- Twenty years ago – in "Johnston (Mark) - Human Beings" and elsewhere – I defended an alternative methodology for arriving at an answer to the question: What kind captures our essence and so determines our conditions of survival over time?
- Previously, when it came to philosophical theorising about personal identity, the popular methodology – “the method of cases” – had been to collect “intuitions” about real and imaginary cases of personal survival and ceasing to be, and then bring these intuitions into some sort of reflective equilibrium that bore on the question of the necessary and sufficient conditions for an arbitrary person’s survival. Imagined cases were treated as more or less on a par with real cases; for the then natural idea was that we should not restrict our evidence base to the adventitious experiments of step-motherly nature, when we could also avail ourselves of the ingenious thought experiments1 in the philosophy journals.
Notes (By Section2)
- Reasons for rejecting the “method of cases” …
- The first is that the necessary conditions of our survival – arising from our common essence – are not open to a priori armchair reflection. Knowledge of our real essence is not necessary for semantic competence3 in the use of “(same) person”. Philosophy has moved on from conceptual analysis (“advanced lexicography”) to seeking the real definition of the item in question.
- So, what is “real definition”? We want to know “what it is to be” that item – this involves using all the relevant knowledge – much of it a posteriori knowledge – and all our “argumentative ingenuity”.
- Johnston returns4 to this topic to demonstrate the viability of the method of real definition.
- Real definition is, however, not inherently at odds with conceptual analysis because concepts are themselves subject to real definition.
- We can all agree that possessors of a concept must at least implicitly understand its conditions of application.
- The exception5 is where there is deference – either to experts or reality itself – to settle the extension of a concept.
- Johnston makes an analogy – in the case where deference is to “reality itself” – between water and human persons. In the case of water, we start off with our partial understanding of the concept and try to determine the real definition – just what is it to be water, and how do its manifest qualities enter into its real definition. Are they just contingent6, or essential like its chemical composition?
- Then, completing the analogy, if we defer to reality in our concept of personal identity, we should address its real definition. However, the defender of the method of cases may say that we aren’t deferring to experts in the case of persons, as we all know what persons are.
- In "Johnston (Mark) - Human Beings", Johnston argued that our concept of “person” is “highly determinable” – ie. without much content, as is shown by two considerations.
- The first is the various and conflicting theoretical, ideological or theological elaborations of the concept.
- The second is the consideration that our intuitions lead us to consider a person as a “Bare Locus7” of mental life that can – in principle – survive any amount of physical or psychological discontinuity.
- The numbering corresponds to “Section n” of the text.
- The full text of the un-numbered introductory section is given above.
- Sadly, only the first numbered section has been commented on so far.
Footnote 4: Ie. from "Johnston (Mark) - Human Beings".
- We can talk competently about things that don’t exist – souls, or unicorns – which – when we really dig into the concept – are a bit vague; so, in a sense, we don’t know what we are talking about.
- So, this competence doesn’t mean that we necessarily know what we are talking about.
- Likewise, we can competently talk about things that do exist – persons – without really knowing what it is we’re talking about.
Footnote 5: Johnston doesn’t put it quite like this but this is what I – at least for now – take him as saying.
Footnote 6: Footnote 7:
- The “Bare” element inclines us to think of a haecceity, but the “mental life” gives it properties.
- This sounds, therefore, something like Baker’s FPP.
Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
- Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2021
- Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)