The Self, Supervenience and Personal Identity
Alexander (Ronald)
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BOOK ABSTRACT:

Philosopher’s Index (?1)

  1. Addressing the issue of personal identity by examining the possibility that a person is ascribed identity on the basis of having a supervenient self.
  2. Using the methods of non-eidetic phenomenology and analytic ontology, it argues that the self is supervenient on the physical and psychological properties of the human being. Understood in this manner, the self is perceived as not just a static entity, but reflects the temporal nature of the person.
  3. Rather than trying to find the ground of personal identity in a purported static or relatively stable feature of the human being such as the soul, spatio-temporal continuity, or consciousness, the author argues that the self is the "pattern, character, or narrative identity" that is the outcome of a person's decision making and actions.
  4. In addition, the text examines how the social role of a human being contributes to the structure of the self, interpreted in terms of morality and values. It differentiates between consciousness and the self, by using a Sartrean interpretation to clarify this distinction.
  5. The author concludes with an argument against the improper use of thought experiments2 that shapes the discussion of personal identity in a way that may pay insufficient attention to the temporal, social, and moral nature of the self.



In-Page Footnotes ("Alexander (Ronald) - The Self, Supervenience and Personal Identity")

Footnote 1: Mostly verbatim from the Preface.


BOOK COMMENT:



"Alexander (Ronald) - The Self, Supervenience and Personal Identity: Introduction"

Source: Alexander (Ronald) - The Self, Supervenience and Personal Identity, 1997, Chapter 1


Full1 Text
  1. The problem of personal identity has received considerable attention from philosophers for the past three decades. For the last two decades the discussion has been intensified because of Derek Parfit’s arguments supporting his thesis that it is not personal identity in one’s survival that matters but rather some degree of ‘psychological continuity’2. The latter can be understood as involving chains of overlapping memory experiences, intentional acts and results, and mental contents such as beliefs or desires that are not merely momentary3. Although I do not address directly the problem of personal identity as framed by Parfit, an underlying theme in this essay is that Parfit’s understanding of the nature of personhood and of the self is attenuated. Although Parfit is concerned about the implications of the concept of personal identity for morality, he does not seem to see the importance of values, social roles, and the person’s orientation to tensed time as essential elements involved in the reidentification of a person.
  2. In contrast, it is my contention in this essay that it is the self understood as a ‘pattern’ or ‘narrative identity’ or dynamic ‘Gestalt’ that arises from the physical and psychological properties that serves as the basis for ascribing personal identity to ourselves and others. Further, I will argue that personal identity is a dynamic concept, i.e., a concept that involves an interpretation of the self as being a diachronic, supervenient ‘abstract particular’ or ‘trope4’. Moreover, the self, serving as the basis for the attribution of personal identity to human beings, cannot be understood apart from the influences coming to bear upon it from society in terms of values and customs. Those who treat the problem of personal identity as merely being a problem of how one and the same thing (a human being) can retain its identity over time in spite of internal and external changes taking place in respect to that being are destined to experience frustration if the frame of reference in which they operate is dictated by the model of non-conscious concrete particulars. Human beings that bear personhood are not mere ‘lumps of meat’. Therefore, the problems attending the identity or reidentification of non-animate things, though having a bearing upon personal identity, are increased in number when one tries to understand what it is that allows us to reidentify a person.
  3. In the following chapters, I will not produce a survey of the history of the problem of personal identity. This has been done many times in recent years. For example, "Noonan (Harold) - Personal Identity" is a very fine survey. Another helpful and recent survey is "Baillie (James) - Problems in Personal Identity". A rather lengthy anthology "Kolak (Daniel) & Martin (Raymond), Eds. - Self and Identity: Contemporary Philosophical Issues" provides a representative sampling of recent literature on the subject. My intention in this essay is to attempt to account for the continued persistence of the belief in the concept of personal identity in spite of this concept having been called into question by David Hume and, in this century, by Derek Parfit and others. In Chapter II, I set the stage for the identification of that which serves as the basis for personal identity ... see "Alexander (Ronald) - A Brief Look at the Problem of Personal Identity".
  4. As already indicated, I believe that the ‘self’ understood as a supervenient trope (abstract particular) is that which provides a basis for a person’s reidentification over time. However, as a trope the self should not be understood as a static, timeless quality but as that which serves as the ‘pattern’ or ‘narrative identity5’ of the life of the person bearing that self. As such, the self can only be understood in terms of the temporality of the person. However, the groundwork for the latter point must be laid. Thus, Chapter III contains an exposition of the concept of supervenience6 as it must be understood in its role of depicting the relationship between the self and its subvenient properties … see "Alexander (Ronald) - Searching for the Proper Kind of Supervenience".
  5. In Part I of Chapter IV, I take a brief look at the work of George Stout and Donald Williams, two of the twentieth century’s early proponents of abstract particulars … and in Part II, I defend the metaphysical nature of the self treated as a supervenient trope … see "Alexander (Ronald) - The Supervenient Self and Its Relationship to Tropes".
  6. The contents of Chapter V serve as a necessary prelude to Chapters VI, VII, and VIII in the sense that the latter three chapters provide an analysis of the self as that which figures prominently in the person’s being as it unfolds itself in time. Decision-making is one of the hallmarks of personhood, and thus in Chapter V, I try to make a case … for the self’s role in the causal process of intention and action …. see "Alexander (Ronald) - Supervenience and Action".
  7. In Chapter VI, I try to show how the person is temporal through and through …. see "Alexander (Ronald) - The Self, Time, and the Community".
  8. Chapter VII continues the theme of the social self but with Ernst Tugendhat’s interpretation of Mead’s work serving as a transition … to Paul Ricoeur’s ethical interpretation of the self …. see "Alexander (Ronald) - The Self and Narrative Identity".
  9. In Chapter VIII, the relationship between the self and consciousness is explored. See "Alexander (Ronald) - Consciousness and the Self".
  10. Finally, in Chapter IX, I try to show that the philosophical demise of personal identity as generated by Parfit was misguided from the beginning because of his careless use of thought experiments7. See "Alexander (Ronald) - A Major Problem With Parfit".
  11. A word about the use of terminology is in order at this point.
    • I have tried with great care not to use the terms ‘person’, ‘human individual’, ‘human being’, ‘self’, and ‘consciousness’ as synonyms.
    • The term ‘person’ is not equivalent to the term ‘self’.
    • Neither is ‘human being’ nor ‘human individual’ nor ‘individual’ equivalent to ‘person’.
    • I use the term ‘person’ as signifying the human being or human individual that satisfies Dennett’s8 six conditions of personhood with the added qualification that a person is necessarily ‘temporal’ as well.
    • A human being (human individual or individual) is not necessarily a person.
    • ’Human being’, ‘human individual’, and ‘individual’ are terms used to refer merely to the organic, physical being of a person9.
    • The term ‘self’ refers to the ‘character’ or ‘pattern’ or ‘narrative identity’ that characterizes a particular person.
    • But the term ‘self’ is not equivalent to the term ‘consciousness’ because the person bearing a specific self can be aware, to a certain extent, of the nature of its ‘character’ or ‘narrative identity’.
    • Furthermore, none of the preceding terms should be understood as being equivalent to ‘transcendental ego’. The admonitions of Sartre against this are well taken; one must guard against an implicit idealism.


COMMENT: Photocopy of complete Book filed in "Various - Papers on Identity Boxes: Vol 01 (A)".




In-Page Footnotes ("Alexander (Ronald) - The Self, Supervenience and Personal Identity: Introduction")

Footnote 1: But Chapter Summaries have been removed to the relevant Chapters – follow the links.

Footnote 3: "Parfit (Derek) - Reasons and Persons" (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984), 204 ff.

Footnote 4: This strikes me as about as wrong-headed as you can get, so it’s important that I get to grips with the arguments.

Footnote 5: A term taken from Paul Ricoeur. It suggests that the self is the product of one’s interpretation of his/her life based on imaginative variant readings of personal decisions, cultural influences, and moral choices.

Footnote 8: See "Dennett (Daniel) - Conditions of Personhood".

Footnote 9: Presumably he means “human person” – and the same with “individual”.



"Alexander (Ronald) - A Brief Look at the Problem of Personal Identity"

Source: Alexander (Ronald) - The Self, Supervenience and Personal Identity, 1997, Chapter 2


Author’s Abstract1
    In Chapter II, I set the stage for the identification of that which serves as the basis for personal identity by indicating some of the challenges to this concept which, however, do not result in the dismissal of the everyday use of the concept. Instead of assuming that the person in the street is simply misguided in this matter, I search for a plausible reason why the notion of personal identity is retained.


COMMENT: Photocopy of complete Book filed in "Various - Papers on Identity Boxes: Vol 01 (A)".




In-Page Footnotes ("Alexander (Ronald) - A Brief Look at the Problem of Personal Identity")

Footnote 1: Taken from "Alexander (Ronald) - The Self, Supervenience and Personal Identity: Introduction", p. 2.



"Alexander (Ronald) - Searching for the Proper Kind of Supervenience"

Source: Alexander (Ronald) - The Self, Supervenience and Personal Identity, 1997, Chapter 3


Author’s Abstract1
  1. Chapter III contains an exposition of the concept of supervenience2 as it must be understood in its role of depicting the relationship between the self and its subvenient properties, viz., the physical and psychological properties of the human individual that give rise to the self. However, the concept of supervenience3 itself needs a defense, and a specific kind of supervenience4 must be identified in order to serve in the role suggested.
  2. To make my case, I must rely on recent literature that has discussed the body-mind problem in terms of the mind being a supervenient family of properties dependent upon the body (brain) and argue for the self being that which supervenes5 upon both the physical and the mental. The kind of supervenience6 that would support my version of the self, however, must be an asymmetrical and not a biconditional type of supervenience7 because the latter is extremely reductive in its implications. Thus, one must confront the work of Jaegwon Kim, who indeed asserts that supervenience8 must be understood as being biconditional. I perform an analysis of John Post's work on supervenience9 which supports the asymmetrical thesis, but Post's final position on the type of supervenience10 that is appropriate for the mind's dependency on the body is too weak for my understanding of the nature of the self.


COMMENT: Photocopy of complete Book filed in "Various - Papers on Identity Boxes: Vol 01 (A)".




In-Page Footnotes ("Alexander (Ronald) - Searching for the Proper Kind of Supervenience")

Footnote 1: Taken from "Alexander (Ronald) - The Self, Supervenience and Personal Identity: Introduction", pp. 2-3.



"Alexander (Ronald) - The Supervenient Self and Its Relationship to Tropes"

Source: Alexander (Ronald) - The Self, Supervenience and Personal Identity, 1997, Chapter 4


Author’s Abstract1
  1. In Part I of Chapter IV, I take a brief look at the work of George Stout and Donald Williams, two of the twentieth century's early proponents of abstract particulars. In doing so, however, my method is dialectical rather than merely expository. One of the major issues confronting the defender of abstract particulars is the necessity of the use of 'resemblance' in his/her interpretation of 'universals'. Thus, a worthy opponent of resemblance is Panayot Butchvarov, and I must counter his objections to a sufficient degree that the plausibility of the use of resemblance in respect to the classification of properties is defended against the concept of identity.
  2. In Part II of Chapter IV, I defend the metaphysical nature of the self treated as a supervenient trope. Both Butchvarov and Keith Campbell provide useful contributions to this concept of the self, but both also raise serious questions about supervenience2 that demand a response before I can continue the analysis of the self. Butchvarov's 'cluster of qualities' notion and Campbell's 'tropes' provide support for my understanding of the self as a supervenient property. Yet, both philosophers are somewhat dubious about the necessity of appealing to the concept of supervenience3 in order to undertake an adequate analysis of abstract properties. I try to show that the dynamics of the self as a trope do not fit the traditional understanding of properties and that supervenience4 provides the proper conceptual vehicle for these dynamics. As will be seen, I cannot simply treat the self as an abstract property or universal per se inasmuch as any self has a uniqueness that would be lost if treated as a universal.


COMMENT: Photocopy of complete Book filed in "Various - Papers on Identity Boxes: Vol 01 (A)".




In-Page Footnotes ("Alexander (Ronald) - The Supervenient Self and Its Relationship to Tropes")

Footnote 1: Taken from "Alexander (Ronald) - The Self, Supervenience and Personal Identity: Introduction", p. 3.



"Alexander (Ronald) - Supervenience and Action"

Source: Alexander (Ronald) - The Self, Supervenience and Personal Identity, 1997, Chapter 5


Author’s Abstract1
  1. In Chapter V, I try to make a case, again relying upon portions of the body-mind literature, for the self’s role in the causal process of intention and action - a process we understand as taking place within a physical context.
  2. Chapter V focuses on the problem of how the self can be an abstract particular and still have causal efficacy.


COMMENT: Photocopy of complete Book filed in "Various - Papers on Identity Boxes: Vol 01 (A)".




In-Page Footnotes ("Alexander (Ronald) - Supervenience and Action")

Footnote 1: Taken from "Alexander (Ronald) - The Self, Supervenience and Personal Identity: Introduction", p. 3.



"Alexander (Ronald) - The Self, Time, and the Community"

Source: Alexander (Ronald) - The Self, Supervenience and Personal Identity, 1997, Chapter 6


Author’s Abstract1
  1. In Chapter VI, I try to show how the person is temporal through and through and how an existentialistic or phenomenological analysis of time must be taken into consideration in respect to the problem of personal identity.
  2. As the theme progresses in Chapter VI, it becomes clear that the temporality of the self is not simply a private or individualistic matter. Rather, the self of the person does not arise solely from the individual but is also a product of the individual's interchange with society. Temporality and community are not separable components of personhood because the 'role' one plays out in his/her life (temporality) is in large measure a role provided by the community.
  3. G. H. Mead's work in respect to the social construction of the self is very helpful here if it is supplemented with a Sartrean understanding of consciousness.


COMMENT: Photocopy of complete Book filed in "Various - Papers on Identity Boxes: Vol 01 (A)".




In-Page Footnotes ("Alexander (Ronald) - The Self, Time, and the Community")

Footnote 1: Taken from "Alexander (Ronald) - The Self, Supervenience and Personal Identity: Introduction", pp. 3-4.



"Alexander (Ronald) - The Self and Narrative Identity"

Source: Alexander (Ronald) - The Self, Supervenience and Personal Identity, 1997, Chapter 7


Author’s Abstract1
  1. Chapter VII continues the theme of the social self but with Ernst Tugendhat's interpretation of Mead's work serving as a transition (and as an improvement over Heidegger's understanding of the self’s relationship to other selves) to Paul Ricoeur's ethical interpretation of the self.
  2. Ricoeur's work in turn is an improvement over that of Tugendhat's in that his emphasis upon values and community impacting upon the self is put in the context of the concept of 'narrative identity'. The latter is a way of talking about my notion of how the self helps constitute the person in a 'dynamic' way.
  3. Ricoeur performs an analysis of narrative identity within the context of the problem of personal identity and with Parfit's contribution to the discussion in mind. In fact, Ricoeur challenges Parfit at certain points but seems to capitulate to Parfit unnecessarily in the end.
  4. Be that as it may, Ricoeur's analysis of the self as 'narrative identity' incorporates both the temporality of the self stressed in Chapter VI ("Alexander (Ronald) - The Self, Time, and the Community") and the social-ethical component stressed by Tugendhat. What emerges here, then, is the self as a supervenient trope but understood as the 'theme' or 'character' of the person's immersion in temporality.


COMMENT: Photocopy of complete Book filed in "Various - Papers on Identity Boxes: Vol 01 (A)".




In-Page Footnotes ("Alexander (Ronald) - The Self and Narrative Identity")

Footnote 1: Taken from "Alexander (Ronald) - The Self, Supervenience and Personal Identity: Introduction", pp. 3-4.



"Alexander (Ronald) - Consciousness and the Self"

Source: Alexander (Ronald) - The Self, Supervenience and Personal Identity, 1997, Chapter 8


Author’s Abstract1
  1. In Chapter VIII, the relationship between the self and consciousness is explored. These two features of the person are not identical in function.
  2. Again, Mead and Sartre are very helpful in the examination of this relationship. Sartre's view of consciousness is an improvement upon Mead's even though the latter's position on the role of society in respect to the self is more helpful than Sartre's.
  3. I conclude the chapter with a brief look at Robert Nozick's analysis of the self’s 'self-synthesis'. Much of what Nozick has to say in this regard is instructive and supportive of my view of the self as a supervenient trope, but unfortunately he backs off from endorsing this approach. I think that he would have been more supportive of this concept of self if he had kept separate the functions of self and consciousness, and if he had treated universals as abstract particulars.


COMMENT: Photocopy of complete Book filed in "Various - Papers on Identity Boxes: Vol 01 (A)".




In-Page Footnotes ("Alexander (Ronald) - Consciousness and the Self")

Footnote 1: Taken from "Alexander (Ronald) - The Self, Supervenience and Personal Identity: Introduction", p. 4.



"Alexander (Ronald) - A Major Problem With Parfit"

Source: Alexander (Ronald) - The Self, Supervenience and Personal Identity, 1997, Chapter 9


Author’s Abstract1
  1. In Chapter IX, I try to show that the philosophical demise of personal identity as generated by Parfit was misguided from the beginning because of his careless use of thought experiments2. The thought experiments3 devised by Parfit have unfortunately shaped the direction of much of the recent discussion on the problem of personal identity.
  2. I do not claim that thought experiments4 should be banned in the analysis of concepts. For example, the discussions emerging from Putnam's 'Brain-in-a-Vat' and Searle's 'Chinese Room' experiments have been very fruitful. However, one must not let the thought experiment5 lose significant contact with the background conditions that serve as the context for the phenomenon under consideration.
  3. I contend that Parfit is guilty of this error. Of course, the point of using imaginative variation in respect to the properties of a phenomenon being investigated is to gain a better understanding of the nature of the phenomenon. But this cannot be accomplished if the background conditions are arbitrarily varied as well.


COMMENT: Photocopy of complete Book filed in "Various - Papers on Identity Boxes: Vol 01 (A)".




In-Page Footnotes ("Alexander (Ronald) - A Major Problem With Parfit")

Footnote 1: Taken from "Alexander (Ronald) - The Self, Supervenience and Personal Identity: Introduction", pp. 4-5.



"Alexander (Ronald) - The Self, Supervenience and Personal Identity: Conclusion"

Source: Alexander (Ronald) - The Self, Supervenience and Personal Identity, 1997, Chapter 10


Sections
  1. The self as trope and the commonsensical notion of self-identity – 154
  2. The self and strong supervenience1 – 155
  3. Resemblance or identity? And trope or universal? – 156
  4. The supervenient self and causal efficacy – 157
  5. The self, temporality, and the community – 157
  6. Consciousness is not the self – 158
  7. Thought experiments2 – 159


COMMENT: Photocopy of complete Book filed in "Various - Papers on Identity Boxes: Vol 01 (A)".



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