Multiple Personality Disorder
Snowdon (Paul)
Source: Snowdon (Paul) - Persons, Animals, Ourselves - Chapter 7
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction

  1. The thought to be confronted, and I hope undermined, in this chapter is that examples of what used to be called 'Multiple Personality Disorder1' (MPD) constitute good [A&~P] cases2. In its most obvious form the conviction of people who think this is that in MPD3 cases there is, literally and actually, a sequence of different persons (or people), and not the continuous presence of the single person which is the verdict to which animalism4 is committed. The discussion here is about which of these two attitudes is more securely grounded.
  2. This is not, however, the only possible verdict on such cases which is inconsistent with animalism5. Thus, it has been thought that when the symptoms of MPD6 have set in there is nothing recognizable as a person present at any time thereafter. There is no room, that is to say, after the onset to count as present any entity of the kind we are. I take it that this is what has to be meant by talk of the concept of a person 'fracturing' when confronted by such examples7. This suggestion strikes me as an option that is hard to take seriously. It faces the question as to what it allows us to say there is once the condition has set in. Clearly, no one thinks that what is there lacks psychological states (of, indeed, a sophisticated kind). There is surely something with beliefs, including beliefs about its own identity, capable of complex actions and of talking with those in the vicinity. This means that we have to recognize someone who can speak, think, and act, and that means, surely, that there is a person. Having conceded that, talk of 'splitting' seems to reduce to holding that there are so many persons that counting them is difficult, and that seems hardly to contrast with the 'many persons' verdict. I propose, therefore, not to pursue this response any further.
  3. The employment of such cases as a basis to reject animalism8 dates back at least to Locke. Thus, he says; 'Could we suppose two distinct incommunicable consciousnesses acting on the same body, the one constantly by day, the other by night... I ask, in the first case whether the day- and the night-man would not be two as distinct persons as Socrates and Plato9? Locke clearly appreciated the appeal of revisionary verdicts in these cases and saw them as supporting his opposition to (A).
  4. It is, though, worth drawing attention to two dubious aspects of Locke's own presentation of such cases.
    1. The first is that Locke is drawn to describe the case in an odd way. He talks of the day-man and the night-man, but one of his main points is that talk of the 'man' picks out one thing, the human animal10 there throughout, whereas there are two persons. We might see this as evidence that even Locke in his linguistic practice cannot completely escape the temptation to equate person and man.
    2. More significant, though, is Locke's talk of 'incommunicable consciousnesses' which 'act on' a body. To talk this way is to assume that 'consciousness' can be a singular term standing for particular entities of a certain kind. Thus, on Locke's way of speaking we can refer to one consciousness that is in control and present at t and another one, something of the same kind (a consciousness) only a distinct individual instance, that is later present and in control. It seems, however, that we do not employ 'consciousness' as a singular term in this way. We do not say that, and would not ask whether, the consciousness that is currently in me (or acting on me) is the same consciousness that was in me yesterday. We do not treat consciousnesses as distinct persisting entities, to which we are capable of referring. Rather, when we employ the term 'consciousness', the noun, we are talking about a shareable condition. We can return an individual P to consciousness (not return him to his consciousness), which he can be in danger of losing. We talk of different states of consciousness, meaning different levels or varieties of that state or condition. We also do not arrive when contemplating what to say about such cases with any understanding of what it means to talk of a consciousness 'acting' on a body.
    We should, therefore, refuse Locke's invitation to assume that we really understand his way of speaking. To assume that we do understand it means that we have already swallowed the idea that there are involved in these cases entities of a distinct kind whose persistence we can understand and which are distinct from human beings. Locke's description of them, therefore, does not have the right degree of neutrality.
  5. In order to assess whether these stories do rationally ground a rejection of (A)
    1. I shall first describe what, for present purposes, MPD11 will be taken to involve.
    2. I shall then discuss the standard way of employing such examples and criticize it, and after that consider how the claim that they are [A&~P] cases might be strengthened.
    3. Finally I shall provide some further reasons which favour a singularist treatment.
  6. What, though, must a supporter of (A) claim? Since there is a single human animal12 present throughout the psychological developments the verdict that needs defending is that there is also a single person, or self, or, as we might say, one of us, there throughout. There is at least one and not more than one of us there during the history. I call this 'singularism'. The denial of this is non-singularism, and the version favoured by most people who reject singularism is that there is a succession of distinct persons, a thesis that I shall call 'pluralism'. The content of singularism will receive clarification in the course of the discussion. However, some implications can be presented straight away. Singularism implies that the first-person pronoun on the lips of the continuously present human animal13 refers to the same person throughout. Its reference does not change because its user does not change. Further, the thing addressed throughout the changes is the same person. These identities hold whatever the patient thinks of the situation. My aim is to argue that there are really no grounds to reject this as a true, and, indeed, totally unsurprising characterization of MPD14 cases.

  1. The Disorder
  2. The Simple Argument
  3. The Non-Explanatoriness of Pluralism
  4. Rationality Constraints
  5. In Favour of Singularism
  6. A Singularist Approach to the Names
  7. Conclusion: Reflection on MPD15 cases does not sustain their classification as [A&~P] cases. On the contrary, reflection on the pluralist verdict and its grounds suggests that it is highly paradoxical, and supported by no good reasons. I submit, then, that consideration of these cases does not show that animalism16 is contrary to the truth. Rather, the implications of animalism17 seem in this area to be true. The far more difficult issue of the unity of consciousness needs facing in the next chapter.

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 2: The disorder that used to be called 'MPD' is now called by those who believe in it 'dissociative-identity disorder'. Certainly 'MPD' was not a good name, in that the condition is not solely one to do with personalities, nor must it involve contrasting personalities. However, I retain the old name in this chapter, simply because it is the familiar one in philosophical circles, and its being medically misleading does not matter for philosophy.

Footnote 7: See "Wilkes (Kathleen) - Real People: Personal Identity Without Thought Experiments" (1988; ch. 4 – "Wilkes (Kathleen) - Fugues, Hypnosis, and Multiple Personality"). Wilkes adopts this way of speaking, I suspect, under the influence of Nagel's similar way of speaking in response to the problems raised by the phenomenon of split-brains.

Footnote 9:

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