The Identities of Persons
Rorty (Amélie Oksenberg), Ed.
This Page provides (where held) the Abstract of the above Book and those of all the Papers contained in it.
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BOOK ABSTRACT:

Back Cover Blurb

  1. In this volume, thirteen philosophers contribute new essays analyzing the criteria for personal identity and their import on ethics and the theory of action.
  2. It presents contemporary1 treatments of the issues discussed in "Perry (John), Ed. - Personal Identity" (University of California Press, 1975).



In-Page Footnotes ("Rorty (Amélie Oksenberg), Ed. - The Identities of Persons")

Footnote 1:
BOOK COMMENT:

University of California Press, 1976



"De Sousa (Ronald) - Rational Homunculi"

Source: Rorty (Amelie) - The Identities of Persons, 1976


Sections
    Introduction
  1. Homunculi in the Theory of Mind and Action
  2. Akrasia: A Case Study
  3. Rationality



"Dennett (Daniel) - Conditions of Personhood"

Source: Dennett - Brainstorms - Philosophical Essays on Mind and Psychology, Chapter 14
Write-up Note1 (Full Text reproduced below).

Dennett suggests that the concepts of “person” and “human being” are not necessarily co-extensive. He also distinguishes the two intertwined notions of personhood – moral and metaphysical. He defends the following 6 “themes” as necessary conditions of personhood:-
  1. Persons are rational beings.
  2. Persons are beings to which states of consciousness are attributed, or to which psychological or mental or intentional predicates are ascribed.
  3. Whether something counts as a person depends in some way on an attitude taken toward it, a stance adopted with respect to it.
  4. The object toward which this personal stance is taken must be capable of reciprocating in some way.
  5. Persons must be capable of verbal communication.
  6. Persons are distinguishable from other entities by being conscious in some special way: there is a way in which we are conscious in which no other species is conscious. Sometimes this is identified as self-consciousness of one sort or another.
Dennett addresses three issues to do with these 6 themes:
  1. How (on his interpretation) are these 6 themes dependent on one another?
  2. Why are they necessary conditions of moral personhood?
  3. Why is it so hard to say whether they are jointly sufficient conditions for moral personhood?
For further discussion, Click here for Note, together with a supervision - Click here for Note - discussion on this paper.

COMMENT:

Write-up2 (as at 18/12/2010 19:58:05): Daniel Dennett – Conditions of Personhood

Dennett suggests that the concepts of “person” and “human being” are not necessarily co-extensive. He also distinguishes the two intertwined notions of personhood – moral and metaphysical. He defends the following 6 “themes” as necessary conditions of personhood:
  1. Persons are rational beings.
  2. Persons are beings to which states of consciousness are attributed, or to which psychological or mental or intentional predicates are ascribed.
  3. Whether something counts as a person depends in some way on an attitude taken toward it, a stance adopted with respect to it.
  4. The object toward which this personal stance is taken must be capable of reciprocating in some way.
  5. Persons must be capable of verbal communication.
  6. Persons are distinguishable from other entities by being conscious in some special way: there is a way in which we are conscious in which no other species is conscious. Sometimes this is identified as self-consciousness of one sort or another.
Dennett addresses 3 issues to do with these 6 themes:
  1. How (on his interpretation) are these 6 themes dependent on one another?
  2. Why are they necessary conditions of moral personhood?
  3. Why is it so hard to say whether they are jointly sufficient conditions for moral personhood?
In this essay, rather than address Dennett’s 3 issues directly, I wish to address the following 6 questions:
  1. Is Dennett right to separate the concepts of “person” and “human being”?
  2. Is Dennett right to distinguish moral from metaphysical personhood?
  3. Has Dennett the right set of themes?
  4. Has Dennett found the right interdependencies and priorities amongst his themes.
  5. What are Dennett’s reasons for predicating these conditions of personhood?
  6. Finally, is Dennett guided by a natural kind concept, by social convention or by other factors?
I have to admit that this is a first draft and something of a rushed job. My aim at this stage is to generate ideas quickly rather than ensure the argument is fully rigorous. I’m afraid I’ve used Dennett’s paper more as a jumping off point, and have not considered his actual arguments as much as I should. I’ve included hyperlinks to topics I’ve written before, as a way of airing them and avoiding needless repetition, though the primary aim of this essay is to provide some continuous text for discussion, rather than exemplifying the approach of my research proposal (from where these notes come) which is almost all footnotes.

My aim in reviewing this paper is to get some sort of handle on what a person might be. The aim of my thesis will be to demonstrate that human persons are phase sortals of human animals, and that consequently (given the falsehood of mind/body dualism) that such hoped-for events such as resurrection are metaphysically impossible. I’m not arguing for any of this here, just motivating the consideration of this topic.

Page references are to the 1997 Penguin edition of Brainstorms (Chapter 14).


Persons and Human Beings


Dennett claims that while any reader of his essay has to be person, the reader need not be a human being. The reader could be an alien, for instance. However, as far as I can see, to read Dennett’s essay with reward, only rationality, language use, phenomenal consciousness and intentional states are strictly required. The moral themes seem irrelevant, as does the consciousness of self (though a reader without this concept might find the essay initially rather dull, though maybe enlightening).

So, the reader might not be a moral person by Dennett’s lights. Dennett is probably right, though, that infants, “mental defectives” (how sensibilities have moved on since 1978, or whenever this Chapter was drafted) and the appropriately insane, would not get much out of his offering. However, the contemporary candidates of choice for human non-personhood tend these days to be moved closer to the termini of life, being (early) fetuses and those in a persistent vegetative state (though maybe the question is different – in Olson the question is whether “we” have psychological states essentially, and the claim is that “we” do not since “we” existed as fetuses, and may (for all we now know) persist into a PVS).

However, this leads on to our next question.


Moral and Metaphysical Persons


Dennett’s distinction between moral and metaphysical persons seems to change the topic of the conversation to one I’m less interested in. While it’s not always 100% clear (at least to me), the bulk of his essay is addressed to the topic of moral persons rather than metaphysical persons. Because he agrees that Frankfurt’s ideas about wantons3 are fruitful, Dennett excludes many human beings from the category “person” that I would prefer to include.

However, the motivation behind this distinction is whether or not the term “person” is a “free-floating honorific”, like “chic” (p. 268). He distinguishes the metaphysical notion of person (“an intelligent, conscious, feeling agent”) from that of the moral notion (one “who is accountable, who has both rights and responsibilities”). He wants to know whether being a metaphysical person is a prerequisite for being a moral person, something a metaphysical person can “grow into”, or whether metaphysical persons must be moral persons. He points out that we still in general react to the clinically insane (unless they are very far gone) as though they are metaphysical persons, even though they may not be treated as moral persons. Hence, the two terms are distinct, though being a metaphysical person does seem to be a necessary condition for being a moral person (with the exception of compound persons such as companies).


The Right Set of Themes?


I can’t really do better in defining what I think persons are than does Locke4. An entity for which persistence matters; a thinking thing that can consider itself as itself; that is phenomenally conscious, and has a consciousness of self. This is approximately Dennett’s metaphysical person, though we mustn’t forget that Locke famously considered personhood a forensic5 concept.

Now on to Dennett’s specific themes:
  1. Rationality: I’m not sure how far rationality should be pressed, despite Dennett considering it “the most obvious” (p. 269). I don’t think it’s essential for a metaphysical person. However, the assumption of rationality is essential in all our dealings with other sentient entities (Dennett’s intentional stance won’t work otherwise), so it is probably essential for moral personhood. Even then, “predictability” might be more relevant than rationality.
  2. Intentional Predication: I’m happy with this, as it is a prerequisite for all mindedness (though not a sufficient condition). I’m happy that persons are minded beings, even if human beings aren’t always.
  3. The object of a stance: this seems to suggest that who is a person is in some sense “up to us”. Indeed Dennett says (p. 270) that it’s not just a stance taken in response to a metaphysical person, but is as least partly constitutive of a moral person (I paraphrase). This is definitely a predicate for moral persons only. While it might as a matter of fact be the case that certain metaphysical persons are socially ostracised so as to be treated as moral non-persons, this doesn’t make them non-persons in either the metaphysical sense or the moral sense (for a moral realist).
  4. Reciprocation: Again, this is necessary only for moral persons. A sociopath or convinced solipsist is still a metaphysical person.
  5. Verbal Communication: Presumably Dennett is not disbarring deaf mutes from personhood, nor Stephen Hawking were someone to tread on his laptop. Even so, the possession of a language of thought (along Fodor’s lines) is probably a prerequisite for rationality, but this doesn’t address Dennett’s themes of communication and reciprocal attitudes. Metaphysical persons incapable of communication might not be moral persons. I expect there are large questions about how a sense of self might arise without language. One would need to consider feral children. This might connect to a question I had in connection with the Language Acquisition Thesis (the claim that “learning a language is instrumental in the development of conceptual faculties in a human subject”). See the following link6.
  6. Self-Consciousness: I think this is central to either metaphysical or moral personhood. See below under “Natural Kinds”. Dennett takes this form of consciousness (like language) to be the unique preserve of the human species, though I gather that both claims are not controversial (with the teaching of American Sign Language to bonobos, and the question whether passing the mirror test demonstrates a sense of self).

I have a question whether the properties Dennett requires of persons are their present properties or capacities, or whether entities that will, in the normal course of events, develop into persons, or which have in the past if not in the present possessed such capacities, count as persons. Is the property of being a person inalienable? Clearly capacities are more important than their present exercise (after all, we are not always rational or self-conscious, or even conscious at all; personhood is a state, not an activity).

This relates to whether human persons are phase sortals7,8 of human beings, or whether they are human beings, period. It looks as though Dennett would deny the latter suggestion, given his insistence on certain properties that not all human beings share.

Interdependencies and Priorities amongst the Themes


This will mostly have to wait for future elaboration. Dennett (p. 271) claims that the 6 themes are given in the order of their dependence with the proviso that the first 3 are mutually interdependent. Enough to note here that an item I consider essential to metaphysical personhood, namely self-consciousness, appears at the bottom of Dennett’s list and so is presumably taken to be reliant on predicates only necessary for moral personhood. I would deny this connection.

Why These Themes?


This will also mostly have to be left until a later date.

As I note above, Dennett considers the order of the themes important, and considers that the earlier ones as prerequisites for the later ones. In particular, because we can adopt the intentional stance towards beings such as plants that have no mental states (“it grows that way because it wants to get to the light”), we need to move on to those that have real beliefs and desires. He is worried (p. 273) that we might get the themes in the wrong order by the premature invocation of the conscious knowledge or verbal expressibility of our beliefs to ensure their genuineness, but in any case these conditions are too strong as we have many beliefs that we’re either unaware of or cannot express. This is why he brings in his fourth theme, that of reciprocity. While we can adopt the intentional stance towards plants, they cannot return the favour. He also assumes this reciprocity fails for all non-humans, but I suspect he’s wrong. Maybe this is a step in the right direction, but adopting Frankfurt’s approach (however useful the concept of a wanton is) seems to me to be a step too far in this context (and even in Frankfurt’s context).


What Sort of a Concept is “Person”


At the beginning of his essay, Dennett asks whether the concept of a person is incoherent or obsolete. His answer is that it isn’t, because we cannot cease to regard others, and in particular ourselves as persons without contradiction (and refers us to "Dennett (Daniel) - Mechanism and Responsibility"). I’ve not pursued this question, but suspect that the fact that the question can be asked at all indicates that the concept of person isn’t a natural kind concept, at least not as the term “moral person” is defined by Dennett. There seem to be too many attitudinal issues and those that make certain sorts of societies cohere (even though these may arguably be the best sort).

I don’t seem to have written anything sensible on natural kind9 concepts. Maybe this is a next step. My intuition is that persons, whether metaphysical or moral, aren’t natural kind concepts, and that for human persons the appropriate natural kind concept is “human animal” (or maybe “human being”).

A critical question, however, is whether the emergence of self-consciousness signals the arrival of a new natural kind (as Lynne Rudder Baker alleges, taking “self-consciousness” to be the same as her “first-person perspective”).




In-Page Footnotes ("Dennett (Daniel) - Conditions of Personhood")

Footnote 2:
  • This is the write-up as it was when this Abstract was last output, with text as at the timestamp indicated (18/12/2010 19:58:05).
  • Link to Latest Write-Up Note.



"Frankfurt (Harry) - Identification and Externality"

Source: Rorty (Amelie) - The Identities of Persons, 1976


Notes
  1. Really to do with the philosophy of Action,
  2. See Link for a set of “Class Notes”.



"Lewis (David) - Survival and Identity"

Source: Lewis - Philosophical Papers Volume I, Part 1: Ontology, Chapter 5


Oxford Scholarship Online
  1. Prompted by Derek Parfit1's early work on personal identity, Lewis advances the view that persons are best regarded as suitably related aggregates of person-stages. Parfit2 argues that what matters3 in survival is either identity or mental continuity and connectedness; that the two cannot both be what matters4 in survival (because the former is a one-one relation and does not admit of degree, whereas the latter can admit of degree and may be a one-many or many-one relation); and that what matters5 in survival is not identity.
  2. Contra Parfit6, Lewis contends that the opposition is a false one, since it obscures the fact that mental continuity and connectedness is a relation between two person-stages (i.e., time-slices of continuant persons), whereas identity is a relation between temporally extended continuant persons with stages at different times.
  3. The postscript includes both Lewis’ rejoinder to Parfit7's objections, as well as a further defense of person-stages.


COMMENT:
  1. Photocopy filed in "Various - Papers on Identity Boxes: Vol 09 (L)";
  2. Also in:-
  3. For Notes, see "Funkhouser (Eric) - Notes on Lewis, 'Survival and Identity'".



"Parfit (Derek) - Lewis, Perry, and What Matters"

Source: Rorty (Amelie) - The Identities of Persons, 1976


Author’s Introduction
  1. ‘We can agree with Parfit’1, Lewis writes, ‘… that what matters2 in questions of personal identity is mental continuity or connectedness … At the same time we can consistently agree with common sense … that what matters3 in questions of personal identity is identity’ (p. 194).
  2. Despite the great resourcefulness of Lewis’s paper, I still believe this cannot be done. I shall first explain why, then suggest what this might show, and end with some remarks about Perry’s paper5.




In-Page Footnotes ("Parfit (Derek) - Lewis, Perry, and What Matters")

Footnote 4: See "Lewis (David) - Survival and Identity".

Footnote 5: See "Perry (John) - The Importance of Being Identical".



"Penelhum (Terence) - Self-Identity and Self-Regard"

Source: Rorty (Amelie) - The Identities of Persons, 1976


Author’s Abstract
  1. In his discussion of personal identity Hume draws a distinction to which his readers have not paid much attention. It is a distinction between "personal identity, as it regards our thought or imagination, and as it regards our passions or the concern we take in ourselves. "
  2. I want in this paper to examine this distinction and the use Hume makes of it. Although in doing so, I will be commenting some of the time on questions of Humean exegesis, my main concern is to try to throw some light on the role that the idea of oneself plays in our thinking about some of the areas of the emotional life that Hume considers.



"Perry (John) - The Importance of Being Identical"

Source: Perry - Identity, Personal Identity and the Self, 2002, Chapter 8


Author’s Introduction
  1. Most of us have a special and intense interest in what will happen to us. You learn that someone will be run over by a truck tomorrow; you are saddened, feel pity, and think reflectively about the frailty of life; one bit of information is added, that the someone is you, and a whole new set of emotions rise in your breast.
  2. An analysis of this additional bit of information, that the person to be run over is you, is offered by theories of personal identity, for to say it is you that will be hit is just to say that you and the person who will be hit are one and the same. And so it seems that those theories should shed some light on the difference this bit of information makes to us. If it gives us more reason to take steps to assure that the person is not run over, our theory should help explain why that is so. And if this bit of information gives us reasons of a different kind than we could have if it were not us to be hit, our theory should help explain this too.

Sections1
  1. Introduction
  2. A Theory of Personal Identity
  3. Can We Explain Self-Concern?
  4. Identification
  5. Special Reasons
  6. The Ego Project
  7. Conclusions: Smith, Methuselah2, Lewis, Parfit3


COMMENT: Also in "Rorty (Amélie Oksenberg), Ed. - The Identities of Persons".




In-Page Footnotes ("Perry (John) - The Importance of Being Identical")

Footnote 1: My numbering and titles.



"Rey (Georges) - Survival"

Source: Rorty (Amelie) - The Identities of Persons, 1976


Author’s Introduction
  1. The philosophical problem of personal identity can seem a matter of life and death. For what matters1 to us in our personal survival seems to involve, partly because in our experience it always has involved, the preservation of at least our bodily identity over time.
  2. The supposition that it does, however, the supposition that what matters2 is some form of identity, is susceptible to certain intractable logical difficulties arising from some recent results in neurophysiology. The Sperry experiments on epileptics whose Corpora Collosa have been cut present fairly persuasive evidence that the human brain exists as a pair of very similar hemispheres, each one of which could in principle exist and (with a little tampering) function fully independently of the other.
  3. Only technological (and perhaps some moral) difficulties prevent a brain being divided into two, one hemisphere being transplanted3 to one new skull, the other to another. In such a case, our usual criteria of personal identity — bodily or psychological continuity4 — would break down. For they would present us with two (over time) equally eligible, but (at a given time) bodily and psychologically quite distinct candidates for the continued identity of the original person. And that would involve a violation of the transitivity of that relation: the original person could not be identical with both of the resulting persons without both of the resulting persons being, as they fairly clearly are not, identical with each other.
  4. On the other hand, whatever it is that matters to us in our personal survival would seem to be preserved between the original and each of the resulting persons. There is no reason to suppose there to be at any time even a break in the (diverging) streams of consciousness. Such duplication couldn't be as bad as death: it might arguably be preferable to the usual uniqueness.
  5. Rather, then, than have what matters5 to us in survival be contravened by logical law, it seems more reasonable to suppose, as Derek Parfit6 has recently done us the service of supposing, that what matters7 to us is not identity over time:
      The relation of the original person to each of the resulting ones contains all that interests us — all that matters — in any ordinary case of survival.... Identity is a one-one relation. [This] case serves to show that what matters8 in survival need not be one-one.
    Indeed, not only may what matters9 be one-many, as in the envisaged case of fission, but, considering fissions of two brains followed by fusions of the odd halves, what matters10 may also be many-one.
  6. This would, to be sure, involve a travesty of ordinary talk. A person, on this account, may survive yet not continue to exist, since she may survive as two different persons. For example: a candidate for fission would survive but not continue to exist as (would not be identical with) either of the resulting persons. Where it will be important to avoid equivocation between this and ordinary use, I shall speak instead of a relation "S" which preserves what matters11 in x's survival. Similarly, I shall use 'death' to refer not to the end point of a single personal existence, but, rather, to the furthest temporal point(s) of the longest stretch of any given S-related chain. It may well have been the obvious awkwardness of this manner of speaking that obscured for so long this way of dealing with Sperry's results.



"Rorty (Amélie Oksenberg) - Characters, Persons, Selves, Individuals"

Source: Rorty (Amelie) - The Identities of Persons, 1976

COMMENT: Also in "Rorty (Amélie Oksenberg) - Mind in Action - Essays in the Philosophy of Mind"



"Rorty (Amélie Oksenberg) - The Identities of Persons: Introduction"

Source: Rorty (Amelie) - The Identities of Persons, 1976


Author’s Abstract
  1. Disagreements about the criteria for personal identity have been persistently unresolved, the battle lines repetitively drawn over the same terrain, along familiar geographical strongholds. Although they disagree among themselves about its analysis, defenders of a physical or a spatio-temporal criterion are ranged against defenders of a psychological criterion1, themselves uneasily allied.
  2. Peacemakers who argue that neither the psychological nor the physical criterion can be applied without implicitly reintroducing the other have been drawn into the battle — as peacemakers often are — as third or fourth parties.
  3. Although the controversy has a long history, and although many arguments have been refined by repeated firings, there is little reason to expect a resolution that will not in time lead to renewed hostilities. What is required is not more ingenuity for more elaborate strategies, but an understanding of the conflicting interpretations of what has been at issue.



"Shoemaker (Sydney) - Embodiment and Behavior"

Source: Rorty (Amelie) - The Identities of Persons, 1976


Author’s Introduction
  1. A prominent question in recent philosophy of mind is whether some of the connections between mental states and behavior are (in some interesting sense) "logical," "necessary," "internal," or "conceptual," as opposed to being "purely contingent."
  2. Another prominent question, a much older one, is whether subjects of mental states, in particular persons, can exist in "disembodied1 form," that is, whether it is possible (logically possible) for there to be something (or someone) that has mental states without having (or being) a body and so without having any physical states whatever.
  3. While both of these questions concern the relationships that hold between the realm of the mental and the realm of the physical, they are on the face of it very different questions, and they are often discussed as if their answers were independent of one another.


COMMENT: Also in "Shoemaker (Sydney) - Identity, Cause and Mind".



"Taylor (Charles) - Responsibility For Self"

Source: Rorty (Amelie) - The Identities of Persons, 1976


Author’s Abstract
  1. What is the notion of responsibility which is bound up with our conception of a person or self? Is there a sense in which the human agent is responsible for himself which is part of our very conception of the self?
  2. This is certainly a commonly held idea, among 'ordinary men' as well as among philosophers. Just to mention two contemporary specimens of the latter breed: H. Frankfurt has made the point ("Frankfurt (Harry) - Freedom of the Will and the Concept of a Person") that a person is more than just a subject of desires, of choices, even of deliberation; that we attribute to persons the ability to form 'second-order desires': to want to be moved by certain desires, or 'second-order volitions': to want certain first-order desires to be the ones which move them to action.
  3. If we think of what we are1 as defined by our goals, by what we desire to encompass or maintain, then a person on this view is one who can raise the question: Do I really want to be what I now am? (i.e., have the desires and goals I now have). In other words, beyond the de facto characterization of the subject by his goals, desires, and purposes, a person is a subject who can pose the de jure question: is this the kind of being I ought to be, or really want to be? There is as Frankfurt puts it a 'capacity for reflective self-evaluation. . .manifest in the formation of second-order desires'.
  4. Or again, we can invoke Heidegger's famous formula, taken up by Sartre: 'das Seiende, dem es in seinem Sein um dieses selbst geht' (Sein Und Zeit, 42). The idea here, at a first approximation, is that the human subject is such that the question arises inescapably, which kind of being he is going to realize. He is not just de facto a certain kind of being, with certain given desires, but it is somehow 'up to' him what kind of being he is going to be.
  5. In both these views we have the notion that human subjects are capable of evaluating what they are, and to the extent that they can shape themselves on this evaluation, are responsible for what they are in a way that other subjects of action and desire (the higher animals for instance) cannot be said to be. It is this kind of evaluation/responsibility which many believe to be essential to our notion of the self.


COMMENT: Also in "Watson (Gary), Ed. - Free Will: Oxford Readings in Philosophy"



"Wiggins (David) - Locke, Butler and the Stream of Consciousness: And Men as Natural Kind"

Source: Philosophy, Vol. 51, No. 196 (Apr., 1976), pp. 131-158


Philosophers Index Abstract
    The charge of circularity preferred by Butler and others against Locke's mental continuity conception of personal identity is baseless. The flaw is rather that, in the absence of supplementation by a substantive (conceptually replete) account of persons as embodied agents with the full range of faculties characteristic of men as a natural kind1, Locke's kind of criterion gives wrong answers to some identity questions. Locke's insight can however be restated in a physicalistic framework. But attempts to resolve putative cases of brain transplantation2, etc., by means of the amended life-like account put a strain upon "person" as a natural kind3 concept. If, however, we allow ourselves to be pushed towards an artefact-kind or social-construct account of "person" then we imperil both our morality and our knowledge of who we are. What is more, the natural kind4 account of person justifies us in giving short shrift to science fictional "possibilities" concerning persons.


COMMENT: Also in "Noonan (Harold), Ed. - Personal Identity (Readings)".



"Williams (Bernard) - Persons, Character and Morality"

Source: Rorty (Amelie) - The Identities of Persons, 1976


Author’s Abstract
  1. In this paper I take up, I fear in an obscure, promissory and allusive manner, two aspects of this large subject. They both involve the idea that an individual person has a set of desires, concerns or, as I shall often call them, projects, which help to constitute a character.
  2. The first issue concerns the connection between that fact and the man's having a reason for living at all. I approach this through a discussion of some recent work by Derek Parfit1; though I touch on a variety of points in this, my overriding aim is to emphasize the basic importance for our thought of the ordinary idea of a self or person which undergoes changes of character, as opposed to an approach which, even if only metaphorically, would dissolve the person, under changes of character, into a series of 'selves'. In this section I am concerned just with the point that each person has a character, not with the point that different people have different characters.
  3. That latter point comes more to the fore on the second issue, which I take up in part III, and which concerns personal relations. Both issues suggest that the Kantian view contains an important misrepresentation.


COMMENT: Also in "Williams (Bernard) - Moral Luck"



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