The Personite Problem: Should Practical Reason Be Tabled?
Johnston (Mark)
Source: Nous 51:3, 2017, pp. 617-644
Paper - Abstract

Paper StatisticsBooks / Papers Citing this PaperNotes Citing this PaperColour-ConventionsDisclaimer

Author’s Introduction1

  1. That someone's death was untimely is more often thought than said, at least in those cases where the deceased lived too long, rather than not long enough. The last phase of life can include disorienting pain, loss of crucial faculties, and even moral decay of a sort that to some extent blights the whole of the life in question. Those facts prompted Lucius Annaeus Seneca to pen that ominously tilted epistle On the Proper Time to Let Loose the Cable2, a piece which promotes the unsettling conclusion that recognition of "the general bourne of the race of man" entails that unless one ensures that one's death comes too early, it is quite likely to come much too late.
  2. Seneca's question as to just when (if ever) suicide becomes obligatory is familiar. There is a less familiar way of looking at the blight that attends the ending of too many lives. Consider such a life up to but not including the blight. Is there not a very, very person-like thing that had just that less-than-fully-inclusive life, and whose shorter life was consequently not blighted by the ignominious period that followed?
  3. If I understand it, common sense answers "No!" or at least ''What?"
  4. A common sense view is that only one person-like thing – namely the person him-or-herself – takes up any part of the person’s life. In the main, and without dwelling on a few apparent exceptions such as "The boy is father to the man", common sense does not recognize "personites3", i.e. shorter-lived very person-like things extending across part, but not the whole, of a person's life.
  5. Yet on standard and well-motivated views of personal identity, each person's life partially overlaps with the lives of many personites4. As will emerge, this is true on any view that treats us as cross-time sums of temporal parts, and on any view that treats us as entia successiva, i.e. as successions of shorter-lived entities, whether or not the entities in the succession are temporal parts. More surprisingly, there will be personites5 on any view that treats personal identity as consisting in the holding of relations of bodily and / or psychological continuity, whether or not the view goes on to model personal identity over time in terms of cross-time sums of temporal parts or other shorter-lived items. Finally, there will also be personites6 on any view ….


I don't have this paper yet, but am waiting for it become available on JSTOR or elsewehere.

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1: Footnote 2: See YouTube - Seneca - On the Proper Time to Let Loose the Cable.

Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)

  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2021
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)

© Theo Todman, June 2007 - June 2021. Please address any comments on this page to File output:
Website Maintenance Dashboard
Return to Top of this Page Return to Theo Todman's Philosophy Page Return to Theo Todman's Home Page