Personal Identity (Readings)
Noonan (Harold), Ed.
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Book Depository Description
    This philosophical work, which explores the concept of personal identity, includes coverage of the future, the past, the importance of self-identity, brain bisection and the unity of consciousness, the stream of consciousness, rationality, the fear of death, memory and more.

"Brook (J.A.) - Imagination, Possibility, and Personal Identity"

Source: American Philosophical Quarterly, 12.3, July 1975, pp. 185-198

Philosophers Index Abstract
    Butler's famous doctrine that personal identity is strict and indefinable has recently reappeared in some papers of Chisholm's. Bernard Williams has also used some arguments having the same thrust. The paper shows (a) that neither Chisholm nor Williams makes out a case, and (b) that making out any such case is more difficult than it might at first appear to be. The latter considerations lead into a more general examination of kinds of possibility and the uses and abuses of imagined cases in trying to establish or refute them.

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

"Coburn (Robert) - Personal Identity Revisited"

Source: Canadian Journal of Philosophy, 15.3, Sept. 1985, pp. 379-404

Philosophers Index Abstract
  1. In this paper, I first present a range of objections to "empirical" analyses of personal identity through time.
  2. Then I develop and defend a version of the view that the everyday notion of personal identity is unanalyzable.
  3. In the course of defending this "natural" view, I underscore some of the difficulties to which it is liable.

Author’s Abstract
  1. In recent years work on the topic of personal identity has flourished. Much of it is ingenious and some of it is quite dazzling. Despite the brilliance of the literature, however, the topic itself continues to be wrapped in darkness and its capacity to baffle and perplex is as great as ever.
  2. In the present paper, I will attempt to make clear that and why this is so.
    1. I shall begin by showing why the most recent virtuoso performance1 in the area leaves everything as obscure as before.
    2. I shall then develop a version of what appears to me to be the most viable alternative to both the bankrupt view just unmasked and its equally bankrupt congeners, and indicate why it too is less than fully satisfactory.
  3. The upshot will be that we seem to be faced with three possible conclusions, each moderately compelling, but none obviously correct or altogether happy.

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

In-Page Footnotes ("Coburn (Robert) - Personal Identity Revisited")

Footnote 1:

"Garrett (Brian) - Personal Identity and Extrinsicness"

Source: Philosophical Studies 59, pp. 177-194, 1990

Author’s Abstract
  1. On one familiar and very broad view of personal identity1, the continued existence of a person over time admits of analysis in terms of relations of non-branching physical and/or psychological continuity2.1 (One version of this view is the Psychological Criterion3, according to which A at t1 is identical to B at t2 iff A and B stand to each other in the relation of non-branching psychological continuity4.)
  2. The need for a non-branching or no-competitors clause is occasioned by the most plausible description of the division or fission of persons, a situation in which one individual stands to each of two later individuals in qualitatively identical relations of physical and psycho logical continuity.
  3. The inclusion of such a clause is necessary in order to avoid the consequence that the earlier person is identical to both resulting persons. The inclusion of a non-branching component in theories of personal identity over time has been thought to incur the charge of absurdity. The charge can be pressed as follows: any best-candidate5 theory of personal identity, which incorporates a non-branching component, violates a necessary constraint which governs our concept of strict numerical identity6 and - absurdly - implies, in a sense to be characterised, that the identity of a person over time can be extrinsically determined. Consequently, any best-candidate7 theory of personal identity over time is untenable.
  4. If so, it follows that we must redescribe the transtemporal identities which hold in a case of division, e.g., along the lines suggested by Lewis, Perry and Noonan8 (according to which the distinct post-division persons both occupy the single pre-division body), or else9 give up entirely the attempt to analyse the identity of a person over time in terms of physical and/or psychological continuity10 (and embrace instead, e.g., Cartesian dualism). However, my ultimate aim in this paper is to show how commitment to the extrinsicness of identity on the part of best-candidate11 theorists can be accepted without absurdity.

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

In-Page Footnotes ("Garrett (Brian) - Personal Identity and Extrinsicness")

Footnote 1:
  • See, e.g., Parfit's statement of the Physical and Psychological Criteria in Reasons and Persons, Oxford University Press, 1984, p. 204 and p. 207. See also S. Shoemaker, 'Personal Identity: A Materialist's Account' in S. Shoemaker & R. Swinburne, Personal Identity, Oxford, Basil Blackwell, 1984.
Footnote 8:
  • D. Lewis, 'Survival and Identity' in A. 0. Rorty (ed.), The Identities of Persons, Los Angeles, University of California Press, 1976; J. Perry, 'Can the Self Divide?', Journal of Philosophy, 1972; H. Noonan, 'The Closest Continuer Theory of Identity', Inquiry 28, 1985.
Footnote 9:
  • This disjunction follows on the assumption, defended below, that division is a genuine metaphysical possibility for persons.

"Hirsch (Eli) - Divided Minds"

Source: Philosophical Review 100, 1991

Philosophers Index Abstract
  1. The author distinguishes between the "unity of consciousness" and the "unity of self-reflexiveness." The former is lost in cases of split brains1 but the author argues that the latter is not lost.
  2. Because Parfit2 tacitly assumes that the latter is lost, he erroneously supposes that split brain patients can exercise selective knowledge and control in each of their streams of consciousness.

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

"Johnston (Mark) - Fission and the Facts"

Source: Philosophical Perspectives 3: 369-97

Author’s Introduction
  1. How far is Common Sense, a thing only partly invented, only partly a useful fiction, committed to anything that is philosophically problematic? The answer one gives to that question must significantly determine one's conception of the point and scope of philosophy, one's view of how far philosophy legitimately can have revisionary aspirations, one's sense of how satisfying a description of our practices can be if that description indeed leaves everything as it is, if it aims only to dissolve or diffuse conflicts among the justifications we give for those practices, if, as a matter of principle, it never finds a place for the diagnosis of vitiating error.
  2. The Revisionist makes his task easier by attributing to Common Sense proto-philosophical theories about features of our ordinary practices, theories which may then be shown to be internally incoherent, inconsistent with other things we take for granted or simply too primitive to take seriously. Thus philosophical pictures sometimes seem to be foisted on Common Sense. Our ordinary understanding of the passage of time is sometimes supposed to embody the picture of reality growing at one end and perhaps diminishing at the other at the same unspecifiable rate. Our ordinary conception of free will is sometimes supposed to involve a picture of free will as a kind of causation1 itself uncaused and yet somehow properly associated with particular human beings, where human beings are themselves depicted as morasses of causal determination. Our ordinary notion of being guided by a rule that determines a potentially infinite series of applications is sometimes supposed to depend upon picturing ourselves as being under the mysterious influence of a Platonic something which actually incorporates and organizes the infinite series of cases.
  3. Only when we descend to the details can we see how far these attributions merely foist and how far they tease out the implicit commitments of Common Sense. Here I am concerned with the details of the Common Sense View, if there is such a view, of the facts of personal identity and difference. However, before we examine the metaphysical model of the facts of personal identity attributed to Common Sense by Revisionists and Non-Revisionists alike, and exhibit in detail what is mistaken in it, it is as well to notice that the Revisionist who goes by way of attributing a proto-philosophical theory or model to Common Sense faces a general dilemma. Consider some proto-philosophical theory which such a Revisionist associates with some concept in ordinary use. Does that theory guide the actual use of the concept, i.e. determine its application in ordinary cases, or not? If it does, then to the extent that the Revisionist maintains the theory is shot through with falsity, to that extent he becomes an Eliminativist, depriving us of anything to have had a false view about. If it does not, the Revisionist's claim about the falsity of the theory is a claim about a more or less uninteresting epiphenomenon of ordinary practice, a bit of amateurish philosophizing on the part of Common Sense. The false theory would then be a curiosity, since ordinary practice does not rely on it any more than an aeronautical engineer who happens to be a logicist about mathematics relies on his logicism in his mathematical calculations. The Revisionist thus inherits the onus of explaining in particular cases how he finds a stable middle ground between adopting Eliminativism and simply remarking upon a theoretical epiphenomenon2.
  4. In the particular case of personal identity the master of the Revisionist gambit is Derek Parfit3. He makes a case for the claim that we have a false view of our natures as persons, indeed that we think of ourselves as separately existing entities distinct from our brains and bodies, entities like Cartesian egos. So far from seeing the separately existing entity view as a theoretical epiphenomenon, Parfit4 argues that if we accept that this view is false then we should alter our practice in a certain way. Presently we use the concept of personal identity to guide our future-oriented concerns so that we care in a special and non-derivative way about ourselves as opposed to people merely continuous with us in rich and manifold respects. According to Parfit5 we should abandon or at least significantly weaken this non-derivative concern for ourselves once we see that we are not separately existing entities6.
  5. In first setting out his Revisionist argument Parfit7 relied heavily on the case of fission, which is my central example here8. About it, I argue that even if Common Sense had a view of personal identity at odds with the right thing to say in the fission case, this view would be at most a theoretical epiphenomenon. It does not in general guide our use of the concept of personal identity in ordinary cases. At worst, this view would be an overgeneralization from consequences in ordinary cases of our independent employment of the concept. Fission is a case outside the ordinary and it is a case in which there are no determinate facts of personal identity. Although this latter claim may surprise, it occasions no deep revision.

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

In-Page Footnotes ("Johnston (Mark) - Fission and the Facts")

Footnote 2:
  • Clearly the worry here expressed applies to that fashionable eliminativism about the psychological attitudes which stems from regarding "folk psychology" as a term-defining theory which has the singular vice of being largely false.
  • A typical response is to accept the picture of folk psychology as a term-defining theory, not concede that it is largely false and conclude that there are legitimate restrictions of the theory – i.e. large enough sub parts of it – within which the constituent propositional attitude terms have extensions.
  • But then the clear implication is that there are legitimate restrictions of the theory within which the terms have no extensions. So it's hard to see how the theorist who takes this line will be able non-artificially to claim that it is determinately true that people have beliefs.
  • Better to take a different tack and examine the possibility that folk psychology is not a term-defining theory at all but a collection of rules of thumb which have accumulated as a result of a successful practice not itself guided by theory, viz. the practice of understanding each other as believers and desirers. We can regard ourselves as knowing how to do this without needing to assume we know a lot of propositional truth.
Footnote 3: See Footnote 6: See "Parfit (Derek) - Reasons and Persons", pp. 199-302.

Footnote 8: See "Parfit (Derek) - Personal Identity", section 1.

"Johnston (Mark) - Human Beings"

Source: Journal of Philosophy, Volume 84, Issue 2 (Feb 1987), 59-83
Write-up Note1 (Full Text reproduced below).

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

Write-up4 (as at 20/04/2018 23:25:26): Johnston - Human Beings

This write-up is an analysis and review of "Johnston (Mark) - Human Beings". Note that Johnston has updated his views of 1987 with "Johnston (Mark) - 'Human Beings' Revisited: My Body is Not an Animal" published in 2007.

  1. Introduction
  2. The Conundrum
  3. What Kind of Locus of Mental Life?
  4. Human Organisms and Human Beings
  5. The Conundrum Again

Notes & Annotations
  1. Introduction5
    1. A question worth asking is “What is it that we are?”, but this can easily stray into desiccation.
    2. Philosophy needs to be precise without being desiccating. Avoid the analytic paradigm of death by thought experiment, with competing accounts of the necessary and sufficient conditions for Personal Identity evaluated by how well they compare with intuitions derived from the TEs6.
    3. Compare Gettier cases in Epistemology. The paradigm is somewhat dry, but works well because we’re analysing the relations between concepts – and concepts that are agreed upon.
    4. But the situation isn’t as clear-cut when we come to people. Mental or physical continuity might be evidence for personal survival, but is not part of its meaning. We’re not just dealing with relations between concepts.
    5. Reliance on intuitive reactions to puzzle cases would be justified as an approach to personal identity only if two conditions are satisfied:-
      • Reductionist Requirement7: our concept of “same person8” must be capable of being grasped in non-circular terms of necessary and sufficient conditions based on continuity and dependence relations.
      • No Overgeneralisation Requirement : responses to the puzzle cases are to be based on the above, not on overgeneralisations9 from normal cases or from religious (or secular) preconceptions.
    6. But, empirically, there is no universally-accepted concept of what people are; so, the concept is unspecific and will give the “method of cases” problems. The topic of Personal Identity will address a dry generalisation, as against any of the interesting specific alternative views of what a person might be that have guided practical life.
    7. The dominant view is that we (people) are minds, maybe essentially embodied, but not dependent for our survival on any particular body or brain.
    8. This is Parfit’s wide psychological reductionism, hereafter WPR. See "Parfit (Derek) - What We Believe Ourselves To Be", Section 78, pp. 207-8.
      • Psychological Reductionism: claims of personal identity are solved by the holding of relations of psychological continuity10, the ancestral of psychological connectedness11.
      • Wide: this adjective is applied because – it is held – mental continuity and connectedness can constitute personal identity even in the absence of its normal cause – such as the persistence of a particular human body or brain (which are the usual, but contingent) causes.
    9. Supporters of this view are:-
      1. "Lewis (David) - Survival and Identity",
      2. "Quinton (Anthony) - The Soul", and
      3. "Shoemaker (Sydney) - Personal Identity: a Materialist Account".
    10. With respect to Shoemaker, Johnston claims that "Shoemaker (Sydney) - Self-Knowledge and Self-Identity" had some sympathy with the view that bodily continuity is constitutive of PID, but that he allowed the bodily criterion to be overridden by the memory criterion in exceptional cases. However, he’s decisively abandoned the bodily criterion by the time of "Shoemaker (Sydney) - Persons and Their Pasts".
    11. Johnston notes that the “most notable” opponents of WPR (what he calls “the dominant view”) are:-
      1. Bernard Williams:-
      2. Wiggins12: "Wiggins (David) - Personal Identity (S&S)".
    12. The WPR is usually defended using the intuition that we could find ourselves inhabiting a new body, as confirmed by others noting our re-housed psychological traits. Rather tendentiously, Johnston sees this intuition as being “wrung13” from one of three TEs:-
      1. Locke’s14 Prince and Cobbler: apparent body-swapping. See Quinton.
      2. Teletransportation15:
      3. Brain-State Transfer18:
    13. The “body-changing intuition” generated by these “fantastic” cases is supposed to support the claim that mental continuity and connectedness – however caused – are jointly19 sufficient for personal identity. As regards their necessity, it’s pointed out that in their absence, we wouldn’t be inclined to think these processes identity-preserving20.
    14. So, orthodoxy consists in a combination of the method of cases and WPR. Johnston repeats his opening accusation that orthodoxy is boring, and wants to challenge both the method and WPR.
    15. Johnston wants to give up the reductionist21 requirement that statements about PID are reducible to statements about connectivity and connectedness22. Instead, rather than being constitutive of PID, these just provide evidence for PID, and the more unusual the TE, the less evidence they provide – hence reducing the value of cases – because the usual evidential connections are severed.
    16. This means he adopts what Parfit calls a Further-fact view. The truth-makers of PID-statements differ from those related to psychological – and physical – continuity and connectedness.
    17. Johnston stresses in a footnote that:-
      1. This paper does not in any way suggest – as Parfit says – that we are “separately existing” entities distinct from human brains and bodies. +RHumanBeingsR+
      2. Instead, Johnston will argue that
        1. We23 are24 Human Beings25”, and that
        2. “Human Beings are constituted by human bodies26”.
      3. Further, this paper “can be read as” an extended refutation of Parfit’s claim (in the previously-cited "Parfit (Derek) - What We Believe Ourselves To Be", Section 79, p. 216) that appeal to “further-facts” implies separately-existing entities.
      4. Parfit relies on this assumption for his revisionary ethics in Part Three of "Parfit (Derek) - Reasons and Persons", and – without it – his revisionary programme is “broken backed”.
      5. Additionally, we can allow that PID might be indeterminate27 in some puzzle cases without accepting his revisionism.
      6. We’re referred to "Johnston (Mark) - Reasons and Reductionism" for an elaboration.
    18. So, with what does Johnston replace the method of cases? His suggestion is that we take seriously the methods whereby we re-identify one another over time. If any theory fails to give the answers these commonplace methods do, it should be rejected. Thus, we should “automatically rule out” the bare-locus view28 (to be discussed in his Section II), and any other theory that makes our routine practice of re-identification “extremely problematical”.
    19. If multiple theories survive the above cull, we can then – as a secondary measure – resort to the method of cases and compare our intuitions against the theories’ pronouncements.
    20. However, our intuitions can be defeated if one of the following applies:-
      1. They can be shown to be overgeneralisations29 from the ordinary cases,
      2. They can be shown to be due to some distorting influence, or
      3. They are outweighed by other judgements we have reason to respect.
    21. We will make more of cases where intuitions conflict, and look for explanations of why this might be so. Sometimes these explanations will discredit the intuitions, sometimes not.
    22. Johnston allows that we might still be left with multiple surviving theories – a genuine indeterminacy30 – which theory of PID should “articulate”.
    23. He now articulates his own view, which he will argue in this paper falls out of his method:-
      1. We are Human Beings31, as “somewhat stipulatively32” defined by Johnston himself,
      2. Human Beings are necessarily normally33 constituted by human organisms34,
      3. Our persistence conditions differ from those of our constituting organisms only because a Human Being continues to exist35 if his mind does.
      4. So, if a Human Being were reduced to a mere brain, that Human Being would continue to exist as long as that brain supports that Human Being’s mental life.
      5. In such circumstance, the human organism would no longer exist, while the Human Being would plausibly do so.
      6. But, no Human Being could survive teletransportation or similar cases of complete body transfer36.
    24. This is in contrast to the dominant view that considers us to be minds whose particular37 embodiment is contingent.
    25. Johnston has a footnote38 to the effect that he’s talking about our actual concept of PID.
      • It could be the case that the concept gets modified in a culture in which teletransportation is routine so that “they” – “acculturated human animals” – would be said to survive teletransportation.
      • To avoid complications, this is set aside in the present paper, but the main claim of the paper is that there’s no reason to suppose our present concepts would allow us to survive.
      • Johnston describes the “survival option” as a form of relativism about PID39.
      • This would mean that – while we would remain of the kind40 Human Being – this would then no longer be a substance41 kind, in that it would no longer fix what changes we could survive.
      • However, because this conceptual change is unlikely to happen, we can treat the kind Human Being “as if” it were a substance kind and “as if” it determined our essence.
    26. In the next section, Johnston will introduce a well-known conundrum as a test case of his alternative method. He thinks it will attack both aspects of the orthodox position – the method of cases and the dominant view. He thinks it will become evident that the dominant view depends on the puzzle cases’ systematically distorting influences on our intuitions.
  2. The Conundrum
    1. Johnston takes the conundrum from "Williams (Bernard) - The Self and the Future", but presents it in its own way.
      1. We’re to suppose a machine exists that produces the same effects as a brain transplant. It is capable of recording “dispositional and occurrent mentality” from one brain and adjusting a second brain with this information.
      2. So, two patients – A & B – can “swap minds”.
      3. However, from the perspective of A – we are to suppose – it is as if he has “swapped bodies”.
      4. So, if A is asked to choose in a self-interested way who should receive pain after the transfer – he would (as the case is presented) choose A-body.
      5. Many would agree with this assessment, because42 the machine seems to produce the same effect as a brain transplant43.
    2. But consider an alternative
      1. A is to imagine he has some illness and that a very painful surgical procedure – for which there is no anaesthetic – has a small chance of curing it.
      2. The surgeon suggests that this can be circumvented by using a machine to
        1. record A’s mind, then
        2. scramble his brain so that it has some different psychology, then
        3. restore his psychology as before.
      3. Most of us would intuit that the pain would be A’s, despite the psychological manipulation, which is just a further assault.
      4. Johnston appeals to Williams44 to the effect that psychological continuity is not required for pain-ownership.
    3. Now, these two scenarios are just the same thing – though in the second one B is left out of the equation: but how – Johnston claims – can B’s experiences have anything to do with A’s?
    4. There are two lessons to draw:-
      1. The second presentation counts against the dominant view, and
      2. We have a conflict of intuitions – does or doesn’t A “swap bodies”? This uncertainty threatens the method of cases.
    5. We’re referred to Nozick’s then recent45 Closest Continuer46 theory which promises to rescue the method of cases and only make a minor modification to the dominant view. As expounded by Johnston:-
      1. The closest continuer theory is a schema because the factors to be weighed – and the strength of the weightings – in determining which continuer is “closest” vary with the kind of continuant.
      2. Nozick claims that our intuitions about PID conform to this schema, whereby the closest continuant is the persisting individual.
      3. This explains – according to Nozick – our responses to the two presentations of Williams’s TE:-
        1. The intuition behind the second presentation shows that, for persons, bodily continuity can make up sufficient continuity even in the absence of psychological continuity. That’s why we think A will feel the pain.
        2. That behind the first presentation shows that when bodily and psychological continuity diverge, we give more weight to psychological. This explains – when we hear of the adventures of B, we agree that A and B have “swapped bodies”.
        3. The two intuitions are consistent – according to Nozick – because the first presentation provides – in B – a better continuer for A than is provided in the second. This is why mentioning B and his brain is relevant.
        4. Only a modification47 to the dominant view is required. Psychological continuity can be – on its own – sufficient for personal identity and – in the absence of bodily continuity – is necessary.
    6. This would be an OK response to the conundrum if it could be shown that our intuitions in general follow the closest-continuer schema as interpreted by the modified dominant view. But – Johnston argues – they don’t.
      1. Johnston’s first challenge is to consider carefully what we are to say in the case where the machine copies A’s psychology to patients B-body and, 10 minutes later) to C-body, and A-body dies.
      2. Both B-body and C-body are sufficiently close psychologically to be continuers of A – and hence to be A – but we’re to suppose C-body is in fact a much better continuer48, and this is sufficient to compensate for the extra 10-minute delay – the copying time – in producing C.
      3. But – a twist – once B-body has been “produced” – but before C-body has been “completed” – B-body thinks to himself “I didn’t just come into existence, but am A”, but realises that if he doesn’t act now, C-body will be completed and will be A, rather than he himself.
      4. So, B-body terminates C-body’s copy-process. And now – according to the closest-continuer theory – B-body has made it true that he is A.
    7. All this – Johnston claims – is problematical:-
      1. Our intuition is that facts are made true only by what has happened up to the time they are made, not by future events49.
      2. So, B-body’s statement “I am A, …” is true (or false) at the point he first makes it – which is before he decides to terminate the production of C-body. Its truth-value50 cannot be affected by subsequent events.
      3. So, to the extent that we are in thrall to the above intuition, we will not be convinced that the Closest-Continuer theory resolves this conundrum even if a form of the Closest-Continuer theory were to be adopted (for persons) for other reasons.
    8. Johnston also thinks that the Closest-Continuer theory cannot explain the second presentation of Williams’s conundrum unless it is presented one-sidedly, because as soon as it’s presented two-sidedly, it reverts to the body-swapping of the first presentation. But – Johnston claims – we can easily understand the stipulation51 – in the second telling – that the psychological change happens to A (and to B) without body-swapping.
    9. At this point, Johnston abandons Nozick52, and considers a “minimal response” to Williams’s conundrum, which will be elaborated in subsequent sections:-
      1. A person is a locus of mental life53, which
      2. Typically exhibits psychological continuity by which it can be traced, but
      3. Need not do so, and can exhibit psychological discontinuity of the most radical sort, and
      4. We must not think of psychological continuity as sufficient for our survival.
    10. This can accommodate both presentations of Williams’s conundrum. It is reasonable to trace a locus of mental life in terms of psychological continuity, but it might be the case that this general practice leads us astray in particular cases.
    11. This leads us to consider our reaction to the second presentation of the conundrum as prima facie evidence against the wide psychological view, without taking our reaction to the first presentation as suggesting that psychological continuity – however secured – is always sufficient.
    12. We now need to answer the question “what kind of locus of mental life are we?”, and this is a question that has to be answered by any theorist of PID, whether or not he seeks to reduce PID to continuity of whatever sort.
  3. What Kind of Locus of Mental Life?
    1. The method of cases – in particular, Williams’s conundrum – can be made to show that neither bodily nor psychological continuity is necessary for personal identity.
      1. This points towards a “bare-locus of mental life” view of personal identity.
      2. However, such a view is ruled out by Johnston’s earlier considerations54.
      3. In a footnote:-
        • We’re referred to "Madell (Geoffrey) - The Identity of the Self", esp. pp. 117-140 (ie. Sections 2-4 of "Madell (Geoffrey) - Personal Identity Through Time"),
        • However, despite requiring neither mental or physical continuity for PID, Madell may not hold the bare-locus view as he holds the view that “people” are not objective entities at all, but entirely subjective.
        • For this view55 we’re referred to "Nagel (Thomas) - Subjective and Objective" to explain what is intended by “subjective”.
        • Johnston opines that the idea of ourselves as subjective is a seductive56 Kantian Idea of Reason, which arises because the only idea of ourselves that reflective “I”-thoughts appear to underwrite is an unspecific conception of ourselves as a locus of reflective mental life.
        • We’re referred on to Johnston’s FN1657.
    2. Johnston considers cases where we think we can imagine – from the inside – various vicissitudes happening to us such as departing from a human body or even a human personality:-
      1. For instance Kafka’s “beetle-man” in Metamorphosis58 in "Kafka (Franz), Pasley (Malcolm) - Metamorphosis and Other Stories".
      2. Johnston doesn’t think there’s anything internally incoherent about such imaginings.
      3. Nor does he think they are due to some religious (or secular) conception of people that the imaginer has picked up.
      4. They are consistent with our concept of a person and as such are not idle, but – given the method of cases – can be used to flesh out our concept and so indicate the correct theory of PID.
    3. But, Johnston insists, the imaginings are idle for all that, and if this can be shown, then our concept of person as revealed by the puzzle cases is shown to be too unspecific to be of interest, and to mislead us in the cases themselves.
      1. Treating the person as a locus of (reflective) mental life allows the person to survive any conceivable vicissitude.
      2. The presence of imagined bodily or mental continuities provides evidence for survival in the puzzle cases by a harmless extension of our practice in normal cases.
      3. But, in their absence there’s no constraint and we end up with the bare locus view.
    4. So, how are we to show that imaginings that detach us for the human beings we appear to be are idle without begging the question against the bare locus view?
      1. Johnston repeats his earlier claim that a constraint on any theory of PID is that it allows us to reconstruct our everyday practices of unproblematic re-identification of people over time – and that the bare-locus theory flouts this constraint.
      2. He imagines an extreme case consistent with the bare-locus view – that of one’s body turning to stone. If I could survive this, what is my relation to my body? It is contingent59 – and it cannot be that I am identical with or necessarily constituted by my living body.
      3. So, at best, there would need to be some actual but contingent causal channel whereby I – the bare locus – receive information from – and direct changes in – my body.
      4. But Johnston considers what would be said if petrification happened during a dreamless sleep when there’s an interruption to the mental life of the subject – there’s nothing in the specification to forbid this state and – in any case – this would make the bare-locus view at odds with the presumed facts of PID, where we routinely think of ourselves as surviving periods of unconsciousness.
      5. In this “twist” the bare-locus isn’t – at the moment of petrification – actually communicating with or controlling its body60 at all.
      6. Johnston now claims there are epistemological difficulties.
        1. Our evidence that a person is persisting through a dreamless sleep61 is based on their continued bodily life.
        2. Also – we know P on condition (inter alia) that our evidence converges on P as opposed to relevant alternatives to P.
        3. But, on the bare-locus view, we can’t rule out the possibility that various distinct loci have been serially associated with the sleeping body, so we don’t know who we’ve been sleeping with!
      7. It won’t do to object that multiple loci can be ruled out by an appeal to the numerically simplest explanation of the observed bodily continuity.
        1. No-one claims to know how bare loci “work”.
        2. No hypothesis would explain how a bare locus can control a body in the absence of a mental life.
        3. Indeed, the simplest explanation of what happens in dreamless sleep would be that the bare locus had wandered off.
      8. Suppose there were an empirical theory of the ways of bare loci:-
        1. Maybe obtained from introspection, the observation of others, or even by revelation, and
        2. We had the best case scenario where bare loci do not migrate or rotate during periods of unconsciousness.
        3. This – an empirical62 theory that fits human experience – is what any substance dualist should take himself as offering.
        4. Then – just maybe – one might rule out the alternatives and so know that a single person is associated over time with a sleeping or otherwise unconscious body.
        5. Johnston has a footnote on Dualism:-
      9. But our ordinary claims to know that our unconscious friends are where their bodies are have nothing to do with any theory that rules out any number of bare loci becoming associated with their bodies. We never consider any such thing – and – philosophical scepticism aside – we do have this knowledge, which we would not have were the bare-locus theory correct.
      10. We can’t wriggle out of this conclusion on the grounds that – if the bare-locus theory were better known – people would consider it. Johnston gives an example65.
        1. Two of us see someone (“Mary”) steal a book, but only I now that the thief has a twin sister and the two dress alike.
        2. It is in fact Mary, as I believe, but am not in a position to know – because I cannot rule out a relevant alterative.
        3. My friend can’t know either. Indeed, it would be absurd that he could know – yet I not – when I know more of the relevant facts than he does.
      11. For similar examples, see:-
        → "Goldman (Alvin) - Discrimination and Perceptual Knowledge", and
        → "Swain (Marshall) - Reasons, Causes, and Knowledge".
      12. Hence, the bare-locus view fails, and with it various others, such as Richard Swinburne’s substance dualism as expounded in
        → "Swinburne (Richard) - Personal Identity: The Dualist Theory", and
        → "Swinburne (Richard) - Personal Identity".
        This is so even if the substance dualist claims that some mental features are permanent or essential properties. Using a locus of mental life just isn’t how we trace unconscious people.
    5. So, where are we?
      1. The bare-locus view is straightforwardly supported by the method of cases.
      2. To the extent that we find this view absurd, we should be suspicious of the method.
      3. Our response to the puzzle cases reifies our unspecific concept of ourselves as some or other sort of locus of mental life.
        1. We’re referred to Kant in the promised +RFN16R+ FN16. The passage – given in full below66 – is from B42767.
        2. "I think myself on behalf of a possible experience, at the same time abstracting from all actual experience, and I conclude therefrom that I can be conscious of my existence even apart from experience and its empirical conditions. In so doing I am confusing a possible abstraction from my empirically determined existence with the supposed consciousness of a possible separate existence of my thinking self, and I thus come to believe that I have knowledge that what is substantial in me is the transcendental subject."
    6. So, what is the correct conception of ourselves and how should we argue for it?
  4. Human Organisms and Human Beings
    1. So, we change our approach, and start from a biological assumption:-
      1. We start from the presumption that we are organisms – evolved animals of species homo sapiens – the view that places us most comfortably within the naturalistic worldview of scientific common-sense68.
      2. Hence, the locus of mental life we re-identify when re-identify a person over time just is an instance of a biological kind whose typical members exhibit a complex mental life.
      3. What’s wrong with this?
    2. Johnston thinks we must relinquish this position because of the – even then – familiar Brown / Brownson TE in pp. 23-24 of "Shoemaker (Sydney) - Self-Knowledge and the Body".
      1. Brown and Robinson have their brains swapped over. Brown-body dies, but “Brownson” – namely Brown’s brain in Robinson’s body – survives to regain consciousness, and shows all the psychological traits consistent with him being Brown.
      2. The standard intuitive response is that Brownson is Brown and that during the operation, Brown survived as a disembodied brain.
      3. Johnston claims the intuition is “robust” because69:-
        1. It remains even if the TE is modified so that Brown’s brainless body – called “Brownless” – is supplied with70 sufficient brain-stem to keep it alive indefinitely, in the absence of any mental life.
        2. Brownless – a badly mutilated human organism – didn’t just come into existence, and so must be the same human organism as Brown.
        3. While Brownson continues Brown’s mental life, he’s not the same human organism as Brown if we insist that human organisms are purely biological kinds, for whom metabolic functions are more important in tracing continuing life than are mental functions.
        4. So, if “human organism” is a purely biological kind, then Brownless – and not Brownson – is the same human organism as Brown.
      4. Hence, if Brown survives as Brownson, then Brown – and others of his kind – cannot be essentially human organisms.
      5. In the promised FN17, Johnston argues that this causes a problem for +RFN17R+ Wiggins in "Wiggins (David) - Sameness and Substance".
        1. Wiggins’s definition of a person71 is: “any animal that is such by its kind to have the biological capacities to enjoy fully the psychological capacities enumerated,”
        2. And from this he deduces (p. 172): “There would be no one real essence of person as such, but every person could still have the real essence of a certain kind of animal. Indirectly this would be the real essence in virtue of which he was a person”.
        3. But, for Johnston, this reasonable suggestion is contradicted by the claim that Brown is Brownson; for, if so, the kind human animal doesn’t capture Brown’s essence72.
        4. Johnston adds that similar remarks apply to the claim in "Van Inwagen (Peter) - Material Beings" that (human) persons are human organisms.
    3. Now, the predominant intuition that Brownson is Brown is just down to an uncritical reliance on the method of cases and – indeed – to two distorting influences that Johnston will explain later, namely the psychological- and social-continuer effects. What we need is a principled reason consistent with Johnston’s methods.
      → Which are that we should easily be able to trace through time those of our kind.
      1. We typically trace ourselves back in time using experiential memory, and memory itself makes an identity assumption – that the supposed rememberer was indeed the experiencer.
      2. Even the Cartesian sceptic who (temporarily) doubts the existence of the external world takes memory as proof of personal identity73.
      3. But, once we agree that certain conditions of bodily continuity are necessary for PID, the deliverances of memory might only provide evidence for the persistence of minds74 rather than of persons75. How could anything purely mental have any corporeal implications?
      4. Johnston thinks that the solution to the above “difficulty” is to realise that it’s a conceptual truth76 that a person cannot be outlived77 by what was once his own mind.
      5. Talk of a particular mind just is talk of a particular person’s mental functioning.
      6. So, the conviction – and usually the knowledge – that the mind that remembers an experience is the same mind that originally had it is just saying the same thing with “person” substituted for “mind”.
      7. So, if we have evidence for the persistence of a mind, we have evidence for the persistence of a person.
      8. Given the naturalistic view of our mental functioning as the characteristic functioning of our brains, one’s mind will continue on if only one’s brain does.
      9. So – Johnston thinks – we now have an argument for the brain transplant intuition: if our own memories are to give knowledge of our own personal persistence (rather than simply our mental persistence), then – assuming a “mere brain” would preserve our mental life – we would survive as a “mere brain”.
      10. Thus, we have to over-ride the naturalistic feeling that we are human organisms and say instead that we are human beings78.
    4. Having proved to his satisfaction that we are human beings, according to Johnston’s rather obscure definition of the term, he now has to fend off the suggestion that we are in fact human brains79.
      1. We’re referred to the following supporters of the “brain view”:-
        Thomas Nagel, "Are You Your Brain?80," paper delivered to Princeton Philosophy Colloquium and APA Pacific Division, 1984.
        → "Mackie (J.L.) - The Transcendental 'I'".
      2. Johnston thinks this view very odd, and has paradoxical consequences that Olson later pointed out in detail – so “I weigh 150 pounds” (when – strictly speaking – if I am my brain, I only weigh 3 pounds) is analogous to a truck-driver saying “I weigh 3 tons”.
      3. However, his focus is on the motivation for entering into paradox in this way.
      4. The motivation – of course – is that the survival of one’s brain is sufficient for one’s survival, and may well be necessary81.
      5. But this does not imply that we are of the kind human brain.
      6. The reason is that the rare occasion in which one of us might survive as a disembodied human brain is in a radically mutilated condition.
      7. This concept of mutilation is important here because we cannot determine the characteristic form and extent of a human being by determining how much mutilation it can undergo. Its characteristic form and extent is exemplified, rather, in its unmutilated82 form.
    5. The bottom line of all this is that rather than being of kind human brain we are of a kind such that we survive if our mental life does – but only as a result of the survival of our organ of mentation.
      1. The kind human being gives primary importance to mental functioning, so names a partly psychological kind.
      2. In contrast, the kind human organism represents a purely biological kind, in which mental functioning has no special persistence-guaranteeing status.
      3. Practically-speaking, the survival of the human organism is a necessary condition for the survival of a human being.
      4. However, there are Shoemaker-cases such that a human being can come to be constituted by a mere brain, and then by a new human organism in which that brain comes to be housed.
      5. But, the survival of that brain is critical – so a human being cannot survive teletransportation and the like.
      6. The fact of causal dependence between mental states pre- and post-teletransportation should not seduce us into thinking these states are states of the same mind.
    6. A human mind is neither
      1. A substance in its own right, nor
      2. A bundle-theorist’s ersatz for such a substance.
    7. Instead, it is just the mode of functioning of a “natural unit” – eg. a human organism or a human brain whose persistence conditions are given in non-mental terms. Talk of the mind is often overly reified talk of an aspect of some minded thing.
    8. Johnston has a footnote that’s helpful in showing what he thinks he’s proved and what he’s left for future work.
      1. Items on the “to do list” are:-
        1. Justification83 of his claim about what a human mind is.
        2. An acceptable account84 of constitution85, persistence86 and kinds87.
      2. He says that all that’s required of kinds for present purposes is that all actual and potential members of a kind share, across time:-
        1. The same persistence conditions, and
        2. The same possible types of constitution.
  5. The Conundrum Again
    1. Johnston’s conclusion is that we are essentially human beings who can survive having our brains tampered with, but cannot switch bodies without a brain transplant. If this is the case, how do we explain Williams’s conundrum? The first presentation of Williams’s TE is therefore misleading. What is going on?
      1. We must be suspicious of intuitions that suggest either psychological or physical continuity is not necessary for survival, as they incline us to the “unspecific locus of mental life” view.
      2. But, in the first presentation of Williams’s TE, this is not the case – we have two continuity options, but psychological continuity wins out over physical. Is this because we’re implicitly committed to the WPV?
      3. Johnston thinks not – but rather that it’s an overgeneralisation from ordinary life.
        1. Johnston defines an excellent continuer of Y as some X whose psychology88 – both occurrent and dispositional – is both very similar to, and evolves out of, that of Y.
        2. In everyday life, one’s death leaves no excellent continuer, and one’s life preserves one unique excellent continuer – namely, oneself.
      4. But if we are essentially human beings, it will be possible to imagine cases in which either:-
        1. A person ceases to be, yet has a unique excellent continuer (teletransportation), or
        2. A person continues to exist, but another person becomes his unique excellent continuer (Williams’s first presentation).
      5. If the cases are described purely in terms of continuities, we may be misled into tracing people using the usual psychological continuity. This is an understandable +ROvergeneralisationR+ overgeneralisation89, which leads us to trace individuals according to the WPC.
      6. Johnston describes this tendency as the psychological continuer effect.
    2. But this can only be part of the explanation:-
      1. Why do we not respond to Williams’s first presentation using the usual bodily continuity?
      2. Johnston claims that people can be got to react that way – and usually do – if the case is described after cases that highlight the importance of bodily continuity.
      3. But, when Johnston presented the case, it was described in a way that assimilated it to the brain-transplant case – alleging that it produced the same psychological effects without the surgical messiness – which allows the psychological continuer effect to operate.
      4. Because our responses are inconsistent, it shows we’re not suited to making judgements about PID in such bizarre cases, and just opt for a partial extension of our ordinary practice of re-identification.
    3. But, some people do react to Williams’s first presentation in the “body swapping” sense even when there are no cases mentioned to which it might be assimilated, at least provided there is some bodily similarity to go with the psychological continuity. Why is this so? Johnston can think of two reasons:-
      1. We expect people – at least in the short term – to continue to fulfil a complex of social roles.
        1. PID typically guarantees that one has a unique social continuer.
        2. This is fulfilled – especially when the bodies involved are alike – in Williams’s first presentation.
        3. So, we can fixate on the practical concomitants of PID.
        4. Thus – in addition to the psychological continuer effect – we have the social continuer effect.
        5. This is a distorting influence, as we are not essentially occupants of a complex of social roles90.
        6. So, the WPV is parasitic on these two effects – and gives roughly the right persistence conditions for personas91 - but persons antedate, outlive and may sometimes be outlived by92, their personas.
      2. We have an inchoate conception of ourselves as souls93, that is – “primarily psychological and not essentially physical loci of reflective mental life”.
        1. The reason for this – Johnston thinks – is that
          • “there is such a thing as the pure or merely determinable94 concept of personal identity, the concept of a persisting person as some or other unspecified kind of persisting locus of reflective mental life,” and
          • “the psychological-continuer effect leads us to trace such loci along lines of psychological continuity in cases in which bodily and psychological continuity come apart.”
        2. Thus, a tendency to trace ourselves as non-physical souls – brought on by a pure concept of PID and the psychological continuer effect – survives a transition to a secular worldview – to the embarrassment of those physicalists who espouse the WPV.
    4. In a concluding paragraph:-
      1. Johnston admits that nothing in this paper gives a direct argument against the WPV, but only points out why arguments for it are unconvincing.
      2. We are referred to "Johnston (Mark) - Reasons and Reductionism" for more direct arguments. Further pursuit here would be a distraction, because …
      3. The main import of this paper is that the WPV depends on an analytical method95 we have no reason to respect and which in any case leads to the bare locus view.
      4. Hence, he thinks the WPV cannot be rehabilitated, and – indeed – why should it be, given we have a better alternative – that we are human beings.
      5. The advantages of the view that we are human beings are twofold:-
        1. We can locate ourselves in a broadly naturalistic96 conception of the world, and
        2. We find nothing problematic about the way we normally re-identify ourselves and others on the basis of our normal and continuous mental and physical functioning as human organisms97.
      6. There are no real costs in adopting Johnston’s view (he thinks98). Rather, we’re
        1. Freed from imaginative conceits,
        2. Freed from the deliverances of the method of cases,
        3. Shown that the common conception of PID is just the unilluminating – because “merely determinable99” – concept of an unspecified locus of mental life.

In-Page Footnotes ("Johnston (Mark) - Human Beings")

Footnote 3: So extensive that I may never get the opportunity to review it in detail.

Footnote 4:
  • This is the write-up as it was when this Abstract was last output, with text as at the timestamp indicated (20/04/2018 23:25:26).
  • Link to Latest Write-Up Note.
Footnote 5: Footnote 9:
  • It’s not immediately apparent what Johnston’s stricture is here.
  • Obviously, the pejorative “over-” is to be avoided, but when is it applied? An example would have helped.
  • It is explained somewhat in the last section.
Footnote 12: Johnston says his disagreement with Wiggins is in his FN17.

Footnote 13: I think the intuition – though mistaken – arises naturally from these TEs, and have found it difficult to persuade intelligent non-philosophers from the view that they prove the case for WPR.

Footnote 16: Johnson suggests pp. 119-20, but this is a typo, I think.

Footnote 17: See my Note on Parfit.

Footnote 19:
  • Within this context, this is a good point.
  • We might have connectedness without continuity – say “I” went from prince to frog and then to cobbler – and thereby not so convinced of identity-preservation between prince and cobbler, despite their psychological connectedness.
Footnote 20:
  • Does anyone believe this argument?
  • These are – as Johnston notes – “fantastic” cases where we’re not all convinced that identity is preserved.
  • So, if we don’t believe these causal processes are identity-preserving (as Parfit appears not to do) even when we have psychological connectivity and connectedness then any reluctance so to do in their absence says nothing about their necessity.
  • But it’s true that believers in the PV do think these conditions necessary, but only because they think identity is not preserved in their absence in more mundane cases (amnesia, Alzheimer’s, etc).
Footnote 21: Presumably Johnston – unless he takes the Simple View, doesn’t want to give up on reductionism altogether, only that associated with WPR?

Footnote 22: Johnston doesn’t restrict the C & C to psychology, but presumably that’s what he means.

Footnote 24: Presumably, this is the “is” of identity, rather than of constitution.

Footnote 26:
  • This superficially sounds like Baker’s Constitution View.
  • However, Johnston doesn’t think the human person is separable from the human brain/body as in the case of Baker’s reified FPP.
  • So, despite the identical form of words, he can’t mean the same thing as the (later) Baker. I need to look at what Johnston eventually writes about Baker (if anything) and vice-versa.
Footnote 28: I assume this is something like haecceity.

Footnote 29:
  • It’s still not obvious what Johnston means here.
  • But see later.
Footnote 30: This is not – presumably – “indeterminate identity” – but indeterminacy as to which theory to choose.

Footnote 32:
  • Johnston isn’t stipulating that we are Human Beings – which he can’t do – but stipulating what he means by this term.
  • It is dangerous, however, to take on an existing term as people may not always remember the stipulative definition.
  • Indeed, it’s not clear to me that Johnston himself does so. In what follows I have capitalised “Human Being” to show it’s a term of art, though Johnston himself keeps it lower case.
Footnote 33:
  • This is an odd combination of modal terms.
  • Presumably, the necessity follows from the stipulation and the logic of identity.
  • The “normally” introduces a disjunctive element into our persistence conditions.
  • So, “same organism” will usually do, except when we’re pared down to our brains, when “same brain” does the trick.
Footnote 34:
  • Two issues here:-
    1. What does Johnston mean by “constituted”?
    2. In a previous footnote he claimed we’re constituted by “human bodies” but here by “human organisms”.
  • Maybe the latter point is fine, and not a slip.
  • A human brain is not a “human organism” – Johnston submits – but might be a “human body”.
  • But in that case, “human body” would do for the term describing what we are, and he wouldn’t need to hijack “Human Being”.
  • But – personally – I’d have thought it at least as hard to argue that a disembodied brain is a body as to argue that it is an organism.
  • Maybe there’s more to it than this. Johnston has claimed that we “go on” if our mind does, but hasn’t covered what happens if the “human body” goes on without any mentality. Do we go on? If not, he needs a term distinct from “human body” to describe what we are.
  • Watch this space!
Footnote 35:
  • Does Johnston take this to be self-evident, or does he argue for this?
  • “Mind” is rather a vague concept. We at least need “conscious mind”, but Baker’s FPP seems best.
Footnote 36:
  • What’s this? What’s an “incomplete” body transfer?
  • How does it follow from what he’s just said?
Footnote 37: Johnston highlights “particular”. The view he rejects seems very similar to Baker’s constitution view, which superficially sounds like Johnston’s own.

Footnote 38:
  • This footnote is confusing (to me) and worrying.
  • Survival is a metaphysical issue, while concepts are linguistic.
  • So, how can conceptual change affect real-world survival?
  • As has been rehearsed elsewhere, it’s not a matter of convention whether our FPP would survive teletransportation, though it’s not something we can determine empirically either. It’s a metaphysical issue.
Footnote 39: I don’t know what this means. Is he talking about Relative Identity, or something else?

Footnote 42:
  • But not all agree with the “Brain Transplant Intuition” as Olson calls it.
  • Animalists – officially, at least – think of the brain as “just another organ”.
  • Despite my inclinations towards animalism, I don’t agree with them – but share the BTI, and agree with Johnston on this point.
Footnote 44:
  • This is neither necessary, nor clear.
  • It’s all a bit quick, as it’s central to the question at hand.
Footnote 45: Footnote 47:
  • So, the difference from the dominant view is that psychological continuity isn’t necessary for personal identity where we have physical continuity and no closer psychological continuer (and – presumably – continued sentience).
Footnote 48: Presumably for corporeal rather than psychological reasons.

Footnote 49:
  • This claim is contentious.
  • The claim “this is my last birthday” can be made true by my dying before my next. The argument is over whether it is timelessly true, or whether it has no truth-value until my death occurs, when it becomes true retrospectively.
  • See the discussion of "Aristotle - De Interpretatione, Chapter 9" in this Note.
Footnote 50:
  • I don’t like the way this is going.
  • The issue ought not to be about the truth-values of statements, but the metaphysics of identity.
  • B-body doesn’t think he has just come into existence, but he might be wrong. Similarly, he might think he’s A, but he might be wrong.
  • The critical question is – in the case where the “production” of C-body is not terminated – whether B-body could be A for 10 minutes, and cease to be A thereafter for reasons extrinsic to him.
  • The intuition that rejects this possibility is the real reason for objecting to the Closest-Continuer theory.
Footnote 51:
  • Again, this seems to be the wrong line to take.
  • It might – according the Closest Continuer theory, if this were to be correct – be that the stipulation cannot be made, and that we are confused when we think we understand it.
  • This objection of mine is the same sort of objection I and others make to Descartes’s arguments involving so-called “clear and distinct ideas”. If they are ideas that purport to represent what are – in fact – impossibilities, they cannot be clear and distinct, and so cannot be argued to represent possibilities.
Footnote 52:
  • As remarked in previous footnotes, I don’t think Johnston marshals the strongest arguments against the Closest Continuer theory.
  • In particular, he doesn’t consider the “exact similarity” case, where we have two equally close continuers, and either contradict the logic of identity or deny that either of the candidates are continuers, when either on his own would have done fine.
Footnote 53:
  • An animalist must deny this first premise. I persist as a human animal in a PVS, even though I have nothing that matters to me.
  • My view is that the FPP is “essential” to me, in the sense that without it I have nothing that matters, and that I would persist as long as my FPP does, yet might also persist after it is extinguished – so it is not necessary for my existence.
  • But, because of what I am (a human animal), and how my FPP is realised (by processes in a particular brain), this FPP is not portable in the way envisaged by WPR (or by supporters of the CV).
  • The test case is that of a WBT.
Footnote 54: In the Introduction, on the grounds that such a view makes our re-identification over time “extremely problematical”.

Footnote 55: Presumably not to be confused with Nihilism.

Footnote 56:
  • I’m not clear whether this word should come before or after “Kantian”.
  • All this is obscure to me – but no doubt has something to do with FPPs, so is probably important.
Footnote 59: I have a footnote that suggests that Harold Noonan (or was it Sydney Shoemaker) objected to modal arguments like this in discussions of the statue and the clay.

Footnote 60:
  • I have an old marginal annotation asking whether I’ve got the argument right!
    1. My brain-stem is receiving information and directing my body, but completely unconsciously.
    2. My “bare locus” must be taken by Johnston to exclude unconscious / subconscious mentation – or don’t any of these computations count as cognitive at all?
    3. They aren’t like the pre-conscious computations in (say) vision – they don’t lead to any conscious thoughts or perceptions as all, being completely regulatory.
    4. The “bare locus” is supposed to be one of “mental life” which could – in most cases – be traced by mental continuity – so is presumably only a locus of conscious metal life?
    5. But this would seem to leave out a lot – many of our “eureka” moments can only be explained by subconscious mentation.
  • I’m not sure what I intended by this back in 2006. Maybe I had misunderstood Johnston’s argument. I’m still not sure I understand it.
  • The brain-stem, like the rest of the brain, is part of the body and nothing to do with the bare locus, which has to communicate with it.
  • My question, I think, has to do with the boundaries of the locus of thought. This is described as a “locus of conscious mental life”, so presumably doesn’t include anything that goes on subconsciously.
  • Review this later!
Footnote 61:
  • On the PV, the claim to know that a particular person continues to exist unconscious is defeasible.
  • If that person never regains consciousness, we might say that that person had ceased to exist when he lapsed into unconsciousness.
  • And were he subsequently to regain consciousness – contrary to all expectations – we’d revise our earlier opinion and say he hadn’t ceased to be; that is, unless we allow “gappy existence”.
Footnote 62: But dualists tend to be rationalists rather than empiricists.

Footnote 63: Ie. See "Strawson (Peter) - Persons".

Footnote 64: Footnote 65:
  • The point of this is that – just as ignorance of relevant alternatives doesn’t allow my friend to know – so our ignorance of (supposedly true) bare-locus theories doesn’t enable us to know.
  • So, we wouldn’t know – contrary to Johnston’s common-sense claim that we do, and that any theory that says we don’t must be ruled out.
Footnote 66: Some day I’ll translate it into my own words – I can’t do this faithfully at the moment.

Footnote 67: In "Kant (Immanuel), Kemp Smith (Norman) - Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason".

Footnote 68:
  • Of course, those with supernaturalist inclinations won’t accept this starting point.
  • No doubt Johnston’s response would be that the alternatives involve bare-loci, which he has earlier ruled out.
Footnote 69:
  • At least as I’ve expounded it, Johnston’s argument doesn’t really seem to back up this claim.
  • It needs an explicit argument that our intuition would be that Brown continues as Brownson rather than as Brownless.
  • Most would agree, but the animalists would not.
Footnote 70:
  • Presumably Johnston thinks it doesn’t matter from where the brain-stem comes.
  • But – it might be argued – the regulatory properties of the brain-stem are so important that a disembodied brain-stem might be taken to be a “maximally-mutilated” human organism.
Footnote 71:
  • I agree with Wiggins that “Person” is an honorific rather than a substance kind.
  • Thus, there are indeed no persistence conditions that apply to all and only persons in all possible worlds.
  • I disagree that it is a conceptual truth that all persons are animals – though it may be empirically true
Footnote 72:
  • This may be the most serious objection to Animalism.
  • Since we are animals – for all that – there must be something wrong with the argument!
  • My current thought is that it’s more credible to claim that a disembodied brain is a maximally-mutilated animal than that the brain is “just another organ”.
  • Johnston’s rather quick discussion of Brownless doesn’t take sufficiently seriously the importance of the imported brain-stem.
  • That situation may best be considered as the grafting on of a new body to whoever once owned the brain-stem.
  • But there’s still the issue that it is claimed that the persistence conditions of brains differ from those of animals, and that brains are not organisms.
  • I have my doubts as to the cogency of these objections.
    1. Persistence: Brains are not “masses of matter”, and persist as long as they are alive, just as animals do. They don’t have all the functions of a fully-functional organism, but that’s because they are maximally-mutilated.
    2. Organisms: again, because they are maximally-mutilated, they don’t perform all the self-maintenance functions of an organism – but these functions can be hived off in any case – an organism of “life support” is an organism for all that.
Footnote 73:
  • But, we’ve seen from the teletransportation case that apparent memories can be deceptive.
  • There are other TEs – supposed surgical transplants of memory-traces, quasi-memory, and the like.
  • Where is Johnston going here?
Footnote 74:
  • Are minds the sort of thing that can be individuated?
  • They sound incorporeal, and so can be multiply incorporated.
  • Are they – strictly-speaking – universals rather than particulars?
  • For my thoughts on Minds, Click here for Note.
Footnote 75: So, what – for Johnston – are “persons”? Click here for Note.

Footnote 76:
  1. Standard PV:
    • Holders of the PV think that there are some psychological changes that a person cannot survive.
    • But, if there’s still a mind there after these drastic changes, whose mind is it?
    • Presumably it’s a new person’s – as in “he’s no longer the same person”, taken literally.
    • Do holders of the PV really believe this? If so, the claim to conceptual truth is unchallenged.
  2. Transhumanism:
    • But, the transhumanists think that we – our minds – can be uploaded to a computer.
    • If so, a person might well be outlived by his own mind?
Footnote 77:
  • In what sense are minds “alive”?
  • Isn’t “life” a biological concept?
  • But it may not matter, as all Johnston needs is that a person should not be “survived” by his own mind.
Footnote 80: Footnote 81:
  • Both the necessary and sufficient conditions would be denied by strict animalists.
Footnote 82:
  • I agree completely.
  • For instance, the “we are brains” argument – stopped a bit short – says that we are “really” one-legged, because we all admit that anyone can survive the loss of a leg.
Footnote 83: I agree with this claim, so a detailed justification would be welcome.

Footnote 84:
  • The one I’m particularly interested in is of constitution, as it’s a term variously used.
  • Kinds and persistence are fairly standard ideas.
  • However, the three concepts are closely interlinked.
Footnote 88: Note this bias towards psychology.

Footnote 89:
  • At last we have an explanation of the use “overgeneralisation” hitherto!
  • It seems rather more like a lazy habit of mind, assuming that things are as in the normal case, when they are clearly not.
  • It also fails to put thought into what mental continuities consist in. Just what is it that carries my FPP forward from one moment to another, and which ensures it’s reconstituted after a period of unconsciousness?
Footnote 90:
  • Parfit seems inclined to this view, thinking it’s as good as survival if our projects are carried on by someone else.
Footnote 91:
  • I have a note on Personalities, which – while roughly the same – is not quite the same thing.
Footnote 92: Presumably only in bizarre TEs?

Footnote 94: +RDeterminableR+ Footnote 95: Johnston doesn’t remind us of what this is, but it’s – presumably – the method of cases.

Footnote 96: This might be a disadvantage for those of a super-naturalist inclination.

Footnote 97: I find a slight tension here – in that we trace organisms, despite not being organisms.

Footnote 98: This whole bullet & sub-bullets reflect an unpacking of an unduly complex final sentence.

Footnote 99: See this Footnote.

"Martin (Raymond) - Memory, Connecting and What Matters In Survival"

Source: Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 65.1, March 1987, pp. 82-97

Philosophers Index Abstract
    "Could" someone remember doing or experiencing something that someone deceased did or experienced? if they could, "has" anyone ever done so? if they have, does this fact increase the likelihood that some people have survived their bodily deaths? I argue that the answer to all of these questions is 'yes'. I explain why physical continuity matters in survival even though it is not necessary to identity, and hence why psychological-continuity theorists such as parfit1 give a distorted account of what matters2 in survival.

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

"Nagel (Thomas) - Brain Bisection and the Unity of Consciousness"

Source: Nagel (Thomas) - Mortal Questions

Introduction (Full Text)
  1. There has been considerable optimism recently, among philosophers and neuroscientists, concerning the prospect for major discoveries about the neurophysiological basis of mind. The support for this optimism has been extremely abstract and general. I wish to present some grounds for pessimism. That type of self-understanding may encounter limits which have not been generally foreseen: the personal, mentalist idea of human beings may resist the sort of coordination with an understanding of humans as physical systems, that would be necessary to yield anything describable as an understanding of the physical basis of mind. I shall not consider what alternatives will be open to us if we should encounter such limits. I shall try to present grounds for believing that the limits may exist - grounds derived from extensive data now available about the interaction between the two halves of the cerebral cortex, and about what happens when they are disconnected. The feature of the mentalist conception of persons which may be recalcitrant to integration with these data is not a trivial or peripheral one, that might easily be abandoned. It is the idea of a single person, a single subject of experience and action, that is in difficulties. The difficulties may be surmountable in ways I have not foreseen. On the other hand, this may be only the first of many dead ends that will emerge as we seek a physiological understanding of the mind.
  2. To seek the physical basis or realization of features of the phenomenal world is in many areas a profitable first line of inquiry, and it is the line encouraged, for the case of mental phenomena, by those who look forward to some variety of empirical reduction1 of mind to brain, through an identity theory, a functionalist theory, or some other device. When physical reductionism2 is attempted for a phenomenal feature of the external world, the results are sometimes very successful, and can be pushed to deeper and deeper levels. If, on the other hand, they are not entirely successful, and certain features of the phenomenal picture remain unexplained by a physical reduction3, then we can set those features aside as purely phenomenal, and postpone our understanding of them to the time when our knowledge of the physical basis of mind and perception will have advanced sufficiently to supply it. (An example of this might be the moon illusion, or other sensory illusions which have no discoverable basis in the objects perceived.) However, if we encounter the same kind of difficulty in exploring the physical basis of the phenomena of the mind itself, we cannot adopt the same line of retreat. That is, if a phenomenal feature of mind is left unaccounted for by the physical theory, we cannot postpone the understanding of it to the time when we study the mind itself - for that is exactly what we are supposed to be doing. To defer to an understanding of the basis of mind which lies beyond the study of the physical realization of certain aspects of it is to admit the irreducibility4 of the mental to the physical. A clearcut version of this admission would be some kind of dualism. But if one is reluctant to take such a route, then it is not clear what one should do about central features of the mentalistic idea of persons which resist assimilation to an understanding of human beings as physical system. It may be true of some of these features that we can neither find an objective basis for them, nor give them up. It may be impossible for us to abandon certain ways of conceiving and representing ourselves, no matter how little support they get from scientific research. This, I suspect, is true of the idea of the unity of a person: an idea whose validity may be called into question with the help of recent discoveries about the functional duality of the cerebral cortex. It will be useful to present those results here in outline.


"Noonan (Harold) - The Closest Continuer Theory of Identity"

Source: Inquiry 28, pp. 195-229, 1985

Philosophers Index Abstract
    A plausible principle governing identity is that whether a later individual is identical with an earlier individual cannot ever merely depend on whether there are, at the later time, any "better candidates" for identity with the earlier individual around. This principle has been a bone of contention amongst philosophers interested in identity for many years. In his latest book "philosophical explanations" robert nozick presents what I believe to be the strongest case yet made out for the rejection of this principle. My aim in this paper is to argue, with reference in particular to personal and artifact identity, that nozick's case can be met and that a theory of identity which entails the correctness of this principle is the equal, indeed the superior, in explanatory power of the theory nozick develops on the basis of its rejection.

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

"Noonan (Harold), Ed. - Personal Identity (Readings)"

Source: Noonan (Harold) - Personal Identity (Readings)

"Parfit (Derek) - Comments"

Source: Ethics, 96 (July 1986)

  1. Consequentialist Rationality
  2. Egoism And The Fear Of Death
  3. Personal Identity And Injustice
  4. Against The Self-Interest Theory
  5. What We Together Do
  6. Is Common-Sense Morality Self-Defeating?
  7. Future Generations
  8. Conclusions
  9. Appendices
    1. The Cartesian View
    2. The Prospect Of Division
    3. The Nonexistence Of Persons
    4. Gruzalski's Other Claims
    5. Kuflik's Other Claims
    6. Coordination Problems
    7. Kagan's Theory
    8. Intertemporal Injustice


"Parfit (Derek) - On 'The Importance of Self-Identity'"

Source: Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 68, No. 20, Oct. 21, 1971, 683-690

Philosophers Index Abstract
  1. I discuss Penelhum's paper, in the same issue. We are sometimes indifferent about, or 'do not identify with', ourselves at another time. I suggest that, on one view about our lives, such indifference may be justified.
  2. According to this view, what is most important in the continued existence of a person are various psychological connections, most of which can hold to different degrees. If our ground for not identifying with ourselves at some other time is the weakness of the connections between ourselves now and ourselves then, our attitude may seem defensible.
  3. It can also be expressed by talk about successive selves, which I next discuss.
  4. I end with the claim that a certain form of 'resurrection', though it does not involve continuity of the body, should be thought to be as good as survival.


"Parfit (Derek) - Personal Identity and Rationality"

Source: Parfit - Reasons and Persons, January 1986, pp. 307-321(15).

Author’s Abstract
  1. Examines whether, if a reductionist1 view is true, we have any reason for special concern about our own future and gives extreme and moderate answers.
  2. It offers an argument against the Classical Self-interest Theory, defending a discount rate, not with respect to time itself, but with respect to the degree of psychological connectedness between ourselves now and ourselves at different future times.
  3. It also presents the immorality of imprudence.


"Perry (John) - Can the Self Divide?"

Source: Perry - Identity, Personal Identity and the Self, 2002, Chapter 3

  1. A Problem for the Mentalist?
  2. Idea for a Solution
  3. The Branch Language
  4. Another Strategy
  5. The Person-Stage Language
  6. The Lifetime Language
  7. Conclusion


"Rovane (Carol) - Branching Self-Consciousness"

Source: Philosophical Review 99.3, July 1990, pp. 355-395

Philosophers Index Abstract
  1. Parfit1's thesis that persons could survive without identity is tenable only if first person2 modes of thought do not presuppose the identity of the subject.
  2. Armed with the pronoun "I" subjects can form first person quasi-attitudes towards future and past selves with whom they are psychologically connected but not identical.
  3. When persons have foreknowledge of branching they can wield "I" to direct quasi-intentions separately at distinct future selves. Such foreknowledge also makes possible attitudes of self-concern that extend to more than one future self.
  4. This approach to the first person reveals significant limitations on reductionism3.

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

"Shoemaker (Sydney) - Persons and Their Pasts"

Source: Shoemaker - Identity, Cause and Mind

Author’s Introduction
  1. Persons have, in memory, a special access to facts about their own past histories and their own identities, a kind of access they do not have to the histories and identities of other persons and other things. John Locke thought this special access important enough to warrant a special mention in his definition of "person," viz.,
      "a thinking, intelligent being, that has reason and reflection, and can consider itself as itself, the same thinking thing, in different times and places. . . ."
  2. In this paper I shall attempt to explain the nature and status of this special access and to defend Locke's view of its conceptual importance. I shall also attempt to correct what now seem to me to be errors and oversights in my own previous writings on this topic.


"Shoemaker (Sydney) - Review of Derek Parfit's 'Reasons and Persons'"

Source: Mind, Vol. 94, No. 375, Jul., 1985, pp. 443-453

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

"Sosa (Ernest) - Surviving Matters"

Source: Martin & Barresi - Personal Identity, Chapter 7

  • Life may turn sour and, in extremis, not worth living. On occasion it may be best, moreover, to lay down one's life for a greater cause. None of this is any news, debatable though it may remain, in general or case by case. Now comes the news that life does not matter in the way we had thought. No resurgence of existentialism, nor tidings from some ancient religion or some new cult, the news derives from the most sober and probing philosophical argument (the extraordinary Parfit1, 1984, Part III), and takes more precisely the following form:
      The Paradox. Even though life L is optimal (in all dimensions), and even though if it were extended L would continue to be optimal, it does not follow that it is best to extend it, even for the subject whose life L is.
    What is the argument?
  • Section II will defend a certain view of the nature of persons and personal identity, and Section III will then argue for the Paradox on that basis, and reflect on its philosophical implications and on the options it presents.

  • We set out from two assumptions:
    1. One is not a soul, one' s existence does not consist in the existence of any soul, and one's perdurance does not consist in the perdurance of any soul.
    2. One is not any body or collection of particles, one's existence does not consist in the existence of any body or collection of particles, and one's perdurance does not consist in the perdurance of any body or collection of particles.
  • Thesis 1 is often defended through epistemological arguments. Elsewhere I oppose these but propose other arguments ("Sosa (Ernest) - Subjects Among Other Things", 1987).
  • Thesis 2 is made plausible through the importance of psychological continuity2 for personal identity, and through the fact that the body itself will stand in a supervenience3 or dependence relation to yet more fundamental entities. ("Sosa (Ernest) - Subjects Among Other Things", 1987, contains discussion and defense of both theses.)


"Swinburne (Richard) - Personal Identity"

Source: Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, New Series, Vol. 74 (1973 - 1974), pp. 231-247

Author’s Abstract
  1. A great deal has been written in the last few years on the problem of personal identity. My excuse for adding to the literature is my belief that much of the writing has produced fundamentally misleading solutions to the problem, arising from a confusion of two issues.
  2. There are two distinct questions which can be asked about personal identity.
    • The first is - what does it mean to say that a person P2 at a time t2 is the same person as a person P1 at an earlier time t1?
    • The second is - what evidence can we have that a person P2 at t2 is the same person as a person P1, at t1, (and how are different pieces of evidence to be weighed against each other)?
    These questions are often confused in writing on this subject.
  3. Much of the writing seems to me to be on the right lines if it is regarded as attempting to provide an answer to the second question but to be extremely misguided if it is regarded, as it often appears to be, as attempting to provide an answer to the first question.

"Whiting (Jennifer E.) - Friends and Future Selves"

Source: Philosophical Review 95.4 (Oct. 1986), 547 - 580

Philosophers Index Abstract
    I answer the objection that psychological continuity1 theories leave concern for our future selves unjustified by arguing (1) that identity is irrelevant to the justification of such concern, and (2) that concern is a "component" of psychological continuity2 and not something for which continuity provides independent justification; just as concern for my friends is part of what makes them my friends, so concern for my future selves is part of what makes them my future selves.

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

"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) - The Self and the Future"

Source: Williams - Problems of the Self
Write-up Note1 (Full Text reproduced below).
  • For a précis and discussion, click File Note (PDF), now replaced by this Note2.
  • This text appeared in Commensal (Mensa) and in Aitia (Birkbeck).

  1. Also published in:-
  2. Printout filed in "Various - Papers on Identity Boxes: Vol 19 (W)",
  3. See "Funkhouser (Eric) - Notes on Williams, 'The Self and the Future'" for Notes,
  4. Originally in The Philosophical Review, Vol. 79, Issue 2 (Apr., 1970), 161-180).

Write-up3 (as at 21/04/2018 20:05:17): Williams - The Self and the Future

"Williams (Bernard) - The Self and the Future" – An Analysis and Critique4

Introduction: An initial Question
    Is it possible that you could exchange bodies with someone? You are to understand 'possible' not as 'practical' or as 'possible', but only as something that is coherent or possible in thought. If you think it is possible, describe the circumstances that would have led for this to happen. And if you think it impossible, say why.
  1. This question is raised preparatory to discussing a thought experiment described in Williams' paper. A similar idea, to which Williams is reacting, occurred in the late seventeenth century in Chapter 27 of John Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding, in which Locke imagines a Prince's consciousness inhabiting the body of a cobbler.
  2. Technicalities aside (a wiring problem) there seems nothing conceptually incoherent about having one's own brain transplanted into another's body. The alternative is the "dump and restore" technique - where the contents of one's brain (one's memories and presumably one's capabilities) are copied onto a storage device and then further copied onto the physical brain of another, overwriting or erasing whatever was there beforehand.
  3. There seems nothing utterly inconceivable about either of these techniques, but they seem to be conceptually different. Williams recognises that describing such thought experiments as "changing bodies" begs the question of what constitutes the substrate of consciousness and what makes up an individual person.
  4. The "brain transplant" approach has the benefit of some physical continuity, as the brain is a physical thing, and we are reasonably confident that the transplanted brain would be capable of retaining its information processing capacities. It would have a new body to get used to, but we would expect the mental abilities and memories of the transplantee to be as they were beforehand, though the physical abilities would be much changed and mental functioning would be affected by a different hormonal and respiratory environment and by a different sensory apparatus. Whether the hybrid felt himself to be the same person after this procedure would depend on that person's self-image and capabilities. A man whose abilities and aspirations were predominately physical (such as a boxer or footballer or even a musician or painter) would presumably not feel himself the same person after the operation, because it is not likely that these capabilities would cross over successfully, though a philosopher might not consider himself so badly off. Saying you have "exchanged bodies" while retaining your personhood would imply that your body was not of much significance to you as a person other than a rather passive vehicle for your mind. Not many people can say this.
  5. The "dump and restore" approach leaves the added complication of possibly cloning the original person (or at least their consciousness) - the original "me" can be left there undisturbed, after the contents of my brain have been copied, to awake as before. There is no necessity to copy the other person's brain-contents into my brain. I don't feel fully confident that the "restored" me would actually wake up - maybe it would be a zombie - though presumably a non-vitalist should have the courage of his convictions. Life would presumably be even harder for the new me in this "asymmetrical copy" case than in the "brain transplant" situation, as I would not only have the rest of the world confusing me with the previous owner of the body I then occupy, but I would have to contend with someone with a prior claim to being me - though as he is in on the act, this might be more of a help than a hindrance. It is this asymmetrical situation, which Williams turns to right at the end of his essay, that raises the most interesting questions.
  6. Enough of this pre-amble … we'll see how these initial prejudices (admittedly already influenced by Williams) change after some serious consideration of Williams' thought experiment. We now analyse in some detail what Williams has to say in his essay.

Analysis of Williams' Paper
  1. Williams asks us to consider his (tendentiously-entitled) "exchanging bodies" experiment. We have before us two persons, A and B, each with their own memories and characters and distinctive physical mannerisms for displaying them. After the exchange, however achieved, body A displays the memories and character of person B by physical manifestations appropriate to person B, and vice versa.
  2. Williams adopts a simplifying assumption to make the experiment more likely to be understood as that of "exchanging bodies" - he assumes some similarity between A and B so that there is a good chance of B's mannerisms in A's body not being made unrecognisable by gross physical or psychological differences between A and B.
  3. For us seriously to be convinced by the B-ishness of A-body's post experimental character, another condition must obtain according to Williams. B's memories must be reflected by A's body in such a way as it seems true that there is a causal chain between B's experiences and A-body's demonstration of apparent first-hand experience of them (presumably to guard against the supposition that A had simply studied B's background and the "memories" are learned rather than records of first-hand experience). Williams insists that the causal chain should not run outside of A's body, and therefore the simplest way to ensure this is by transplanting B's brain into A's body. However, Williams thinks a less radical version of copying B's memories and then restoring them to A's brain will suffice, for the reason that of the three grounds for knowing about one's own past - remembering, being reminded and learning again - there is no sufficient reason for describing the restored memories of B in A as "learned again". It is an interesting question whether this will do, because for A-body to be B, he needs not only B's memories, but B's information processing abilities. It is an open question whether the contents of B's brain can be copied onto different hardware (or in this case "wetware") while retaining the B-ishness of B. The restore mechanism would need to reconstruct the entire structure of A's brain to be as B's (which it might have to do in order to accomplish memory transfer, as memories are (most likely) physically encoded as connections between neurons). However, the firing rates of these neurons would presumably remain A's. Hence, I prefer the brain-exchange as the most likely method of "exchanging bodies". This form of the experiment is not, however, as interesting.
  4. After this exchange, we have the A-body-person and the B-body-person (where the A-body-person is the person occupying the body that was A's prior to the experiment). Those unaware of the experiment will initially presume the A-body-person is A, while the description of the process as "exchanging bodies" presumes that the A-body-person is B. A non-question-begging approach leaves it open as to whether either the A- or B-body-person is A.
  5. Williams now tries to determine which person is which using a thought experiment from the third-person perspective. A & B are informed before the procedure that post-operatively one of A- and B-body-persons will be tortured and the other given $100,000. They are asked what, on selfish grounds, they would prefer to happen to which. Williams notes that, depending on the choices of the victims, the experimenter may or may not be able to satisfy both of them, but that their choices and reactions to being told prospectively what is going to happen will reveal how they understand the procedure to work in accord with personhood. As Williams notes, while if the post-operative state is announced beforehand it makes sense to say prospectively that A or B got what he wanted, it is an open question whether retrospectively either of them can be said to have got what he wanted, as this begs the question that either of the A- or B-body-persons is A or B, or whether, for instance, they have been hybridised.
  6. Williams suggests that there are good grounds for presuming that we could say retrospectively that either A or B got what he wanted. He takes the case where A and B presume this to be an "exchanging bodies" experiment, so that A chooses that the B-body-person receives the good treatment and B the A-body-person. He then further supposes that the experimenter in fact awards the good treatment to A and the bad to B, though he doesn't tell them beforehand. After the experiment, the A-body-person, with B's memories, remembers that he chose the good outcome and is doubly satisfied on the grounds both that he got what he wanted and that what he got was good. The B-body-person, with A's memories, is similarly doubly dissatisfied. At face value, this seems to imply that B chose wisely, got what he wanted, and that the A-body-person really is B, whereas A also chose wisely, but was unlucky, and that the B-body-person really is A - and that "exchanging bodies" is a correct way of describing the experiment.
  7. That the A-body-person really is B and that the B-body-person really is A can be made to seem probable by variations on the experiment - eg. with the same experimental outcome as before, A chooses that the A-body-person receives the good treatment and that consequently the B-body-person is unhappy with the outcome, but acknowledges that this is what he chose and that he chose unwisely (and similarly, mutatis mutandis, for the B-body-person). Finally, Williams considers the hybrid case where A chooses unwisely and B wisely, with the experimenter acting as before. Both get what they chose, but B-body-person is happy, A-body-person unhappy with the outcome. All three cases seem to support the "exchanging bodies" hypothesis.
  8. Williams now starts to expand the perspective of the experiment by considering the post-operative responses of A- and B-body-persons to their bodies (he is careful not to describe them as B & A respectively, though notes that their responses would be consistent with this assumption - he also notes that if they had viewed the experiment as changing bodies, they would have had to be reasonably satisfied with these bodies before agreeing to take part in the experiment at all). He tries to tease apart the consequences of the supposed body-swap by asking questions such as, if the B-body had a wooden leg that B had become habituated to, would the post-operative B-body-person also be habituated to it; ie. is the habituation a mental or a physical thing?
  9. Williams now proceeds to consider the matter laterally by thinking in detail about A & B's psychological expectations, concerns and responses. In particular, he stops begging the question by presuming that the experiment results in A and B exchanging bodies. It thus at least makes sense for A and B to ask whether, post operatively, they may be able to escape some of the mental hang-ups they currently have. So, he imagines A with bad anxiety and B with fearful memories, but concludes that the post-operative B-body-person would possess this proneness to anxiety while the A-body-person would have the bad memories. This is still consistent with the "exchanging bodies" hypothesis, and so far the argument leads us to conclude that the requirement for bodily continuity as a necessary condition for personal identity is mistaken and that, as Locke thought, we should identify ourselves with our memories rather than our bodies.
  10. Williams now considers what appears to be a different thought experiment, but which is really the previous experiment this time viewed from a first-person perspective. I am told that tomorrow I am to be tortured, but with allegedly increasingly ameliorating circumstances, as below:-
    • Shortly before the torture I will forget that I have been forewarned
    • I will lose all my former memories
    • I will be given a new set of memories, ie. a new past
    • That my then memories will correspond to those of another person now living
  11. The point is that, at no point in this Sorites-type5 argument will I feel any comfort; rather, I will feel even more disquieted - for (despite being told how this is to be brought about) not only would I still have the prospect of torture to endure, but would have mental derangements equivalent to total amnesia and madness imposed on me as well.
  12. As this is just another view of the first experiment, can we confidently say this view, rather than the first, in which I would be happily escaping from the soon-to-be tortured body, is wrong. Williams thinks not. The experimenter may simply be intimidating me by persistently using the term "you" to me - thereby begging the question in the opposite direction to the "exchanging bodies" perspective - but it seems clear that, at the moment of torture, whatever impressions I have of the past will not influence my then present pain, and in reviewing the process there seems to be no point at which I've been "beamed up" into another, happier body.
  13. Williams now briefly explains why he's chosen the example of torture as a future dread event, rather than some other thing one might fear. This is because many of our fears are character- or memory-based, which, in this experiment, are likely or known to be about to change. However, aversion to physical pain is minimally character- or belief-dependent. Having started on this aside, Williams also points out that it may still be valid to fear a psychological disturbance in which our then selves would be perfectly happy - as in our being turned into contented vegetables - and the reason we would fear such a turn of events would be selfish rather than the altruistic acknowledgement that we'd be unable to fulfil our obligations. Personally, I do not view this as a paradox of hedonistic utilitarianism (nor, I suspect, does Williams). What makes our pleasures so exquisite is that we have chosen to have them, maybe struggled for them, and so the utility of a life of our own, with all its vicissitudes, exceeds that of one in the orgasmatron6.
  14. Returning to the chase, Williams now points out the second difference between this first-person report of the events and the "exchanging bodies" one - there is no mention of the second person, other than as the source of my new memories. From this first-person perspective, this second person is irrelevant except as an object of our envy, but in the third person account this is the new me, the one on whose account I ought to be afraid, if at all. One who subscribes to the "exchanging bodies" interpretation of events will count this as a fatal objection to the first-person account. However, Williams doubts this is so.
  15. To demonstrate why not, Williams rehearses the first-person account again, imagining the torture occurring at the end of each of the six steps in the process (starting with me suffering total amnesia, and ending with the other person undergoing the analogous character-change to that which I undergo). Since these steps are important for subsequent discussion, and already succinctly summarised by Williams, I have filched them verbatim from Williams' paper:-
    1. A is subjected to an operation which produces total amnesia;
    2. amnesia is produced in A, and other interference leads to certain changes in his character;
    3. changes in his character are produced, and at the same time certain illusory 'memory' beliefs are induced in him: these are of a quite fictitious kind and do not fit the life of any actual person;
    4. the same as (iii), except that both the character traits and the 'memory' impressions are designed to be appropriate to another actual person, B;
    5. the same as (iv), except that the result is produced by putting the information into A from the brain of B, by a method which leaves B the same as he was before;
    6. the same happens to A as in (v), but B is not left the same, since a similar operation is conducted in the reverse direction.
  16. At the prospect of none of these six cumulative experiments do I feel anything other than disquiet. This is because from this perspective at no stage do "I" (A) escape into the other person's (B) body.
  17. Viewing everything up to the fifth step (copying B's dispositions & memories into A's brain while leaving B otherwise alone), Williams thinks we have two answers to the "exchanging bodies" objector. Firstly, there is no reason (given the primal pain aversion common to us all) why I should not be just as afraid of torture, even with B's dispositions, as normal. Secondly, because B still exists undisturbed, A-body-person (me) cannot be (numerically) the same person as B as there are two persons with a claim to B-ness. Locke would say there are two men but only one person. I would agree with this, but only for an instant - the two men diverge into two persons as soon as either has an experience (I wanted to say "has an experience not shared by the other" but feel that even if their experiences were miraculously kept synchronised they would still be two persons because they are two consciousnesses). From the "exchanging bodies" perspective, if we stop after step five, A has died (or is at least in suspended animation) and B has been partially cloned. This situation is critical. B's consciousness cannot have "hopped" to body-A as it must still be in Body-B at this stage. So, what consciousness is in Body-A? It is tempting to think of this consciousness as a scrambled version of A's, but we "exchanging bodies" types7 should maybe stick to our guns and assert that the consciousness in Body-A is also B's; for the consciousness in Body-A it will feel like B having swapped bodies, and having temporarily a mental twin in Body-B, though because of its necessarily different environment it will rapidly diverge from Body-B's. Williams’s assertion that at the end of step five A-Body-person and B-Body-person are certainly not the same person is too strong (though, as I noted, they soon would be).
  18. Williams now tries to find out whether we can make out that the transition from (v) to (vi) is important for A, and does not simply refer to something happening to someone else (B). The point is that, at the end of (v), B-Body-person is very definitely B, so if A-Body-person is not A, then no-one is. This seems fair enough (as I've alluded to above), but if A doesn't exist at (v), when in the process does he disappear? Williams argues that A still existed after (i) and (ii), that is, after the total amnesia and personality change, so maybe we should draw the line after (iii) or (iv), memory exchange with a fictitious person or, in (iv) B. Williams question is rhetorical, presuming a "no" answer. I think, though, that he gives insufficient weight to the catastrophic nature of the changes affecting A-body-person. His analogy is with the normal amnesia, personality disorders or delusory memories that might afflict someone going out of his mind. Well, if someone had been afflicted to the total degree suggested in the thought experiment, we would forensically count them as having become a new person, and treat the original person at least as being in abeyance. The question is, when would A suddenly suffer a dislocation of consciousness, so that a new person with no historic conscious continuity with A pop up in A's body. Personally, I think this would be after step (i), the total amnesia, though possibly after (ii), the total personality change. We could apply more granular Sorites-type8 arguments against this (memory draining away bit by bit, personality changing gradually) and ask just when does A cease to exist? This is not the same situation, however - A would be adjusting to this unfortunate state of affairs and would evolve into A*. We wouldn't be troubled by such thoughts in the "brain transplant" version of the experiment. If A's brain was taken out of A's body, there would be no chance of A's consciousness remaining there, not even in his little finger9!
  19. Williams now repels a rather silly proposal, along the lines that we can't decide whether or at what point A-body-person ceases to be A, so why worry about it; some things are just like that. Well, Williams adopts the first person perspective of A, and points out that, while this situation might be acceptable for a third party, it is of vital interest to A, who is either going to be tortured or not depending on the outcome. I have to say I can almost feel Williams being argued into accepting Pascal's wager (after all, what is worse than being tortured for ever!), so there must be something dodgy going on here. Williams labours the rather obvious point that I will retain fear at the prospect unless I am sure that I won't be involved in the unpleasant things yet to happen to A-body-person, and will be fearful in proportion to the probabilities involved. Williams seems to be suggesting that in this case, the situation must resolve itself one way or another - the coin has to be heads or tails - A-body-person will either be me or not, but until I know which, I have good reason to be in trepidation.
  20. Williams thinks that this situation of undecidablity is unthinkable from a first person perspective in that if I lose my fear on account of the undecidablity, I have effectively decided that it will not be me who will be tortured, while if I continue to worry about it, it is because I think it will be me. Williams tries to envisage whether I might adopt ambivalent concern towards the event, as I might towards something to which I was sentimentally attached that underwent some puzzling confusion of identity. Williams, of course, thinks this won't do, for as soon as I adopt this ambivalent stance towards A-body-person, while I may be hazy about who he is, I've already concluded that he's not me. If I still thought he might be me, I wouldn't be so detached. I think that Williams is getting into a muddle here, and mutiplying zero by infinity and getting any number he likes (as in Pascal's wager). If the prospect was a remote chance of a slapped wrist rather than unbearable torture one would easily become dispassionately involved.
  21. Williams states that "there seems to be an obstinate bafflement to mirroring in my expectations a situation in which it is conceptually undecidable whether I occur". Isn't this parallel to any future contingency? What's the difference between this and being worried on being told that all first-year BA students who fail their exams will be mercilessly tortured. While I might concur that this sentence, though just, is unlikely to befall me - I would do well to fear it because, confident though I may be, there is no way of knowing that I will pass.
  22. Later, Williams considers, returning to the six-stage experiment, whether we might not choose to identify A with A-body-person after stage (v) because there is no better candidate, but not after (vi) because B-body-person will then do much better. Williams thinks this is like disposing of the effects of some intestate relative - we just have to decide as best we can within the confines of the law. Williams rightly doesn't think this will help A at all, for if he's still frightened at the prospect of (v), the thought that there would be a better candidate for A-ness after (vi) will not console him.
  23. When Williams starts to sum up, he thinks the opposite conclusions reached by the third and first person perspectives of A's fate are conceptually undecidable, and that he's not sure which choice he'd make were he to have the bad luck to be A. Not surprisingly, he's disturbed by this (he's taking his thought experiment rather too seriously, one might think). Williams brings up the dichotomies between, respectively, first and third person perspectives and "mentalistic" and "bodily continuity" considerations involved in questions of personal identity. Williams points out that his thought-experiments have revealed a reverse parallelism to that usually considered for these two pairs of concepts - the third person perspective is here associated with "mentalistic" considerations while adopting a first person perspective led us to support bodily continuity. Williams considers this inversion of some enigmatic significance.
  24. Finally, Williams considers whether the presentation of the third-person perspective in its neat symmetrical form unfairly induced us to consider it as "exchanging bodies". This is a very important point, and in my view more space should have been devoted to it at the expense of the angst-ridden ramblings that occupy most of the latter half of the paper. Clearly, according to the rules of the experiment, we could have generated any number of A's and B's in any number of brains / bodies. This is in sharp contrast to the more invasive, but allegedly equivalent, "brain swap" alternative experiment. This leads me to feel there is a little bit of slight of hand in Williams' introduction of his non-invasive equivalent, which is not equivalent in the least - though depending on what Williams is seeking to demonstrate, this lack of equivalence may not matter. The possibility of "me" being "restored" into the brains of numerous bodies (while being left alone in my own body - let the reader please forgive the tendentious language here!) makes it unlikely that my consciousness would flip over into B-body-person at any stage in the experiment - otherwise, in variants of the experiment, I could be saddled with an open-ended number of (presumably incommunicable) selves to cope with. We would have to suppose that these new consciousnesses, for all their similarities to me, are not me, and that in the experiment both A and B die, with two new consciousness emerging in their places.
  25. So, Williams comes down to the decision that if he were told that he (as the A-body person) could choose who would have the post-operative torture, he would choose B, being convinced by his psychological angst arguments. My view is that, in Williams' "dump and restore" variant of the experiment, I would opt out because both A and B are dead, but in the "brain transplant" version, assuming I'm confident of surgical success, I'd choose the easy life for the body with my brain in it any day.

Further Questions

At Birkbeck, we are supplied with a Commentary that expatiates on aspects of the passage under discussion and asks (and sometimes sketches answers to) various questions. Because answering questions not surprisingly tests comprehension, I'll seek to answer some of the questions and you must let me know whether you agree with the answers:-
  1. Say which of the following seems the best account of what will have happened in the initial "third person" account of Williams' thought experiment:
    1. A turns into B, and B turns into A.
    2. A comes to inhabit B's body, and B comes to inhabit A's body.
    3. A and B will both die and two other people emerge, say A+ and B+.
    Can you think of any other descriptions that fit what happens more closely?
    • The fourth description (d) sought by the question would be that all sorts of horrid mental events happen to A and B, including total amnesia, character change and implantation of someone else's memories, but that A-body-person remains A and B-body- person remains B.
    • Description (a) is inadequate because what makes A or B a person includes both somatic and mental attributes, and the post-operative individuals are hybrids of A and B; the function "turns into" loses this sense of what's happened.
    • As discussed above, in the case of the "brain transplant", I would favour (b) as the best description, while for "brain copying" I would favour (c).
    • In case of brain transplantation it is not possible for any of A's conscious experience to remain behind in A's body, which rules out (d). The effect on A of finding himself in B's body, with different somatic, sensory and hormonal structures to get used to, would be exceedingly traumatic, but, though A would necessarily lose consciousness while the operation was performed, we (or at least I) can just about imagine him waking up feeling highly disorientated, but still feeling, as in (b) that he was A and not, as in (c), A+.
    • One reason I'm reluctant to support (b) in the "brain copying" example is the (science-fiction-) fact that multiple copies can be made of A's mental structures and parked in as many Xi-body-persons as we wish, and can they all be A? However, and I believe this to be a very important point, while we're making use of the technology, we could go further and use our matter-copier to clone A's physical brain multiple times and wire him up in the Xi-body-persons, or go the whole hog and clone the whole of A producing the set {A*i}. Would all these A*i's feel themselves to be A? I think it's clear that, subject to the caveat in the next paragraph, they would, though, like twins, they would instantaneously diverge into separate persons as they developed further.
    • One caution - given how little consciousness as a phenomenon presumably derived from physical processes is understood - we should not get carried away by our thought experiments; for all we know we may be suggesting techniques that are not just impractical but impossible (as, for instance, would be the case if there was some immaterial soul that animates a person and that couldn't be cloned or copied by our ingenious devices). The metaphysical assumptions as to what makes up a human being are not made explicit in Williams' paper. It does seem, though, that the first-person perspective tacitly assumes that there's something more to "me" than the contents of my brain and that it's this "me" that continues in my original body as the (highly disturbed and utterly disorientated) person with a new mind. The first person perspective might almost be described as "exchanging minds", which is an even more difficult concept to get our heads round that "exchanging bodies".
  2. Williams considers different things that A and B might say if they were asked to choose the fate of the A- and B-body-persons, and also what they would say about their willingness to undergo the experimental operation. Summarize these various options in your own words.
    • Williams considers various responses (which I detailed above) all based on the "exchanging bodies" paradigm that A's consciousness ends up in B-body-person and vice-versa. From this third-person perspective, A chooses wisely if he chooses pleasant things to happen to B-body-person. Whether A would like to play this game would depend on what he thought of B's body and whether he found the prospect of occupying it appealing.
  3. If, when you answered the earlier exercise, you thought that this (ie. A and B changing bodies) was not the best description of the case, has the series of choices and estimates of outcome changed your mind? If not, what do you think might be wrong with the way these choices are described?
    • As Williams later points out at the end of his essay, the "exchanging bodies" paradigm is made more plausible by the perfect symmetry of the operation, whereas we might stop the procedure after we've copied B into A but before we've copied A into B. Also, though we've followed A & B's prudential thought-processes, we've not put ourselves firmly enough in their shoes to experience the angst they would feel at the possible results of the experiment for them, and hence may have missed out on the possible continuing A-ness of A-body-person.
  4. Williams considers ways in which one might resist this conclusion about the second of the perspectives on the example (ie. considered from the first-person perspective, at no stage does it seem as if you and the other change places). The arguments here are careful and sometimes dense, but you should read them over several times, and try to summarize them in your own words.
    • Williams doesn't seem very convinced that the first-person conclusion can be resisted, because, firstly, as A views the prospect before him, as summarised in Williams' (i) to (vi), at no stage does his fear abate, and in particular not at step (vi) which from this perspective appears to be something happening to someone else. The key point is after (v) when B is very much alive and kicking, but A has not been reconstituted. Where is A, and who is A-body-person if B is still B? How do we resist the conclusion that A-body-person is still A? Williams doesn't hold out much hope for doing so, but recognises that someone committed to the exchanging bodies view will take it that step (vi) involves the re-introduction of A, who had at sometime prior thereto dropped out of the plot. Williams' problem is just when this might have been - he thinks it unlikely after (i) - amnesia - or (ii) - character change - and thinks it would have to be after (iii) - fictitious memory introduction - or (iv) introduction of memories modelled on B's. I've argued above that Williams underplays the catastrophic nature of these changes and that he ought to be more sympathetic to A dropping out of the picture after (i).
  5. Williams presents several arguments against the strategy based on thinking of our concept of a person as sometimes undecidable. Summarize his points in your own words.
    • This strikes me as the most difficult part of the essay. Williams rejects the idea that abandoning hope of clarity on the grounds of formal undecidability may provide some comfort. While it may supply some to third party observers of A's situation, it will supply none at all to A who is, potentially at least, intimately and disastrously involved. To clarify the situation, Williams asks us to consider a future situation S at which we (in fact, I) may or may not be involved. I will only feel fear at the prospect of S if I expect to be involved (and, of course, if I believe there is something in S for me to fear). If some dread event is going to befall one of a company of people, of whom I am one, my apprehension will rise to fear in proportion to my imagining that the one will be me. Moreover, I know that this situation will resolve itself and that it will either involve me or not. Williams also says that I may be neurotically apprehensive of some indeterminate ill from some range of possibilities, or even of some nameless horror, but the common factor for me to display fear at the prospect of one of these things happening is that they should happen to me. When I think that S may involve me, I am able to imaginatively project myself forward to my involvement in the event.
    • Williams now returns to our experiment, and finds A's predicament to differ from the indeterminacy in the examples just cited. It is not like the nameless horror, since that, whatever it was, was definitely going to befall me, nor is it like the probability case, where it would either involve me or not, depending on how the situation worked out. A's (my) fear of torture in the experiment seems neither appropriate (as it would be if I knew myself to be A-body-person) nor inappropriate (if I knew myself not to end up as the A-body-person), nor is it appropriate for me to be dispassionately equivocal, since the stakes are too high.
    • Williams seems to argue that if I try to imagine myself present at some situation S at which it is formally undecidable whether I will be there or not, then if my effort of what he calls projective imagination is successful, then I have effectively decided the situation in the affirmative, while if I am unsuccessful I've decided it negatively. Personally, I cannot see what is demonstrated by one's ability, or lack thereof, to work oneself up into a lather of apprehension. I find a later argument even more confusing. Williams states that "material objects do occasionally undergo puzzling transformations which leave a conceptual shadow over their identity". An example of what this is supposed to mean would have helped. Whatever this is supposed to mean, we are to imagine that we are sentimentally attached to some object which undergoes this strange transformation, so that afterwards we are supposed now to feel ambivalent concern for it - neither as we did before, yet not totally disinterested. Not surprisingly, Williams does not think this a fair model of the situation envisaged when I'm not sure whether or not I'll be present at situation S, but that if I am something nasty is going to happen to me. I will not feel ambivalent concern for the person involved - I will feel terror on account of it possibly being me!
  6. Williams dismisses this second, conventionalist, way of evading the problem (of being precise in our definition of a person). What is his reason for dismissing it?
    • Williams' view is that whatever forensic decision is given by third parties on this subject, this is of no use to me who is vitally involved. If the conventionalists have decided that the best candidate for being A after (v) is A-body-person, to whom nothing further happens (apart from being tortured, of course !), the fact that there is a much better candidate after (vi), namely B-body-person, will be no consolation, as we had no necessity to proceed with step (vi) at all, so, from a forensic perspective, he might have been left as the unfortunate A-body-person.
  7. In the final paragraph of his essay, Williams tentatively suggests a resolution to the conflict between the two cases. Say what his conclusion is, and what argument he uses to reach it. Finally, give some reasons for either agreeing or disagreeing with him.
    • Williams' comes down tentatively on the side of the first-person perspective, and says that if he were A, he would choose for the torturing to happen to B-body-person. His reasons are that we were deceived by the symmetry of the third-person perspective experiment into considering it as an exchange of bodies, whereas if the experiment had been conducted asymmetrically (eg. only as far as the equivalent of (v)), we would not have been so convinced that this was the correct description of the procedure. As I have previously stated, I think Williams gives insufficient weight to the drastic changes that come over A- and B-body-persons, and that if the focus was on brain-transplantation, which is allegedly parallel to the experiment being performed, he would be on the side of the body-exchangers.

In-Page Footnotes ("Williams (Bernard) - The Self and the Future")

Footnote 3:
  • This is the write-up as it was when this Abstract was last output, with text as at the timestamp indicated (21/04/2018 20:05:17).
  • Link to Latest Write-Up Note.
Footnote 4:
  • This essay is based on one of my first Supervision papers in my first year at Birkbeck, and appeared as here in February 2001 in Mensa’s Commensal when I edited it.
  • A version appeared in Aitia the Birkbeck Student Philosophy magazine, in the Summer 2002 (Volume 2) edition. From a quick check, the text seems unchanged.
  • I’ve not changed the text – see later versions (if any) for my current understanding.
Footnote 6: This allusion to Woody Allen's Sleeper was made before the recent announcement of the invention of such a device, honest!

Footnote 7:
  • January 2016: did I ever really believe this?
  • I’d thought I’d always agreed with Williams that exchanging bodies – other than by a brain transplant – was impossible.
Footnote 9: An allusion to another thought experiment by Locke.

"Wolf (Susan) - Self-Interest and Interest in Selves"

Source: Ethics, 96.4 (July 1986), 704-720

Author’s Introduction
  1. In his recent book and earlier articles, Derek Parfit1 has made an impressive case for the truth of reductionism with respect to persons. Having strongly argued for this metaphysical thesis, Parfit2 goes on to suggest that it has normative implications. In particular, he claims that, once we are convinced of the truth of reductionism with respect to persons, we will see that "personal identity is not what matters3" (p. 217). What matters4, rather, is Relation R- psychological connectedness and continuity-and even that, he goes on to suggest, does not matter all that much. Thus, he thinks, once we are convinced of reductionism, our interest in particular persons will (or ought to) fade and be replaced by a weaker interest in particular R-related beings and a broader interest in humanity at large.
  2. "Reductionism" here refers to the view that "a person's existence just consists in the existence of a brain and body, and the occurrence of a series of interrelated physical and mental events" (p. 211). To find out whether a particular person exists, we may simply find out whether certain other facts hold, facts which can be stated without presupposing the existence of the person in question. Persons, then, are not separately existing entities, apart from their brains, bodies, and experiences. Their existence just consists in the existence of these brains, bodies, and experiences, related to each other in appropriate ways.
  3. Parfit5's own brand of reductionism is exclusively psychological. That is, he believes that a person's identity does not necessarily involve the continued existence of a particular brain or body but only the existence of a certain sort of series of psychological events. The details of Parfit6's version of reductionism is of less concern here, however, than the conclusions he draws from the truth of reductionism generally for the question of what matters7. According to Parfit8, what matters9, both for personal identity and independently of it, are the relations of psychological con nectedness and continuity which together form the complex relation that he calls "Relation R."
  4. Psychological connectedness refers to the holding of direct connections between, say, the experiences of an individual at one time and the memories of an individual at a later time, or between the intentions of an individual at one time and the actions of an individual later. More boring, but no less important, connections include those between the beliefs and desires of an individual at one time and the (continued) beliefs and desires of an individual at a later time. Psychological continuity10 refers to the existence of overlapping chains of strong psychological connectedness. Psychological connectedness and/or continuity together make up Relation R which, to return to the earlier point, is what Parfit11 thinks ought to replace personal identity in our thinking about what matters12.
  5. Of course, the suggestion that there is some single thing that matters, be it personal identity or R-relatedness, is a false one, as Parfit13 himself acknowledges in at least some sections of his book. Still, at present we do express considerable concern about persons, and it is clear that Parfit14 thinks that reductionism implies that, strictly speaking, this concern is misplaced.
  6. Parfit15 has convinced me of reductionism with respect to persons. But I find that this conviction does not lessen the degree of my interest in persons a bit. For it seems to me that my reasons for being interested in persons never had much to do with my beliefs about their metaphysical composition in the first place. Changing these beliefs, then, naturally has very little effect on the strength of my interest.
  7. If not only my reasons but everyone's reasons for being interested in persons have little to do with beliefs about their metaphysical com position, what allows Parfit16 and many others to mistakenly think that they do? The mistake arises in part, I think, out of an ambiguity in the statement of the general question at issue. For the question, Does personal identity matter? is typically identified with the question, Is there reason to care whether some future person will be the same person as some present person? and this identification, despite its naturalness, is particularly misleading. By this formulation, the distinction between a request for justification of an interest in particular individuals and a request for justification of an interest in individuals who are, particularly, persons is apt to be overlooked.
  8. The waters are further muddied by the practice of taking as a paradigm of an interest in a particular person the interest that one typically has in oneself. By identifying, or nearly identifying, the question, Does personal identity matter? with the question, Why care about whether some future person will be me? Parfit17 and those who follow him encourage confusion and a certain amount of mystification, thus providing an intellectual environment in which metaphysics is at home.

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

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