Framing the Problems of Time and Identity
Slater (Matthew H.)
Source: Campbell, O'Rourke & Silverstein - Time and Identity, Introduction
Paper - Abstract

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  1. Concepts Familiar yet Perplexing
  2. Time
    • The Reality of Time
    • Eternalism and Presentism
  3. Identity
    • The Mission
    • Platitudes?
  4. The Problem of Change and Persistence over Time
  5. The Self
  6. Recent Work on Tiime and Identity: The Essays
    • Time
    • Identity
    • The Self
    • Death

  1. I've claimed that the concepts of time and identity are intimately connected. Nevertheless, the essays are divided (rather roughly) into four sections corresponding to their respective centers of gravity: Time, Identity, The Self, and Death. Here's a brief tour.
  2. Time:
    • The essays in this section address the metaphysics of time and the conceptual links between time and freedom. The first two — by Lynne Rudder Baker and Lawrence B. Lombard — express different kinds of dissatisfaction with the debate between the eternalist and the presentist.
    • "Baker (Lynne Rudder) - Temporal Reality" (chapter 1): argues that each position alone fails to cohere with either physics or human experience.
    • "Lombard (Lawrence B.) - Time for a Change: A Polemic Against the Presentism-Eternalism Debate" (chapter 2): assimilates the ancient debate about change between Heraclitus and Parmenides to the contemporary debate between the presentists and the eternalists: perhaps they too are engaged in a merely verbal dispute.
    • Another way that eternalists and presentists might attempt to spell out their differences involves the "fixity" of the future. The eternalist's claim that past, present, and future entities are all equally "real" might usefully parlay into the claim that those facts are fixed — a claim the presentist may deny, at least about the future. Whether or not this suggestion will satisfy "skeptics" like Lombard, it raises an interesting question about the relation of our metaphysics of time and our view of our freedom. Suppose the future is fixed; then if I sprain my ankle on the basketball court tomorrow, it is true now that that event will come to pass and there is nothing I can do to prevent it. So the argument for fatalism goes. A similar issue arises in discussions of time travel2." Kurt Godel provided solutions to Einstein's field equations that vindicated the possibility of "closed timelike curves," elevating time travel3 from entertaining fiction to tantalizing possibility. Many philosophers were skeptical: they worried about logical paradoxes that might follow from meddling time travellers4 bent on bringing about their own nonexistence. David Lewis set many minds at ease in his seminal "Lewis (David) - The Paradoxes of Time Travel" (1976): time travellers5 can't, say, kill their grandfathers for the commonplace reason that they didn't. "Sider (Ted) - Time Travel, Coincidences and Counterfactuals" (2002) agrees, but not everyone got on board. "Vihvelin (Kadri) - What Time Travelers Cannot Do" (1996) argued that this treatment downplayed the strange inability of time travellers6 to do what we otherwise think them perfectly capable of doing.
    • "Carroll (John W.) - Context, Conditionals, Fatalism, Time Travel, and Freedom" (chapter 3): offers a contextualist account of counterfactual conditionals designed to sort out the dispute on the abilities of time travellers7 and reveal the problems with the fatalist's argument.
    • Other worries beset the presentist if we take him at his word that no past and future individuals exist. How do we yet claim that Lincoln was shot by Booth and that the earth will orbit the sun?
    • "Hinchliff (Mark) - The Identity of the Past" (chapter 4): addresses this question, locating "property presentism" as the principle responsible for these worries.
  3. Identity:
    • Identity may be simple, but as we've seen, there's plenty of room for argument over how to apply that concept to problems in metaphysics and the philosophy of language. We begin with the latter. Recall that one of the "platitudes" regarding identity was the principle of substitutivity or the Indiscernibility of Identicals8. Although substitutivity of identicals fails in opaque contexts, it is generally thought that when names are "purely referential" — for example, when the names are "rigid designators" or "directly referential" — the substitutivity principle is true. But things may not be so simple.
    • "Elugardo (Reinaldo) & Stainton (Robert J.) - Identity Through Change and Substitutivity Salva Veritate" (chapter 5): presents a new puzzle about substituting co-referring names into sentences describing accidental change.
    • "Markosian (Ned) - Identifying the Problem of Personal Identity" (chapter 6): suggests at a metaphilosophical level that the standard way of putting the problem improperly biases the ensuing debate in favor of four-dimensionalism.
    • As noted above, ascriptions of moral responsibility often seem to depend on ascriptions of identity among agents.
    • "Tognazzini (Neal A.) - Persistence and Responsibility" (chapter 7): rebuts several arguments for the claim that the metaphysics of perdurance9 leaves no room for the existence of responsible agents.
    • "Gorham (Geoffrey) - Descartes on Persistence and Temporal Parts" (chapter 8): seeks to pin down one famous philosopher's metaphysical commitments. Gorham contends that the best way to reconstruct Descartes's argument for the immortality of the soul makes use of the modern resource of perdurantism10.
  4. The Self:
    • The essays in this section share a focus on our first-person experience — our understanding of our selves. What sort of things are we? Are we immortal souls like Descartes thought? Are we instead bundles of perceptions and thoughts? Do we even need to settle these issues to enjoy a conception of ourselves?
    • "Noonan (Harold) - Persons, Animals and Human Beings (2010)" (chapter 9): leans on an intriguing view of first-person reference to further articulate his approach to personal identity and personhood.
    • "Ismael (Jenann) - Me, Again" (chapter 10): takes up the issue of first-person reference.
    • "Perry (John) - Selves and Self-Concepts" (chapter 11): likewise resists the thought that the self is something mysterious. Perry proposes a "straightforward theory" of the self, offering the following analogy; a neighbor is just a person thought of under the relation of living next door to someone; likewise, a self is just a person thought of under the relation of identity. "Self is to identity as neighbor is to living next door to".
    • "Baber (Harriet E.) - Ex Ante Desire and Post Hoc Satisfaction" (chapter 12): addresses this problem of changing desires for the desire satisfaction model of well-being, claiming that the satisfaction even of preferences I can no longer identify with does benefit us, even if we are not better off, even if we don't appreciate our desires being satisfied.
  5. Death:
    • Just as we want to speak of posthumous benefits, we may want to account for posthumous harms. Rather than achieving renown after death, our obscure artist's work may be stolen or maligned. Perhaps death itself is a harm. Defenders of this position face an ancient challenge: how could there be a harm without a subject? As Epicurus famously wrote in his "Letter to Menoeceus": "so long as we exist, death is not with us; but when it comes, then we do not exist" ("Epicurus - Letter to Menoeceus" 1940, 31). Many have found this paradoxical: we clearly want to say that death is an evil, but can we coherently claim that we are harmed even when we do not exist?
    • "Bradley (Ben) - Eternalism and Death's Badness" (chapter 13): claims that we must be eternalists to make sense of the cross-temporal relation between a person and that person's death.
    • "Silverstein (Harry) - The Time of the Evil of Death" (chapter 14): addresses Bradley's criticism, sharpening and expanding his previous view that the question 'when is S's death an evil for S?' has, and needs, no answer.
    • "Levenbook (Barbara Baum) - The Retroactivity Problem" (chapter 15): wishes to accommodate the intuition that death is an evil (ceteris paribus): the very intelligibility of our possessing a "right to life" plausibly depends on our ability to explain how death counts as a frustration of interests.

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1: From the “Recent Work” section. Text on the actual Papers has been removed to form the Abstracts of the Papers themselves.

Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)

  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2020
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