Personal Identity, Memory, and Circularity: An Alternative for Q-Memory
Slors (Marc)
Source: The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 98, No. 4 (Apr., 2001) (pp. 186-214)
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction

  1. I have many memories of my last summer's vacation, which I spent in the Rocky Mountains. For instance, I can recall vividly seeing a large Grizzly bear and her two cubs at a specific time and place (and distance).
  2. Since I was not used to wild animals larger than ducks, the event made a lasting impression on me. Let us assume that, as a matter of objective fact, some person did see that bear at that precise time and place. Since I do not think I am deluded in remembering having seen that bear at that moment, that fact inclines me to believe that that person was me. This belief seems justified, but it can be justified for different reasons. It may be the case that, under normal circumstances, memory is reliable evidence for the identity of my present self and the bear-seeing person, how-ever this identity is in fact constituted. But it may also be the case that memory itself co-constitutes identity over time; that is, that part of what it is or means for two time-indexed person-stages to be stages of one person is that the later stage has conscious access to the earlier stage via memory. In other words, memory can be either indicative or constitutive of personal identity over time.
  3. The latter option is generally considered to be implied by a psychological criterion1 of personal identity over time. Contemporary philosophers who defend such a criterion hold (1) that personal identity over time can be analyzed in terms of psychological continuity2, and (2) that psychological continuity3 is co-constituted by memory. To be sure, memory is not thought to exhaust psychological continuity4, but neither is it considered to be an optional ingredient. In fact, contemporary conceptions of psychological continuity5 evolved by adding various kinds of psychological connections between person-stages- connections such as those established by perpetuated beliefs, values, and character traits or by relations between intentions and actions-to John Locke's memory criterion of identity; this criterion is held to be too tight, but correct in spirit.
  4. Since memory is considered a (the) main ingredient of psychological continuity6, one of the major objections against a psychological criterion7 of personal identity is the contention that memory presupposes personal identity. This contention, the so-called circularity objection, is my topic here.
  5. I shall argue that a psychological criterion8 of personal identity can be rescued from the circularity objection only by accepting what has not even seemed to be an option to philosophers so far: that memory is only indicative rather than constitutive of psychological continuity9 and hence, by a psychological criterion10, of personal identity.
  6. In order to do this,
    • I shall claim that the traditional solution to the objection, Sydney Shoemaker's Q-memory11 (section I), is seriously incomplete (section II).
    • Next, I shall show that there is a kind of psychological continuity12 that is not (co-)constituted by memory and does not presuppose personal identity (section III).
    • Memory, I shall argue, presupposes-and is hence indicative of-this kind of continuity (section iv).
    • By analyzing personal identity in terms of this alternative kind of psychological continuity13, the circularity objection can be avoided (section v).
    The new solution to the circularity objection I shall propose accepts and explains the intuition that memory presupposes personal identity-memory presupposes the alternative kind of psychological continuity14, which, in turn, analyzes personal identity-without letting this stand in the way of a psycho-logical criterion of personal identity.

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