Real People: Personal Identity Without Thought Experiments
Wilkes (Kathleen)
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BOOK ABSTRACT:

Cover Blurb

  1. This book explores the scope and limits of the concept of a person.
  2. The author first questions the methodology of thought-experimentation1, arguing that it engenders inconclusive and unconvincing results, and that truth is anyway stranger than fiction.
  3. She then examines an assortment of real-life conditions, including infancy, insanity, and dementia, fugue and dissociated states, and commissurotomy. The popular idea that people have some special kind of unity and continuity of consciousness is subjected to sustained criticism.
  4. The author concludes with a look at different views of the person found in Homer, Aristotle, the post-Cartesians, and contemporary cognitive science.
  5. Wilkes writes with enthusiasm and style. She displays a commendable knowledge of psychological and neurological literature. Those who find the technical literature dry will find this book engagingly informative.
    … Andrew Brennan, Mind

Chapters
  1. Thought Experiments2 – 1
  2. Infants and Foetuses – 49
  3. Mental Deficiency, Breakdown, and Insanity – 75
  4. Fugues, Hypnosis, and Multiple Personality – 100
  5. Being in Two Minds – 132
  6. The Coherence of Consciousness – 168
  7. Models of Mind – 198
  8. Epilogue – 230

BOOK COMMENT:

Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2003 reprint



"Wilkes (Kathleen) - Real People: Preface"

Source: Wilkes - Real People: Personal Identity Without Thought Experiments


Full Text (bar acknowledgements)
  1. The subject of Personal Identity is one of the most enjoyable — as well as the most perplexing — in philosophy. The quality of the literature about it is in general very high. So too is the quantity. Why then add another book to the list?
  2. In the first chapter I try to explain why. Personal Identity has been the stamping-ground for bizarre, entertaining, confusing, and inconclusive thought experiments1. To my mind, these alluring fictions have led discussion off on the wrong tracks; moreover, since they rely heavily on imagination and intuition, they lead to no solid or agreed conclusions, since intuitions vary and imaginations fail. What is more, I do not think that we need them, since there are so many actual puzzle-cases which defy the imagination, but which we none the less have to accept as facts. To clear the way for discussion of these, then, the first chapter questions the methodology of thought-experimentation2, at least if it is deployed without very stringent controls.
  3. Whatever else they may be, typical persons:-
    • are rational,
    • can use language,
    • are Intentional systems,
    • require certain kinds of treatment from others,
    • are agents of responsible behaviour themselves, and
    • seem to have some special kind of (self)-consciousness.
    Problems arise when any of these strands are missing. Thus the second chapter considers (normal and abnormal) infants and foetuses; we shall see here the paramount importance of the question of the treatment they should receive. The third chapter looks at the adult insane. Here again we have to examine the sort of moral and practical stance appropriate to take to them; evidently, too, the problem of spelling out what it is in which human rationality consists arises centrally.
  4. In the fourth chapter we start off on a three-chapter examination of human (self)-consciousness, and the degree of ‘unity' and ‘continuity' of consciousness we expect to find. Chapter 4 looks at breakdowns in continuity suffered by those with fugue states, and breakdowns in both unity and continuity found in hypnotized individuals and cases of multiple personality. This last puzzle, I argue, is the one paradox which is completely intractable — the concept of a person cannot cope with full-blown cases. Chapter 5 examines the breakdown of unity shown by people with split brains — apparently two centres of consciousness in one body, working separately but simultaneously. This is argued to pose no difficulty for the concept of a person; it is a good example of something which is not ‘imaginable' but which is nevertheless a fact. Here we need to go into the concept of 'a mind' at some length. Chapter 6 tries to take consciousness itself to bits, showing how it is not a notion that can be relied on to set, or solve, any of the questions that have been perplexing us.
  5. The penultimate chapter is a somewhat self-indulgent sprint through interestingly different views of the person found in Homer, Aristotle, the post-Cartesians, and contemporary cognitive science with its so-called ‘computer model of mind'. It ends by suggesting that, knowingly or not, we are returning to the Aristotelian model of the individual; and that we are right to be doing so. In the final chapter, the 'Epilogue', it is suggested that all ‘persons' would have to be more or less human.



"Wilkes (Kathleen) - Thought Experiments"

Source: Wilkes - Real People: Personal Identity Without Thought Experiments, Chapter 1


Sections
  1. Introduction – 1
  2. What thought experiments1 are – 1
  3. First difficulty: the background – 6
  4. Parenthesis: relevance and natural kinds – 12
  5. Second difficulty: imagination and 'possibility' – 15
  6. Conditions of personhood – 21
  7. The identification issue: laws and theoretical impossibilities – 27
  8. The reidentification issue: more science fantasies – 36
  9. Losing touch with reality – 43
  10. A promissory note – 48


COMMENT: Photocopy filed in "Various - Papers on Identity Boxes: Vol 19 (W)".



"Wilkes (Kathleen) - Infants and Foetuses"

Source: Wilkes - Real People: Personal Identity Without Thought Experiments, Chapter 2


Sections
  1. Introduction – 49
  2. Potentialities and interests – 49
  3. Infants as fuzzy persons – 5
  4. Failed potentials: the ‘Aristotelian principle' – 57
  5. IVF embryos – 6
  6. Summary – 7



"Wilkes (Kathleen) - Mental Deficiency, Breakdown, and Insanity"

Source: Wilkes - Real People: Personal Identity Without Thought Experiments, Chapter 3


Sections
  1. Introduction – 75
  2. The sanity of irrationality – 75
  3. What is mental illness? – 84
  4. Contrasts with the psychopath – 89
  5. The subnormal and the senile – 93
  6. Speciesism – 97



"Wilkes (Kathleen) - Fugues, Hypnosis, and Multiple Personality"

Source: Wilkes - Real People: Personal Identity Without Thought Experiments, Chapter 4


Sections
  1. The unity and continuity of consciousness – 100
  2. Fugues and epileptic automatism – 103
  3. Hypnosis – 106
  4. Multiple personality: Christine Beauchamp – 109
  5. How many Miss Beauchamps? – 118
  6. Unity; and the Greeks – 12


COMMENT: Also in "Kolak (Daniel) & Martin (Raymond), Eds. - Self and Identity: Contemporary Philosophical Issues"



"Wilkes (Kathleen) - Being in Two Minds"

Source: Wilkes - Real People: Personal Identity Without Thought Experiments, Chapter 5


Sections
  1. The problem introduced – 132
  2. Our two brains – 133
  3. Commissurotomy – 136
  4. Philosophical perplexities – 140
  5. The language of brains – 143
  6. Some semi-parallels – 145
  7. P.S.: an apparent exception – 152
  8. Confabulation and the drive to minimize disunity – 154
  9. How should we explain conflicts? – 157
  10. Counting minds – 161
  11. A final word on the brain – 166



"Wilkes (Kathleen) - The Coherence of Consciousness"

Source: Wilkes - Real People: Personal Identity Without Thought Experiments, Chapter 6


Sections
  1. Introduction: consciousness head-on – 168
  2. Other times, other places – 169
  3. The heterogeneity of consciousness – 173
  4. Parenthesis: two paths to avoid – 181
  5. Consciousness and the sciences – 183
  6. 'Consciousness' in the vernacular – 192
  7. Self-consciousness – 197



"Wilkes (Kathleen) - Models of Mind"

Source: Wilkes - Real People: Personal Identity Without Thought Experiments, Chapter 7


Sections
  1. Introduction: 'models' – 198
  2. Man in the Iliad – 200
  3. Aristotle's man – 209
  4. From psyche to mind – 214
  5. The domination of the mind – 217
  6. The person as a computer – 221
  7. Conclusion – 228



"Wilkes (Kathleen) - Epilogue"

Source: Wilkes - Real People: Personal Identity Without Thought Experiments, Chapter 8



Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
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  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)



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