Self-Concern: An Experiential Approach to what Matters in Survival
Martin (Raymond)
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Inside Cover Blurb

  1. This highly original book is a major contribution to the philosophical literature on the nature of the self, personal identity and survival. Its objective is to provide a rationale and a model for a new kind of approach to our deepest egoistic values. This approach aims to be descriptive, including of our subjective experience rather than metaphysical or normative in its intended results. However, its ultimate objective is not only to reveal what our values are but to facilitate their transformation.
  2. On the basis of this new approach Raymond Martin shows that the distinction between self and other is not nearly as fundamental a feature of our so-called egoistic values as has been traditionally thought. He also explains how the belief in a self as a fixed, continuous point of observation enters into our experience of ourselves and the world and reveals the explosive implications this thesis has for recent debates over personal identity and what matters1 in survival.
  3. This is the first book of analytic philosophy directly on the phenomenology of identity and survival. It builds bridges between analytic and phenomenological traditions and, thus, seeks to open up a new field of investigation.

Amazon Customer Review
  1. Raymond Martin's Self-Concern set a new direction for the philosophical discussion of personal identity by shifting the focus from "the normative question of whether this or that should matter in survival to the largely descriptive question of what ... actually does ... matter." Martin questions the philosophical goal of trying to show that we all should (rationally) respond in the same way to the puzzle cases - a goal shared by Parfit2 and his opponents - calling the attempt "survival-value imperialism." In examining how people actually value their own survival, his book goes a long way towards characterizing the conditions that make it difficult or easy for people to self-identify across time. It is largely about the psychology of self-concern.
  2. But Self-Concern is philosophy, not science. Its argument is based on introspective thought-experiments3 rather than objective studies of statistically significant populations. If social scientists were to conduct such studies, it would be interesting to see how closely their findings matched Martin's. I suspect he is not far off from characterizing how a population of well-educated contemporary Westerners would allocate self-concern over a range of cases. I am less confident that what he says is true of other cultures and other times. How people allocate self-concern is likely to change over time, especially as technological developments force us to confront in reality what are now just science-fiction 'puzzle cases'.
  3. Martin takes "an experiential approach to what matters4 in survival," constantly redirecting our attention from the conceptual analysis that has been the mainstay of recent personal identity philosophy to the phenomenology of human experience in matters of personal survival. His emphasis is future-oriented - on anticipated experience and action. How, he asks, must someone understand his relationship to a person in the future, for him to 'identify' with that person - to anticipate having that person's experiences and performing his actions?
  4. According to Martin, philosophers have "overlooked" or "seriously underrated" anticipation of experience as a source of self-concern. He invites you, his reader, to imagine being offered a trip by information-based teleportation5. In order to decide whether or not to accept the offer, you must consider whether teleportation6 would preserve what matters7 primarily, to you, in survival. Some philosophers have suggested that the number of psychological and/or physical characteristics preserved in any such transformation is the key consideration. Martin argues that a numbers criterion is inadequate, because one does not value all one's characteristics equally. A more important concern is
      "whether your most valued psychological and bodily characteristics would be preserved in the person (or people) who will emerge from the transformation. .... And it would be still another thing to know whether you could look forward rationally to having the experiences (and performing the actions) of the person (or people) who would emerge from the transformation."
  5. Of these two matters of concern, connectedness and anticipation, Martin argues that the latter trumps the former:
      "...that if you are like me in this respect, then if you could not rationally anticipate having the experiences that ... your transformational descendants would have, then from the perspective of your self-interested concern to survive, something crucial would be missing, regardless of how else you and your descendants might be connected; and if you could rationally anticipate having the experiences ... something of extraordinary and perhaps overriding importance would obtain, regardless of whatever other connections might be missing."
  6. In other words, if you are asked to decide whether a given transformation preserves what matters8 in your survival, you will place more weight on your ability to anticipate future experience than on other psychological and physical connections.
  7. Martin's claim must be represented carefully so as to avoid confusion with a similar-sounding claim which begs the question. When Martin describes anticipating having an experience, that should not be taken to imply that he believes he is identical to the person who will have the experience. He takes pains to describe the notion of quasi-anticipation of future experience, which is just like ordinary anticipation except in expressly excluding the implication of believed identity. To quasi-anticipate having someone's experiences is to feel the same way, and to be similarly motivated, with respect to those experiences, as one normally feels about and is motivated towards one's own. In most places where Martin talks about anticipation, "quasi-anticipation" could be fairly substituted.
  8. Martin uses everyday examples to remind the reader how anticipation of experience feels:
      "Ordinarily there would be a huge difference ... between how it would feel to you to anticipate your enjoying a delicious dinner and how it would feel to you to anticipate my enjoying that same dinner .... The difference might be diminished somewhat if the person whose experiences you anticipated were someone, such as your spouse or one of your children, with whom you were strongly empathically connected."
  9. The mention of feelings towards persons with whom we are "strongly empathically connected" underlines the point that the experience of self-concern is not an all-or-nothing affair. Something resembling a continuum extends from 'identification', through love, liking, and indifference, to attitudes opposite to self-concern: antipathy and schadenfreude.

  • CUP, Cambridge, 1998
  • Nice hardback copy, but badly covered by my annnotations.

"Martin (Raymond) - Self Concern: Preface"

Source: Martin - Self-Concern: An Experiential Approach to what Matters in Survival, Preface

Full1 Text
  1. Occasionally, but not often, philosophers discover something genuinely new — a new problem or a subtle change in an old problem that brings a new set of issues into focus. When this happens circumstances are ripe for transformations not just of what we believe but also of what we think is worth considering and how we think we ought to proceed.
  2. Beginning in the late 1960s something genuinely new happened in the centuries-old philosophical debate over personal identity: more precisely, something new would have happened, had it not happened once before, in the eighteenth century (this earlier discussion then was forgotten). What was new, on both occasions, is that tacit and extremely natural assumptions about the importance of identity in a person's so-called self-interested concern to survive were called into question. As a consequence, the traditional philosophical focus on metaphysics gave rise to new normative and empirical inquiries about what matters2 in survival. In these new inquiries fundamental and potentially unsettling questions were raised, for the first time (and as if for the first time), about the significance of the distinction between self and other.
  3. The revolutionary and controversial thesis that identity is not what matters3 primarily in survival has been a principal focus of the more recent debate. The version of this idea that has gotten by far the most attention is the normative thesis that identity is not what should matter primarily in survival. This normative thesis has been endorsed by several influential philosophers. Subsequently, however, other influential philosophers have vigorously defended the traditional idea that identity should matter primarily in survival, or at least that it is a precondition of what should matter primarily. Currently the traditional idea seems to have made a comeback.
  4. In my view, the question of what matters4 in survival is crucial to philosophical self-understanding and, hence, needs to be discussed. However, I doubt that there is a feasible way of showing either that identity matter primarily in survival or that it should not matter. I want, then, to try to motivate a shift in the philosophical debate from the normative question of whether this or that should matter in survival to the largely descriptive question of what - that is rationally permissible - actually does or might be brought to matter. In my view, to many people, whose beliefs and values are rationally permissible, identity does not or will not on reflection matter primarily — at least, it will not matter at the familiar theoretical level at which we articulate our beliefs. However, it is not crucial to what I mainly want to say that I be right about this. For one thing, in addition to this theoretical level of belief, which is the only level that so far has been discussed in the debate over what matters5 in survival, there is also an experiential level at which beliefs or things that function as if they were beliefs make their presence felt; and, in my view, these experiential beliefs, or quasi-beliefs, throw into doubt virtually all of the conclusions about what matters6 in survival that have been advanced based just on a consideration of theoretical beliefs. For another, I do not intend to defend any thesis about what matters7 in survival but, rather, to provide a rationale and a model for a new kind of investigation of our deepest egoistic survival values, the ultimate purpose of which is not merely to discover what our values actually are, but to do that in a way that facilitates their transformation.
  5. Had it not been for "Parfit (Derek) - Personal Identity" (1971), and subsequently his "Parfit (Derek) - Reasons and Persons" (1984), I would not have written the present book. Parfit8 showed me, perhaps without intending that any reader should draw such a lesson from his work, how to connect to the philosophical debate over personal identity what I had taken to be extra- philosophical reflections on the experience of self. Before Parfit’s9 paper appeared I had been relatively uninterested in the analytic personal identity debate because of its preoccupation with what I regarded as trivial questions of conceptual analysis and because of its neglect of experience. Parfit10 showed me (and everyone else) how to make the transition from that traditional debate to the question of what matters11 in survival. He did this by taking the focus off of language (and conceptual analysis) and putting it squarely on questions about our deepest so-called egoistic values. It seemed (and still does seem) to me that it is but a short step from these values to experience. In the present book I take that step.
  6. I have also learned a great deal from the writings and in some cases the patient criticism of several other personal identity theorists, particularly Sydney Shoemaker, Robert Nozick, John Perry, Peter Unger, Ernest Sosa, Stephen White, and Ingmar Persson. To varying degrees, their influence resonates throughout the present book.
  7. … [ … snip …] …

In-Page Footnotes ("Martin (Raymond) - Self Concern: Preface")

Footnote 1: Omitting the acknowledgements.

"Martin (Raymond) - Self Concern: Introduction"

Source: Martin - Self-Concern: An Experiential Approach to what Matters in Survival, Introduction

"Martin (Raymond) - Questions"

Source: Martin - Self-Concern: An Experiential Approach to what Matters in Survival, Chapter 1

  1. Introduction
  2. Questionable Assumptions
  3. Methodology
  4. Alternative Approaches to the Question of What Matters1
  5. Other Problems with the Normative Approach
  6. Rationally Motivated Changes

"Martin (Raymond) - Anticipation"

Source: Martin - Self-Concern: An Experiential Approach to what Matters in Survival, Chapter 2

  1. Introduction
  2. Three Theories
  3. Eight Objections2 (and Replies)
    • Objection 1: It is a conceptual truth that people can anticipate having only their own future experiences.
    • Objection 2: Necessarily when people anticipate having their own future experiences, they anticipate their having them …
    • Objection 3: The idea that someone might rationally anticipate having someone else’s experience is self-refuting.
    • Objection 4: The tie between the anticipation of having an experience and identity is so central to ordinary ways of anticipating having an experience that any departure from this constraint would guarantee that the anomalous anticipation would be radically different.
    • Objection 5: Anticipation looks toward the future. It is the analogue of memory, which looks toward the past. In both cases we have to assume the persons remembering / anticipating are the same as those who had / will have the experiences.
    • Objection 6: Anticipating having experiences that only someone else will have would lead inevitably to inappropriate emotions and feelings of responsibility …
    • Objection 7: Anticipating having experiences that only someone else will have would lead inevitably to dysfunctional and, therefore, irrational behaviour …
    • Objection 8: Rejecting the common-sense restriction on rational anticipation puts one on a slippery slope which leads inexorably to the result that one could rationally anticipate anyone’s, or even everyone’s, subsequent experiences.
  4. Why Anticipating Having is So Important

In-Page Footnotes ("Martin (Raymond) - Anticipation")

Footnote 2: To the proposal that a person could rationally anticipate having experiences that only someone else will have (which is RM’s proposal).

"Martin (Raymond) - Rejuvenation"

Source: Martin - Self-Concern: An Experiential Approach to what Matters in Survival, Chapter 3

  1. Introduction
  2. The Example: Fission Rejuvenation
  3. The Strategies of Identification
  4. Three Views
    • Unger’s View
    • Sosa’s View
    • Lewis’s View
  5. The Bottom Line

"Martin (Raymond) - Transformation"

Source: Martin - Self-Concern: An Experiential Approach to what Matters in Survival, Chapter 4

  1. Introduction
  2. Most of Us Want to Change
  3. Minimalist Physical-Continuity Theories
  4. Minimalist Psychological-Continuity Theories

"Martin (Raymond) - Identification"

Source: Martin - Self-Concern: An Experiential Approach to what Matters in Survival, Chapter 5

  1. Introduction
  2. Empathy, Sympathy, and Identification
  3. Alternative Proposals (with Objections and Replies)
    • 1. Weak Psychological Connection
    • 2. Moderate Psychological Connection
    • 3. Strong Psychological Connection
    • 4. Equal Value
    • 5. Thin Experiential Empathy
    • 6. Thick Experiential Empathy
    • 7. Thin Sympathy
    • 8. Thick Sympathy
    • 9. Thick Copy-Sympathy
    • 10. Thick Identity-Sympathy
  4. Appropriation
  5. Exiting the Loop
  6. Appropriation Revisited

"Martin (Raymond) - Experience"

Source: Martin - Self-Concern: An Experiential Approach to what Matters in Survival, Chapter 6

  1. Introduction
  2. The Many-Selves Experience
  3. The Alter-Self Experience
  4. The Experience of Self-Definition
  5. The No-Self Experience
  6. Analysis of the Perceiver-Self Phenomenon
  7. Conversing With the Dead

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  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2020
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)

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