority:
  3. Motivation – Theoretical or Practical?: Even for those who take Metaphysics as prior to Ethics, there’s a further bifurcation.
    • Theoretical Motivation: Persons are simply an interesting special case of the identity conditions of objects generally. There’s no necessary connection for those of this motivation between Personal Identity and Ethics. There will be a tendency to assimilate the identity conditions of persons to those of other objects – or at least other organisms – hence the attraction of the Biological Criterion3 for those with this motivation.
    • Practical Motivation: The driver for investigating questions of Personal Identity is our practical concerns, for instance agency (because we need to know that we are punishing (say) the right agent). Note that this motivation is different from giving Ethics priority over metaphysics. Those motivated by practical concerns will tend to favour Psychological Criteria4 (or Narrative Identity5, or IDM (= “Identity Doesn’t Matter”)), as our practical concerns are with psychology. Hence, they will think that the PCs or Persons differ greatly from those of animals.
    • Each of the opposing views does well in some respects and badly in others. The BV does well on Essence – what we are6 – but badly on rational anticipation – we don’t get what we want out of persistence, or don’t persist at all. And vice versa for the PV.
  4. Motivating Practical Concerns: There are motivational differences even amongst those who agree that Metaphysics is prior to Ethics, and who agree that the motivation for the investigation of the PCs of Persons is practical rather than theoretical.
    • They have different starting questions, the answers to which – given the need for consistency – influence the answers to others. Eg:-
      → Moral Responsibility
      Post-mortem survival7
      → Prudential rationality, etc.
    • So, someone whose initial interest is in questions of agency, will tend to assume that all questions of personal identity must be psychology-related.
    • However, someone who’s interested in compensation may not adopt this approach, because the cases involving compensation may not involve a person at all. For instance, compensation for damage in utero (when the fetus8 had no psychological properties); or compensation to an individual who has received a traumatic head injury, and who might have no psychology either (eg. if in a PVS)9. These situations prima facie require the BV for compensation to apply; then, consistency may apply the BV to all cases of practical concern.
    • Note: I’m not fully convinced that this isn’t a reversal to giving priority to Ethics over Metaphysics. But it may be that the initial question so colours the philosopher’s thinking that he doesn’t consider alternatives even when the counter-examples roll in.
  5. Response to Methodological Differences:
    • Preferably – but not popularly – the philosopher will review his methodology in the light of the conflicts that arise. Shoemaker cites the following as laudable but rare attempts at so doing:-
      "Johnston (Mark) - Human Beings"
      "Johnston (Mark) - Human Concerns without Superlative Selves"
      "Schechtman (Marya) - The Constitution of Selves"
    • Pluralism: This allows the adoption of different approaches to the relation between Personal Identity and Ethics, depending on the case to hand. Pluralism denies a single relation.
    • Note: that Pluralism is not allowing different metaphysical accounts of Personal Identity, depending on the practical context – at least I hope not – and Shoemaker agrees – as this would lead to contradiction. This is a pluralist account of the relation between PI and E, not a pluralist account of PI.
    • What Shoemaker proposes is that the question “is X at t1 identical to Y at t2” might have different answers depending on the descriptions under which X and Y fall. These descriptions would depend on the practical concern being addressed. The context Shoemaker is discussing involve the cases where either the BV or PV give the intuitive practical account, depending on the case at hand. So, the descriptions he has in mind are “Agent” and “Biological Individual” (or maybe “Human Being10” or “Human Animal11”).
    • Note: We need to be very careful that we don’t fall into the incoherence of Relative Identity12. We probably have to distinguish between Persons and Human Beings as falling under different Sortals13 – which would allow two individuals to be co-located); or else to deny that Person (or Agent) is a substance-concept at all.
    • Shoemaker admits the Pluralist approach doesn’t resolve conflict – rather it dissolves it, in that there was never any real conflict in the first place.
  6. Conclusion: Recognising where we are with respect to these assumptions enables disagreements to be clarified and understood. Shoemaker asks whether we have to make a single choice, or whether adopting the pluralist “horses for courses” approach might not be liberating.
  7. Other Works Cited:-
  8. Outstanding Tasks14:

Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)

  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2018



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