Descartes on Persistence and Temporal Parts
Gorham (Geoffrey)
Source: Campbell, O'Rourke & Silverstein - Time and Identity, II - Identity, Chapter 8
Paper - Abstract

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  1. Geoffrey Gorham 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 perdurantism2. His interpretation begins with a suggestive passage from the Third Meditation:
      For a lifespan can be divided into countless parts each completely independent of the others, so that it does not follow from the fact that I existed a little while ago that I must exist now, unless there is some cause which as it were creates me afresh at this moment — that is, preserves me.
  2. This apparent independence of different "momentary" souls strongly suggests a perdurantist3 reading of persistence: perhaps we should conceive of a Cartesian soul as composed of countless temporal parts, each dependent on some external causal influence for its existence.
  3. However, this interpretation raises some very tricky problems of interpretation for Descartes. One might think, for example (following Bennett 2001), that a genuine substance cannot possess distinct substantial parts; that it would be a "mere pseudo-substance" (Bennett 2001, vol. 1, 98).
  4. Gorham finds precedent in Descartes for denying this doctrine. More worrisome, however, is Descartes's famous insistence on the simplicity of the soul — this simple, unchanging soul is one way of attempting to secure an agent's numerical identity4 in the face of qualitative change.
  5. The solution to this problem, Gorham suggests, lies in the unchanging individual essence behind each thinking substance. This is the Cartesian ego5 that persists unchanged — and indeed may be argued to exist out of time and thus, in a sense, to be "immortal by its very nature" (165).

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1: Taken from p. 15-16 of "Slater (Matthew H.) - Framing the Problems of Time and Identity", footnotes removed (for now).

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