Psychological Continuity and the Necessity of Identity
Francescotti (Robert)
Source: American Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 47, No. 4, Oct. 2010
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction

  1. In attempting to understand personal identity, it is common practice to imagine a person existing at some time t (x at t) and a person existing at a time t* (y at t*), and then to ask,
      What does it take for person x at t to be the same person as person y at t*?
  2. The Psychological Continuity1 Approach (hereafter PCA) answers:
      there is a relation, R, of psychological continuity2 such that person x at t is the same person as person y at t* if and only if x at t bears R to y at t*.
  3. But maybe the question above is not the right one to ask when trying to understand personal identity. Olson (1997, p. 25) calls this the narrow question of personal identity, which he distinguishes from the broad question:
      What does it take for person x at t to be the same individual as y at t*?
    One reason Olson focuses on the broad question is that it leaves open whether a person can continue to exist without being a person.
  4. We should not preclude at the outset the possibility of our having once existed without any person-making psychological features (e.g., as a fetus3 at some sufficiently early stage) or of a person continuing to exist after the loss of those features (e.g., in a vegetative state).
  5. So, Olson concludes, when inquiring about our persistence conditions4, the broad question is the one we should ask. And as a response to the broad question, PCA tells us that
      there is a relation, R, of psychological continuity5 such that person x at t is the same individual as y at t* if and only if x at t bears R to y at t*
    which allows that a person might have existed at an earlier time or might exist at a later time without being a person at that time.
  6. It is not necessary here to decide which of these two questions is the more important one to ask when thinking about personal identity. The worry presented here for PCA arises whether the account is meant to answer the broad question or intended only to answer the narrow question. So long as "same" in our formulation of PCA means "numerically identical," the problem presented in this essay remains.
  7. ….
  8. … Even if there is no grave threat here to memory accounts, there remains a different worry that has not been widely discussed in the literature. The problem presented below deserves serious attention, since it applies not only to versions of PCA that appeal to memory links, but also to versions that rely on psychological connections of other types.
  9. It will be shown that regardless of the type of psychological continuity6 invoked, PCA conflicts with the doctrine of the Necessity of Identity (NI) – the idea that genuine identity is never contingent.
  10. The conflict with NI is described in sections III and IV. But before getting to that, let us first see what a version of PCA would have to entail to be compatible with NI.

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