A Transformative Account of Personal Identity
Noller (Jorg)
Source: Academia.edu
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction1

  1. My paper is based on the conviction that the theoretical and practical dimensions of the concept of the person are deeply interwoven. Marya Schechtman has referred to the separation of ontological and practical approaches to personal identity frequently encountered in the current debate as the "strong independence model" (2014, 56). Christine Korsgaard, for example, claims: "These reasons [for personal identity] are not metaphysical, but practical" and continues: "Your conception of yourself as a unified agent is not based on a metaphysical theory [...]. Its grounds are practical" ("Korsgaard (Christine) - Personal Identity and the Unity of Agency: A Kantian Response to Parfit", 1989, 110). Eric Olson, on the other hand, approaches personal identity exclusively from an ontological perspective, when he explains right at the beginning of his book The Human Animal: "My aim is to get straight on the metaphysics of personal identity, and to leave the ethical questions to those more competent to deal with them" — even if he admits the necessity of a unified concept of the person:
      [N]o account of our identity has yet been proposed that guarantees […] the coincidence of what is important in our identity with the actual conditions of our identity […] [A]n account of our identity must be ontologically coherent as well as ethically plausible. ("Olson (Eric) - The Human Animal - Personal Identity Without Psychology" 1999, 165).
  2. In what follows, I will call this requirement formulated by Olson "coincidence model", and oppose it to the "strong independence model". Contrary to the tendency to explain personal identity either only by recourse to ontological or purely practical aspects, my paper will address the ontological dimension of personal identity in a complementary way, and try to make the practical dimension understandable. Personal identity therefore does not consist in mere ontological identity — here the danger of an ontological reification threatens — nor in purely practical self-constitution or self-consciousness — here the danger of an ontologically unfounded constructivism threatens. Daniel Dennett has argued for such a unified conception of a person:
      The moral notion of a person and the metaphysical notion of a person are not separate and distinct concepts but just two different and unstable resting points on the same continuum. ("Dennett (Daniel) - Conditions of Personhood", 1976, 193)
  3. But how can such a double perspective be conceptualized and related to the unity of the person? The key question of my paper is therefore: Can the relationship between the ontological and practical identity of the person be further clarified by referring to a particular formal aspect that has to do with the specific life that persons usually lead?
  4. My paper is structured as follows:
    1. First, based on an analysis of John Locke2's classical theory of the person, I will develop systematic coordinates that orient any ontological concern with personal identity.
    2. I then develop a notion of personal life forms along a prominent debate on the ontology of personal identity within current analytical philosophy — between the position of Lynne Rudder Baker's constitution view3, and Eric Olson's animalism4, which is opposed to it in crucial points. In short, the problem with both positions is that animalism understands personality only as an accidental property of the living body organism, i.e. as a phase sortal5, while constitution view overemphasizes the personal aspect to such an extent that the person constitutes an entity that is not anymore identical to the living body.
    3. I shall argue for a middle way between these two mutually exclusive positions by developing a model which I will call a "transformative theory of personal identity" and which will avoid the problems of both positions.
    4. Finally, I develop perspectives on how a transition from the theoretical to the practical dimension can be achieved through the concept of a personal life form and a person space.


In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1:

Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)

  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2019
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)

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