Personal Identity (Readings)
Noonan (Harold), Ed.
This Page provides (where held) the Abstract of the above Book and those of all the Papers contained in it.
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BOOK ABSTRACT:

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 identity and - absurdly - implies, in a sense to be characterised, that the identity of a person over time can be extrinsically determined. Consequently, any best-candidate6 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 Noonan7 (according to which the distinct post-division persons both occupy the single pre-division body), or else8 give up entirely the attempt to analyse the identity of a person over time in terms of physical and/or psychological continuity9 (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-candidate10 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 7:
  • 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 8:
  • 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

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




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

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



"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.


COMMENT:



"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)


Contents
  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


COMMENT:



"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.


COMMENT:



"Parfit (Derek) - Personal Identity and Rationality"

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


Author’s Abstract
    Examines whether, if a reductionist view is true, we have any reason for special concern about our own future and gives extreme and moderate answers. 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. It also presents the immorality of imprudence.


COMMENT:



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

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


Sections
  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


COMMENT:



"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.


COMMENT:



"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


I. THE PARADOX
  • 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.

II. WHAT CONSTITUTES SURVIVAL?
  • 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.)


COMMENT:



"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
  • For a précis and discussion, click File Note (PDF), now replaced by this Note2.
  • This text appeared in Commensal (Mensa) and in Aitia (Birkbeck).


COMMENT:
  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).



"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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