What matters for survival and the logical possibility of resurrection
Thomas (Janice L.)
Source: Thomas (Janice L.) - Mind and Person in the Philosophy of Religion
Paper - Abstract

Paper SummaryNotes Citing this PaperText Colour-Conventions


  1. Essential Reading – 101
  2. Further Reading – 101
  3. Does personal identity matter after all? – 101
  4. Parfit — what matters1 is not identity – 102
  5. Van Inwagen's suggestion – 103
  6. Other responses — Swinburne and Madell – 104
  7. Could persons be non-particulars? – 105
  8. Concluding remarks – 106
  9. Learning outcomes – 106
  10. Sample examination questions – 106
  11. Tips for answering the sample questions – 106
Full Text
  1. Essential Reading
  2. Further reading
  3. Does personal identity matter after all?
    • In working through the preceding two chapters and the readings for them, you will have realised that there are serious impediments to adopting either a bodily or a psychological criterion as a necessary and sufficient condition of personal identity over time. We need think of only one argument - the reduplication argument - which has been alleged to be fatal to both proffered criteria and thus, by itself, suggests that we have not as yet discovered what it is that makes a person the unique person he or she is and that, therefore, must be preserved if that person is to survive - the unique individual in question - from an earlier to a later time.
    • You may well feel that the answer must lie in some merger between a bodily and a psychological condition. Surely we only have the same person where we have both
      … (at least some of or some version of) the same living body and
      … some of the same memories, thoughts, feelings, concerns, projects, emotions, personality features, (mental contents generally) and continuity and connectedness with the original.
    • This solution may have much to recommend it: but it is, in fact, a position owing more to desperation than to dedication to finding a rigorous answer. To enter just one query: if the reduplication argument threatens both the memory criterion and the bodily criterion individually, what defence can the ‘merger' account possibly hope to make against it?
    • For some writers the realisation we have reached does not seem like a reason to despair. Rather, it seems to them a salutary shock. They see it as something which will turn us towards a correct account of the self and its possible prospects. In this last chapter, I am going to look at two, mutually very different, new directions which different authors have proposed upon reaching this cul de sac.
  4. Parfit - what matters2 is not identity
    • Reading
      "Parfit (Derek) - Reasons and Persons", 1984, the beginning of Part 3.
    • The first of these authors is Derek Parfit. Remember his reaction to the suggestion that transitivity of identity means that the two Robinsons (as I have been calling them) — the two survivors of half-brain transplants3 — cannot both be identical with the brain donor Brown (Chapter 10). Parfit's response was to ask in astonishment, ‘How can a double success be a failure?'.
    • Each of the two brain hemisphere recipients would fail to qualify as having personal identity with the brain donor only because of the other recipient's existence and equal claim. Parfit's response is to say, ‘Then it cannot be personal identity that really matters here'. Parfit guesses that most people would regard brain donorship as a way of surviving rather than dying and would not feel that this sort of survival was negated by brain fission and dual transplant4. If you would think such a (dual) procedure (should such ever become actually possible!) a way of surviving death then you are, in effect, agreeing with him that personal identity (staying numerically one and the same, single individual) is not of crucial importance for personal survival. The logic of identity is not the whole story.
    • Parfit often makes his case, not in terms of brain fission, but in terms of brain and body replication. If a science fiction machine were to scan you and (having made a molecule-for-molecule living duplicate of you) destroy your current body, would you have ceased to exist or would you have ‘moved' to a new body? Of course, in one sense you would have died: your original body would have ceased to be alive. But the question is, would you continue to live on in the new body?
    • If you are inclined to say that you would live on under the circumstances depicted, you may feel that the right way to describe such a case would be to say that you would still have the same body but that it had been given a complete set of new parts (a total refit, so to speak). Such replication, remember, would not be personal identity since the original-copy relationship is not a one-one relationship but a potentially one-many relationship.
    • (This talk of replicas may well remind you of John Hick's discussion of replicas which is in turn discussed in the Philosophy of religion subject guide (Chapter 14). For a brief version of Hick's position, see "Hick (John) - The Doctrine of the Resurrection of the Body Reconsidered". For a fuller treatment, look at "Hick (John) - Death and Eternal Life".)
    • Activity: Parfit has, on occasion, referred to his scanner-replication story as ‘a secular version of the resurrection' (or one that a reader might describe in such terms). Consider what might be right and what wrong with regarding the resurrection promised by established religions as having the same essential features as those mentioned in Parfit's science fiction.
    • This would be a good point at which to remind yourself of another objection (over and above the reduplication argument) raised by some materialists to the religious notion of resurrection. The objection I have in mind is the one based on the claim that temporal gaps extinguish identity. Suppose that, at death, your body is replicated by God in the minutest detail so that the living replica believes himself (or herself) to be you — and you, not dead or even importantly changed, but simply transported to a different place.
    • Some materialists would argue that if such a divine replication were to occur, because there would be at least a nanosecond gap between the death of the original's body and the commencement of the replica's life, the replica would not preserve the personal identity of the original. There would be a new individual, astoundingly similar to you both physically and mentally, but you would have been extinguished, despite the divine agency involved.
    • One suggestion might be that this is another case where personal identity is not what matters5. Since, arguably, everything that matters to you would survive in your replica the fact that such a divine replica would not, in strict logic, be (identical with) you is of vanishing importance.
  5. Van Inwagen's suggestion
    • Read: "Van Inwagen (Peter) - The Possibility of Resurrection".
    • An alternative suggestion to the one in the last paragraph might be that there are different ways of achieving replication: some of these involve genuine temporal gaps but others need not be viewed as doing so. Here I am proposing that the right analogy for death and resurrection is with the grandfather clock which gets disassembled, refurbished and restored rather than with the squashed coin whose identity and existence as a coin are terminated even if its material goes to the making of a new and different coin.
    • Van Inwagen has a worry which is distinct from, but shares much with, the temporal gaps objection. He suggests a possibility which seems to me both to cope with his own distinct worry and also to offer a justification for making the choice of analogy I have just tentatively proposed. I will, therefore, look at Van Inwagen's worry and his suggested solution to it and then go on to use his suggestion to fill out my proposal.
    • Van Inwagen's worry is about what he calls (47) ‘the popular quasi-Aristotelian story that is often supposed to establish the conceptual possibility of God's restoring to existence a man who has been totally destroyed'. This story is one of reassembling all the atoms of a dead man's body and reanimating them. The problem is that simply putting all the atoms of a thing back where they were is not restoring the original because part of what that original essentially was was the product of a particular agency or causal chain. A different agency would not and could not recapture that aspect of the original — an aspect which is crucial for identity:
    • he can never be reconstituted, for the causal chain has been irrevocably broken…[after reconstitution, his atoms will occupy their positions] because of God's miracle and not because of the operation of the natural processes that, taken collectively, were the life of that man.
    • On the final page of his article, Van Inwagen suggests that
    • Perhaps, at the moment of each man's death, God removes his corpse and replaces it with a simulacrum, which is what is burned or rots. Or perhaps God is not quite so wholesale as this: perhaps he removes ‘for safe-keeping' only the ‘core person' - the brain and central nervous system — or even some special part of it. These are details. (49)
    • By preserving the new corpse or ‘core person' for later reanimation, God would (on this suggestion) preserve the causal chain which is a vital part of what makes any human the unique person he or she is. The same unique individual who hoped for resurrection would live on when reanimated.
    • Thus Van Inwagen's suggestion copes with his own worry. And it seems to me that it can also be adapted to cope with the objection which springs from the belief that temporal gaps extinguish identity. If resurrection is viewed as very much on the analogy of Parfit's scanner-replication thought experiment6 then the temporal gaps objection may seem insurmountable. New material arranged to the old blueprint cannot preserve the causal chain with the old you.
    • But suppose that the replica consisting of entirely new material comes about because a preserved core person has, in addition to being reanimated, gradually and systematically been given a replacement of all its material parts and supplemented with whatever new material is necessary for it to be a whole, capable of living to the full (whatever that may mean) its renewed life. Bodily and psychological identity would have been ensured by these means and personal identity would thus (or so it seems to me) have been preserved for the person in question as successfully as your identity is preserved over each night as you sleep.
  6. Other responses - Swinburne and Madell
    • Parfit's response to the reduplication argument (among others) was to say that, perhaps surprisingly, personal identity is not crucial when we think about what matters7 most to us concerning our personal future. The response of other writers is quite different. To them it is still of the utmost importance for my survival that my survivor be — whether recognisable by me as such or not — numerically identical with me.
    • Both Swinburne and Madell would say that (at most) only one future person can be me — whatever numbers of future persons are psychologically or physically continuous with my past self or think themselves my survivors. Parfit thinks that it is indeterminate whether any of my replicas, for example, is numerically identical with me or not. But Swinburne would say that it must be determinate, so our feeling of being unable to decide in some cases must simply be a function of the fallibility and incompleteness of the evidence (tests) we usually use to discover personal identity.
    • In a replication or fission case, we are unable to tell which of two rival candidates for personal identity with some earlier person is the real successor. (The evidence seems to be equally good for both. Each has psychological continuity8 and connectedness with the original: each has the same amount of bodily continuity with the original.) That fact, however, does not show that neither is (nor that both are) identical with the original. The true state of affairs simply lies beyond our evidential capacities.
    • On Swinburne's view, what makes one or the other (or neither) as a matter of fact identical with the original is that God has assigned the unique soul which determines identity in the case to one or the other or none of the available candidates ("Swinburne (Richard) - The Evolution of the Soul", p. 153).
    • Swinburne is convinced that each of us is furnished with an immaterial soul which acts as a principle of identity. It is the sole principle of personal identity and it is neither endowed with physical identifying characteristics (obviously — it is an immaterial substance) nor endowed with mental characteristics or properties like memories or personality traits. If, by some miracle, you and I were to exchange mental contents so that you, for example, could recognise all of my friends and family but none of your own and could recall all the events which I can now recall from my own past life but none from your own, on Swinburne's theory you would still be you and me, me, provided only that God continued to sustain the connection between your soul and your body (154).
    • Madell, also, feels compelled to adopt dualism by the difficulties encountered by both the bodily criterion and the psychological criterion of personal identity. His reservations about both suggested accounts are linked to his conviction that a defensible theory of persons must take account of the facts of subjectivity which we encountered in the positions adopted by Jackson and Nagel (Chapter 9).
  7. Activity
    • Read "Madell (Geoffrey) - Personal Identity and the Mind-Body Problem". Madell believes that dualism is the only theory that can solve the puzzle of personal identity and take due account of the phenomenon of subjectivity. (You might look again at the relevant part of Chapter 9 of this guide, to remind yourself about subjectivity, qualia, ‘phenomenal feel', ‘what it's like' etc.) Try to decide what Madell's immaterial substance is like: he argues that it is not a mental substance and that such a notion is a perfectly useless one. How does it do the jobs that neither a physical nor a mental substance can or could do?
    • What is the nature of Swinburne's immaterial substance? What argument does he give for the existence of such a part of me?
  8. Could persons be non-particulars?
    • There is time only to mention the following possibility (hinted at in Chapter 9). Not all the things that we value highly in life are individual substances — material particulars which we could confine in a box whether large or small. Some individuals are not particulars, as philosophers use that term, at all. Especially works of the human imagination, highly individual though they undoubtedly are, are not particular: things like symphonies, plays, novels and poems, works of philosophy, can all have, in principle, any number of copies or renditions.
    • You and I can both own (and frequently play) the same recorded performance of the same Beethoven concerto, perhaps at the same time, in our different parts of the world. You can read your copy of Priest or Graham while I am reading mine. We are reading one and the same book although it is in two or three or many places at the same moment. Perhaps persons too are non-particular individuals. Perhaps your pre mortem ‘performance' is just one of several your fate will allow.
  9. Concluding remarks
    • By this stage in your study of this subject, I hope that it is obvious to you that even the wide-ranging survey of topics and authors which has been conducted so far is really more of a solid beginning than a complete treatment. Almost every book you have been asked to consult has had a bibliography of ‘Further reading' containing items that would enlarge your understanding and take it within reach of new puzzles to challenge your accepted beliefs, as well as new answers for both the novel and the familiar puzzles. If you have mastered some of the material pertinent to the majority of the topics dealt with in this guide, your success in the examination should be assured. I hope that, at the same time, you will have ensured an enduring interest in the subject which will lead you to continue to read and think about the endlessly fascinating philosophical conundra surrounding the nature of minds and persons.
  10. Learning outcomes: By the end of your work for this chapter, you should be able to.
    • Explain why Parfit thinks survival, not personal identity, is what matters9.
    • Outline and discuss Van Inwagen's worry and his proposed solution.
    • Comment upon the ‘temporal gaps' objection to the suggestion that resurrection is divine replication.
    • Explain Swinburne's response to the replication argument and also outline and criticise his argument for the existence of soul stuff.
  11. Sample examination questions
    • Would your molecule-for-molecule exact physical double have your exact mind and mental contents? Would that person be (another) you?
    • Is spiritual or immaterial substance the key to personal persistence?
  12. Tips for answering the sample questions
    • In answering the first part of the first question, all you can really say is what most people seem strongly inclined to say — that such an exact double would think and feel exactly what you do. In answer to the second part, you would again need to say that most people react to such questions by saying that the double would believe that he or she was in fact the original. Of course, the point of the question is to get you to think of the differences between what feels possible and what logic allows: your double and you cannot both be you! You would then need to expound Parfit's view and what is to be said for and against it.
    • To answer the second question well, you would have to discuss Swinbume or Madell or both, giving their reasons for dissatisfaction with materialist accounts of persons and their arguments for their own versions of dualism.


Part 2 (Personal identity and survival of death)10; Chapter 12. Hard Copy filed in "Various - Papers on Religion Boxes (Heythrop)".

Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)

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