Identity - Essays Based on Herbert Spencer Lectures Given in the University of Oxford
Harris (Henry)
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BOOK ABSTRACT:

Inside Cover Blurb

  1. Who am I, and what am I1? The question is one asked through the ages, answered in various ways in different disciplines. Identity is a matter of intellectual interest but also of personal and practical interest, attracting attention and stimulating controversy outside the ranks of the specialists.
  2. This volume offers a comparison and cross-fertilization of insights and theories from various disciplines in which identity is a key concept.
  3. Identity contains essays by six internationally famous contributors, focusing on different facets of identity from the viewpoint of their various disciplines.
    • Two philosophers, Bernard Williams and Derek Parfit, discuss, respectively, numerical identity (when can we say that two phenomena observed at different times are one and the same thing?) and personal identity (how far can the concept of ‘I’ be stretched, and does it always matter whether we can say if that would still be me?).
    • Henry Harris looks at philosophical discussions of identity from the perspective of an experimentalist, and discusses whether philosophical thought-experiments2 have any basis in scientific reality.
  4. The essays that follow offer perspectives from outside philosophy:
    • Michael Ruse considers homosexual identity and to what extent it is reasonable to claim that homosexuality is a social construct.
    • Terence Cave looks at personal identity through the eye of literature and fiction, and portrays identity as generated through the narratives that one weaves about oneself or about other people.
    • Finally, Anthony D. Smith looks at national identities and how they are formed, analysing how this process is shaped by the interplay of cultural inheritance, political expediency, and myth.

Comment
  1. The above collection of essays demonstrates that the term “Identity” is not univocal.
  2. The term is already used in philosophical circles in “The Loose and Popular and the Strict and Philosophical Senses”. SeeHere, numerical identity and exact (or even inexact) similarity may be confused.
  3. But it seems that the use outside philosophy – when, for instance, talking of someone’s “sexual identity”, we’re talking of something entirely different – namely aspects of their personality, or – maybe better – what social grouping they choose to align themselves with.
  4. I can’t imagine I’ll ever get round to reading the second set of essays.



In-Page Footnotes ("Harris (Henry) - Identity - Essays Based on Herbert Spencer Lectures Given in the University of Oxford")

Footnote 2:
BOOK COMMENT:



"Cave (Terence) - Fictional Identities"

Source: Harris - Identity - Essays Based on Herbert Spencer Lectures Given in the University of Oxford


Editor’s Abstract
  1. Terence Cave looks at personal identity through the eye of literature and fiction, and portrays identity as generated through the narratives that one weaves about oneself or about other people.
  2. He takes the view that personal identity is generated through narrative, either the narrative that one weaves about oneself or about other people, both real and fictional. In particular, he examines the crucial role that false identity and its exposure have played in literature from remote antiquity to the present day.


COMMENT: Probably irrelevant to my Thesis, though I've developed an interest in the ontology of fictional entities1.



"Harris (Henry) - An Experimentalist Looks at Identity"

Source: Harris - Identity - Essays Based on Herbert Spencer Lectures Given in the University of Oxford


Editor’s Abstract
  1. Henry Harris argues that defining personal identity is simply a matter of defining what one chooses to call a person, and that fictional devices involving replication of persons or transplantation of brains are not only based on physiological misconceptions, but are also seriously misleading.
  2. For Harris, all questions of identity in the world of sticks and stones are empirical questions that can be answered, if at all, then only by empirical methods.

Philosophers Index Abstract
  • ‘An Experimentalist looks at Identity’ examines two questions:
    1. Whether the philosophical notion of 'necessary' identity has any purchase in the material world; and
    2. Whether the concept of 'personal identity' can be sustained by thought experiments1 involving the bi-section, replication2 and transplantation of brains3.
  • With respect to (1), the conclusion is reached that 'necessary' identity is a logical construct limited to formal systems with no application in the real world.
  • With respect to (2), the conclusion is reached that thought experiments4 involving manipulation of the brain are based on misapprehension of clinical reality and cannot provide a workable definition of personal identity.



"Harris (Henry) - Identity: Introduction"

Source: Harris - Identity - Essays Based on Herbert Spencer Lectures Given in the University of Oxford


Full Text
  1. Although the English language is rich in synonyms, there are some words that are islands of desperate poverty in this respect. 'Identity' is one of them. It stands in for so many different concepts that to use it at all is a recipe for confusion. There is, first, the canonical philosophical distinction between 'qualitative' and 'numerical' identity. If, of two objects, it can be said that any property whatsoever that one of them has, the other also has, then they are said to be qualitatively identical; but it takes no more than a moment's thought to see that no two material objects in the real world are, or could possibly be, of this kind.
  2. The identity that engages the attention of modern philosophers is numerical identity, that is, whether, and under what circumstances, one can say that two phenomena observed at different times are one and the same thing.
  3. In this volume, Bernard Williams sets out the ground rules for the philosophical analysis of this problem and brings to light the intrinsic elements of indeterminacy that the notion of numerical identity entails.
  4. Derek Parfit is primarily concerned with 'personal identity', which he explores by a series of science fictions in which personal identity is extended by replication or dissected by transplantation of brains and bodies. Parfit agrees with Bernard Williams that there are situations where it cannot be decided whether personal identity has been preserved, but concludes that from a practical (and ultimately moral) point of view the preservation of personal identity is unimportant.
  5. Henry Harris argues that defining personal identity is simply a matter of defining what one chooses to call a person, and that fictional devices involving replication of persons or transplantation of brains are not only based on physiological misconceptions, but are also seriously misleading. For Harris, all questions of identity in the world of sticks and stones are empirical questions that can be answered, if at all, then only by empirical methods.
  6. Michael Ruse does a great deal to clarify the obscure and emotionally charged concept of sexual identity. He offers a critical and biologically informed analysis of the genetic, physiological, and psychological determinants of homosexuality, and he discusses how far it is reasonable to claim that homosexuality is a social construct.
  7. Terence Cave takes the view that personal identity is generated through narrative, either the narrative that one weaves about oneself or about other people, both real and fictional. In particular, he examines the crucial role that false identity and its exposure have played in literature from remote antiquity to the present day.
  8. Finally, Anthony D. Smith describes the various ways in which national identities are formed and analyses how this process is shaped by the interplay of cultural inheritance, political expediency, and myth.
  9. There are, of course, other concepts for which the word identity does duty; but this collection of essays, written by expert hands, covers a good deal of ground. Herbert Spencer would surely have been very pleased with them.



"Parfit (Derek) - The Unimportance of Identity"

Source: Harris - Identity - Essays Based on Herbert Spencer Lectures Given in the University of Oxford


Author’s Introduction (Full Text)
  1. We can start with some science fiction. Here on Earth, I enter the Teletransporter. When I press some button, a machine destroys my body, while recording the exact states of all my cells. The information is sent by radio to Mars, where another machine makes, out of organic materials, a perfect copy of my body. The person who wakes up on Mars seems to remember living my life up to the moment when I pressed the button, and he is in every other way just like me.
  2. Of those who have thought about such cases, some believe that it would be I who would wake up on Mars. They regard Teletransportation as merely the fastest way of travelling. Others believe that, if I chose to be Teletransported, I would be making a terrible mistake. On their view, the person who wakes up would be a mere Replica of me.

First Two Pages of Section I (Full Text1)
  1. That is a disagreement about personal identity. To understand such disagreements, we must distinguish two kinds of sameness. Two white billiard balls may be qualitatively identical, or exactly similar. But they are not numerically identical, or one and the same ball. If I paint one of these balls red, it will cease to be qualitatively identical with itself as it was; but it will still be one and the same ball. Consider next a claim like, 'Since her accident, she is no longer the same person'. That involves both senses of identity. It means that she, one and the same person, is not now the same person. That is not a contradiction. The claim is only that this person's character has changed. This numerically identical person is now qualitatively different.
  2. When psychologists discuss identity, they are typically concerned with the kind of person someone is, or wants to be. That is the question involved, for example, in an identity crisis. But, when philosophers discuss identity, it is numerical identity they mean. And, in our concern about our own futures, that is what we have in mind. I may believe that, after my marriage, I shall be a different person. But that does not make marriage death. However much I change, I shall still be alive if there will be someone living who will be me. Similarly, if I was Teletransported, my Replica on Mars would be qualitatively identical to me; but, on the sceptic's view, he wouldn't be me. I shall have ceased to exist. And that, we naturally assume, is what matters2.
  3. Questions about our numerical identity all take the following form. We have two ways of referring to a person, and we ask whether these are ways of referring to the same person. Thus we might ask whether Boris Nikolayevich is Yeltsin. In the most important questions of this kind, our two ways of referring to a person pick out a person at different times. Thus we might ask whether the person to whom we are speaking now is the same as the person to whom we spoke on the telephone yesterday. These are questions about identity over time.
  4. To answer such questions, we must know the criterion of personal identity: the relation between a person at one time, and a person at another time, which makes these one and the same person.
  5. Different criteria have been advanced. On one view, what makes me the same, throughout my life, is my having the same body. This criterion requires uninterrupted bodily continuity. There is no such continuity between my body on Earth and the body of my Replica on Mars; so, on this view, my Replica would not be me. Other writers appeal to psychological continuity3. Thus Locke claimed that, if I was conscious of a past life in some other body, I would be the person who lived that life. On some versions of this view, my Replica would be me.
  6. Supporters of these different views often appeal to cases where they conflict. Most of these cases are, like Teletransportation, purely imaginary. Some philosophers object that, since our concept of a person rests on a scaffolding of facts, we should not expect this concept to apply in imagined cases where we think those facts away. I agree. But I believe that, for a different reason, it is worth considering such cases. We can use them to discover, not what the truth is, but what we believe. We might have found that, when we consider science fiction cases, we simply shrug our shoulders. But that is not so. Many of us find that we have certain beliefs about what kind of fact personal identity is.


COMMENT:




In-Page Footnotes ("Parfit (Derek) - The Unimportance of Identity")

Footnote 1:



"Ruse (Michael) - Sexual Identity: Reality or Construction?"

Source: Harris - Identity - Essays Based on Herbert Spencer Lectures Given in the University of Oxford


Editor’s Abstract
  1. Michael Ruse considers homosexual identity and to what extent it is reasonable to claim that homosexuality is a social construct.
  2. He does a great deal to clarify the obscure and emotionally charged concept of sexual identity. He offers a critical and biologically informed analysis of the genetic, physiological, and psychological determinants of homosexuality, and he discusses how far it is reasonable to claim that homosexuality is a social construct.


COMMENT: Irrelevant to my Thesis



"Smith (Anthony D.) - The Formation of National Identity"

Source: Harris - Identity - Essays Based on Herbert Spencer Lectures Given in the University of Oxford


Editor’s Abstract
  1. Anthony D. Smith looks at national identities and how they are formed, analysing how this process is shaped by the interplay of cultural inheritance, political expediency, and myth.


COMMENT: Irrelevant to my Thesis



"Williams (Bernard) - Identity and Identities"

Source: Harris - Identity - Essays Based on Herbert Spencer Lectures Given in the University of Oxford


Extract
  1. Many philosophical problems about identity concern the criteria for the identity of particular things. In the first part of this essay I shall consider a number of different philosophical problems that are associated with the concept of the identity of a particular thing. This leads to a particularly important case of the relation of particulars to types, which I shall take up in the later part of the essay: this is the notion of a person's social identity.
  2. I start with more strictly metaphysical questions. Identity intimately involves counting, either synchronic or over time, and problems of identity are connected with what, in ancient terms, may be called questions of the One and the Many, of how many things of a certain sort there are at a certain place or over a certain period. As Frege helpfully insisted, the question 'how many?' always demands an answer to 'how many what?'



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