Pseudo-Book (Heap of Papers!) to hold a subset my printouts / photocopies of papers related - inter alia - to my Thesis on the topic of Personal Identity. Those I'm currently reading (allegedly).
"Awad (Edmond), Etc. - The Moral Machine experiment"
Source: Nature volume 563, pages 59–64 (1st November 2018)
- With the rapid development of artificial intelligence have come concerns about how machines will make moral decisions, and the major challenge of quantifying societal expectations about the ethical principles that should guide machine behaviour.
- To address this challenge, we deployed the Moral Machine, an online experimental platform designed to explore the moral dilemmas faced by autonomous vehicles. This platform gathered 40 million decisions in ten languages from millions of people in 233 countries and territories.
- Here we describe the results of this experiment.
- First, we summarize global moral preferences.
- Second, we document individual variations in preferences, based on respondents’ demographics.
- Third, we report cross-cultural ethical variation, and uncover three major clusters of countries.
- Fourth, we show that these differences correlate with modern institutions and deep cultural traits.
- We discuss how these preferences can contribute to developing global, socially acceptable principles for machine ethics.
- All data used in this article are publicly available.
"Baggini (Julian) - When Derek Parfit published, it mattered"
Source: Prospect Magazine, 4th January 2017
- It is impossible to sum up in a couple of hundred words the richness, subtlety and complexity of the philosophy of Derek Parfit, who died at the age of 74 on New Year’s Day. However, it takes just two words to capture what made him worthy of the respect and attention even of those who profoundly disagreed with him: “what matters.”
- This simple phrase appeared explicitly in his first masterpiece, Reasons and Persons (1984). In Part Three of that book, Parfit discussed the issue of personal identity over time. In the dry, academic terminology of that era, this was the question of what is logically required in order to state that person A at time t1 was identical with person B at time t2.
- As a rigorous, analytic thinker, Parfit never dismissed that question, but he was also, and primarily, concerned with the slightly different question of “what matters in survival.” If I were to be physically destroyed, for example, and reconstructed atom by atom elsewhere by some kind of teletransporter, perhaps it would be more accurate to say that a replica of me had been created rather than that I had been sent across space. But it would still be worth asking whether this replication had given me all that matters in survival. Identity is a property of logic, what matters is a property of human existence.
- Parfit’s determination and ability to keep a focus on what is existentially important is not as common in philosophy as it should be. Too often, even great philosophical minds take a problem and treat it as though it were a merely intellectual puzzle to be solved, neglecting to ask themselves whether their solution actually addresses the human question that gave rise to the problem in the first place.
- Many found such talk of “mattering” hopelessly vague and preferred to stick to what is. Such thinkers often gained in precision but lost what makes philosophy worth doing in the first place. Parfit always strove never to make a choice between rigour and relevance. If “what matters” seemed vague to others, he was always trying to make it as precise as possible. After all, if something matters in philosophy, making it as clear as possible matters too.
- Those two words reappeared when Parfit’s long awaited two-volume follow-up to Reasons and Persons appeared after 27 years, entitled On What Matters (2011). Described in the Times Higher Education as “the most eagerly awaited work in philosophy since Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations,” this hugely ambitious magnum opus defended an objective ethics that attempted to reconcile Kantian deontology, consequentialism, and contractarianism.
- Whether he succeeded or not, the manner of the book’s publication and indeed all of Parfit’s career is testimony to his complete dedication to what he believed mattered. Parfit is almost unique among his contemporaries in being simply “Mr Parfit,” having never completed a PhD and earning the title Dr or gaining a chair and the title of professor. Identified early on as an exceptional talent, All Soul’s College at Oxford made him a fellow in 1967 and allowed him the time and freedom to pursue his research without having to jump through the conventional career hoops.
- The work came slowly, but every time it finally arrived, it mattered. His seminal paper “Personal Identity” appeared in the Philosophical Review in 1971, and it took a further 13 years before he developed his ideas more fully in Reasons and Persons. In between his publications, Parfit was constantly discussing his work with his peers, seeking their criticisms, with drafts of chapters and papers circulating in the highest circles.
- A career like Parfit’s is unimaginable today. Producing an unreadable doctoral thesis is more of a priority that producing a readable book, and young researchers have a pressure always to keep publishing that promotes quantity over quality. We must hope that the recognition that the system today could not produce a Parfit will motivate the people in charge to change it.
- Parfit is one of the few philosophers who turned down my request for an interview when I was editor of The Philosophers’ Magazine. It wasn’t haughtiness that motivated this (he was happy to talk off the record to me over an All Soul’s lunch when I was writing The Ego Trick), but a desire to make sure that he only put on the record what he had precisely formulated after many years of careful thought. Getting it right was more important than getting it out, to the frustration of publishers and editors but to the long-term benefit of readers and scholars. When he published, it mattered, and so as a philosopher, he is one of the few of his generation who unquestionably mattered.
"Barker (Jonathan) - Debunking Arguments and Metaphysical Laws"
Source: Philosophical Studies (Forthcoming as of March 2019)
- Moral beliefs, mathematical beliefs, religious beliefs, and beliefs about which composite objects exist have all been the target of so-called “debunking” arguments. Debunking arguments typically begin with the claim that there is a debunking explanation of some type of belief we hold. A debunking explanation is a complete causal explanation of the origins of some type of belief, which makes no reference to the facts that are those beliefs’ putative subject matter. Once we concede the existence of such an explanation, the debunker contends, we thereby lose our justification for holding those beliefs.
- In this paper I shall argue that one’s views about which “metaphysical laws” obtain — such as the laws about what is identical with what, about what is reducible to what, and about what grounds what — can be used block the epistemic threat posed by debunking arguments.
- I will develop the proposed strategy by using a well-known debunking argument in the metaphysics of material objects as a case study. Then, after defending the proposed strategy from the charge of question-begging, I shall argue that certain moral realists can use the proposed strategy to reply to the evolutionary debunking arguments in meta-ethics. I will conclude by outlining the strategy in its most generalized form.
COMMENT: See Barker - Debunking Arguments and Metaphysical Laws.
"Baxter (Donald L.M.) - Temporary and Contingent Instantiation as Partial Identity"
Source: International Journal for Philosophical Studies, 26 (5):763-780 (2018)
- An apparent objection against my theory of instantiation as partial identity is that identity is necessary, yet instantiation is often contingent.
- To rebut the objection, I show how it can make sense that identity is contingent.
- I begin by showing how it can make sense that identity is temporary.
- I rely heavily on Andre Gallois's formal theory of occasional identity1, but argue that there is a gap in his explanation of how his formalisms make sense that needs to be filled by appeal to my theory of Aspects.
COMMENT: See Baxter - Temporary and Contingent Instantiation as Partial Identity.
"Blackburn (Simon) - How can we teach objectivity in a post-truth era?"
Source: New Statesman, 18th February 2019
- I believe that cows chew cud, pigs can't fly, and night is darker than day, and also that there is water between Dover and Calais. When I believe these things, I believe them to be true. And I certainly hope that you believe them, too.
- Any of us could continue the list indefinitely for ourselves. Some might put things on the list that others doubt, but there will inevitably be a great deal of overlap. Even Donald Trump has not tweeted that the USA lies north of Canada.
- Scepticism about common-sense things has been on the agenda of philosophers for centuries, but only as a plaything confined to the study. It does not spill into everyday life. So, what on earth do people mean when they say we are living in a "post-truth" world?
- It might suggest a worry that people are too credulous, or too quick to form attachments to outlandish beliefs. There are, after all, conspiracy theorists, fantasists, and ideologues who believe just about anything, provided that it is unlikely enough.
- There is also the opposite vice of being too cautious, refusing to listen to expert opinion in areas where expert opinion has earned its authority and ought to be respected.
- A person can easily exhibit both vices, being too ready to believe whatever comes across on Twitter or Facebook, and too dismissive of a consensus achieved by careful, patient, skilled investigation by trained scientists, historians or even scrupulous journalists.
- Both vices tend to emerge when emotion comes into play, so that people believe what they want to believe, however flimsy or non-existent the evidence, and refuse to believe what they don't want to believe, however well attested it is. This blight is scarcely new. It was lamented by Francis Bacon in the seventeenth century, and no doubt before that.
- Perhaps our era is distinguished by a slightly different malaise. It is not so much the idea that there exists a truth about things that comes under attack, as the notion that there can be any such thing as objective inquiry into it.
- So-called young-earth creationists may have dotty views about the age of the earth. But they will agree with orthodox science that there is a truth about it. They are not "post-truth," as such. Rather, their scepticism is directed at the authority of the scientific methods of establishing what the truth actually is—a scepticism nourished by a well-protected ignorance of what those methods are and why they deserve the authority they have.
- Religious conviction perverts judgement. But the inability to assess evidence properly is everywhere. In fact, the tendency to overlook or misinterpret evidence appears to be a permanent feature of human nature. Behavioural economics, for example, has found many varieties of it.
- One of the most sinister is the "availability cascade," defined as a self-reinforcing process of collective belief formation, a chain reaction in which particular stories or bits of evidence balloon into common certainties, often helped on its way by activists or "availability entrepreneurs."
- In other words, the madness of crowds, whereby a few simple memorable stories, "my child had an MMR jab and now has autism", have greater influence than a whole library of well- conducted blind tests showing that the one has nothing to do with the other. Once caught up in a cascade or chain reaction, people refuse to listen to evidence. They ground themselves in bubbles or silos, only listening to voices like their own. And there is no certain way of curing people who wear such blinkers.
- In science, history, law, economics, or politics, the only way to recover from particular wrong turns is to go over the ground again, more carefully. Yet those who are already taken in by one particular version of the truth are unlikely to pay attention to this. As with young-earth creationists, it is the very idea of an objective inquiry that they dismiss. Applying more objective inquiry will not cure that.
- Yet when somebody decries the very idea of objective inquiry, it is good to ask whether, if they were falsely accused of possessing and using counterfeit currency, they would prefer the investigation to be careful, patient, open-minded and thorough, or the reverse of all these things.
- Of course, care, patience, and flexible-thinking are key features of objective inquiry. In fact, such inquiry is the only way we know about our susceptibility to error. So, we only know who possesses counterfeit banknotes when a thorough investigation shows the difference between them and real banknotes.
- Unfortunately, it is easy to forget this if we talk in purely abstract terms, stoking up emotions about "Western science" or "the establishment" or "capitalism", forgetting that under these vast umbrellas there are many different things, some of which are better established and worthy of much more respect than others.
- Indeed, there is something comical about using the extraordinary results of either Western science or commercial activity—results such as iPhones, email, or even Facebook—in order to decry the very enterprises that, over centuries of hard-won economic, technological, and scientific progress, made them possible.
- In any event, the growth of social media clearly facilitates cascades of misinformation. And even if these chain reactions speak to a permanent tendency in human nature, the power of Twitter and Facebook to spread untruths is part of what characterizes our objective inquiry denying a "post-truth" world.
- But there are two more ideas at work in our "post-truth" era. These are not heavyweight philosophical ideas such as truth itself, or its associated tools, inquiry and objectivity. Rather, they are the moral ideas that have to do with the decline of trust and trustworthiness, and the associated idea of a loss of shame in those who parade their indifference to truth. In a small towns and societies, it is a serious thing to be thought untrustworthy. It leads to a loss of reputation and a loss of social standing. And in the case of close-knit communities, lying and obfuscation require expiation, and a suitable and sincere expression of shame and repentance.
- Alas, as society grows and become more anonymous, we get the rise of a character David Hume called a "sensible knave": a person who seizes the advantage gained by dishonesty when they suppose they can avoid being caught out and thus avoid suffering any penalty.
- Now in an age of global internet connectivity, social media offers impressionable teenagers and innumerable troll factories an unprecedented opportunity for mischief and immunity to its consequences. As a result, we begin to live in a world in which more and more people are untrustworthy more of the time.
- The natural response to this is to trust people less. And in turn the natural response to that is to feel no shame when caught out, since you can readily convince yourself that many other people, perhaps all, are no better. Indeed, you can look at your social media feed and tell yourself; "That's just politics or advertising. It is what everybody does."
- Quite possibly serial, brazen, astonishing liars such as Donald Trump or Vladimir Putin think that their reputations for honesty are no lower than those of other public figures, and this is a self-deception which it may be difficult to shift, especially in the light of the serious competition now flourishing in London.
- Perhaps in the political bubble, what people say should be treated like the declamations of actors on the stage—not serious attempts to communicate truths or make promises, but mere imitations, noises demanded by the script. After all, the actor who says that he is the ghost of Hamlet's father is not lying or even being careless with the truth. He is in a different game altogether.
- This would be a reassuring interpretation of what goes on in London, Washington, or Moscow. But in the theatre when the lights go out and the actors and audience go home, the make-believe gives way to the serious business of living, and truth and reason regain their sovereignty.
- Unfortunately, it doesn't work like this in politics. Untruths and "acting" spill out of the political theatre, infecting everything. It is only fun and games until things stop working, the food banks multiply, and people start marching, or dying.
- So, what is the cure? The only remedy for bad ideas and bad mental habits is the cultivation of better ones. We need leaders to set better examples and we need to raise people good at distinguishing what is trustworthy from what is not.
- Clearly, this is not going to be achieved by a Gove-like instilling of facts, or formulae, or grammar, which merely trains children in the bovine receptivity that is the very opposite of any active, intelligent, and critical response to the world.
- What we need is an education system that encourages cautious scepticism and an imaginative open-mindedness, allied with the sensible assessments of probabilities. We also need to develop dispositions towards decency and civil debate.
- In a "post-truth" world characterised by cascades of misinformation and politicians with no shame, we ought to bring the practices of philosophy into our classrooms.
- What a subversive thought! But then as the saying goes, if you think knowledge is expensive, try ignorance.
- Simon Blackburn is a fellow at Trinity College, Cambridge. He is the author of "Blackburn (Simon) - Truth: A Guide for the Perplexed" and Think: A Compelling Introduction to Philosophy.
- This article is part of the Agora series, a collaboration between the New Statesman and Aaron James Wendland. Aaron is assistant professor of philosophy at the Higher School of Economics and the co- editor of Wittgenstein and Heidegger and Heidegger on Technology. Follow him on Twitter: @ajwendland.
"Botros (Sophie) - Truth, Time and History - A Philosophical Inquiry with Dr Sophie Botros"
Source: YouTube Video, prepared by Bloomsbury Academic Publishing
The past is very important to us. It is where we find the origins of our culture as well as our own roots. There is a whole industry involved in finding out about the past. Bookshops are full of history books. Universities all have history departments. But we can never go back. We shall never know how the flowers smelled in the garden of Epicurus. Everything past is no more; it has fallen into the dark backward and abysm of time. How then do we know anything about it at all? How do we know whether a particular event has even happened? Philosopher Sophie Botros addresses these complex issues in her new book - "Botros (Sophie) - Truth, Time and History: A Philosophical Enquiry". As she considers these matters, she finds herself forced to wonder whether the past exists at all.
- Once we begin to think about it we may be struck by what a queer idea the apparently ordinary idea of the past existing actually is. It’s an idea played on in Orwell’s 1984 when O’Brien2 – an Inner Party member – tries to persuade the hapless everyman3 – Winston – that the past isn’t set in stone but is infinitely manipulable by present interests4. O’Brien asks “Do you really think there exists somewhere or other a place – a world of solid objects – where the past is still happening5?” This disorienting feeling that the past may be a non-entity can even affect our sense of the present. Consider that eerie feeling sometimes elicited by the sound of a ticking clock at the dead of night. Everything is in flux – a relentless succession of present moments endlessly processing toward annihilation6.
- In the first two parts of my book I argue that the past – at least as an independent entity – does not exist7 – that there is only the present.
“The past does not exist independently of the present”.
- To start, I will use a simple thought experiment – I call it the “moving platform” …
Imagine yourself sitting in a room when your friend enters from your left, passes in front of you, and ends up on your right. From a fixed position in space, it seems8 you can track her movements smoothly, continuously from left to right. It is possible to observe a moving object while not oneself being in motion. If we consider time, however, the situation is quite different. There is no analogous freedom in time to remain stationary yourself while your friend moves. The clock continues to tick for all of us. It is as if, when it comes to time, all observers are constrained to remain on a moving platform which is the present – the now. There seems to be a discontinuity here that does not assail space.
- If we object that I can obviously remember how she looked just a moment ago – how she moved her arms and such-like – but these are present memories, and however direct they may seem, are subject to time and change just like any other evidence9. They cannot assure us that past events have stayed unchanged10 while time flows on.
- Realists11 would anyway themselves object to this way of using memory to shore up the past. But they would say it gets things the wrong way round. For them it is past events themselves – by their existence12 – that guarantee(s) the genuineness of our memories, not vice-versa.
- Sceptics might – for the sake of argument – agree with us realists13 that with a present-tensed statement such as “there is a violent rainstorm today” – its truth-conditions – the sheets of rain driving diagonally across the sky, the splashing and thudding of water-drops on the bird-bath – which for us the statement is about – which make it true – are just what we would point to if anyone asked for its meaning.
“There is a violent rainstorm today. Truth conditions: Rain-lashed street. Dark whirling clouds. Raindrops in the birdbath …”
- But take the past-tensed statement “there was a violent rainstorm yesterday”. Here, sceptics will point out, that it is the puddles lying in the street today – our memories today – of yesterday’s rainstorm that we would recognise as supporting the truth of the statement. But realists will protest that they are merely evidence from which we infer yesterday’s rainstorm. They are not what makes it true – that can only be yesterday’s rainstorm. But yesterday’s rainstorm is no longer there for us to point to. It cannot drench us14 – it has vanished for ever.
“There was a violent rainstorm yesterday. Puddles today. Today’s memories of yesterday. Damp coat in the hall today …”
- In order to save the notions of truth and meaning – the sceptic demands that we take the puddles and memories to be themselves15 what the statement is about, what makes it true, what gives it meaning. And we would be indignant16. Sceptics have apparently robbed us of the dark whirling clouds, of the raindrops falling in the birdbath … and substituted a pale concoction of present evidence.
“Sceptics demand: That today’s puddles are what the statement “there was a rainstorm yesterday” is about.”
“Sceptics claim ‘There was a rainstorm yesterday” is not about yesterday’s storms … it is about today’s evidence of storms.”
- There is one last stand for realists. We can, they will insist, have a conception of truth conditions independently of any evidence we might have – or even if we have no direct contact with the conditions. The secret – they would say – lies in the truth-value link, a principle of enormous intuitive power that anyone would deny at their peril. Today I am making this video and I know with absolute certainty that “I was making this video a year ago today” will be true in a year’s time. It will be true whatever the conflicting evidence states then17.
- It is just conceivable that – suppose some catastrophe – that all our memories had been wiped out, including my own, and that the video was destroyed on completion. The sceptics who are confined to evidence existing then will have therefore to deny this obvious truth18.
“Sceptics would have to concede: ‘No memories … no video … mean that Sophie was not making a video a year ago’”
- But the sceptic will reply that you have merely used a rule – the transformation of a present-tensed statement made now into a past-tensed statement envisaged as being made in the future. What makes you suppose that this gives you ingress into the past? Your representing of the past19 isn’t the past at all. It’s the present; it’s me, making this video, now. You can’t assume that the transformation sanctioned by the truth-value link will hold in the future20 when we actually arrive there, and so give us access to a past such as it will reveal itself then. The debate is inconclusive. It depends on how we weigh the truth-value link against moving platform considerations which, as we have seen, suggest very strongly that we cannot view other times from some timeless viewpoint other than the present. So we cannot vindicate the truth-value link claim that our true present-tense statement may also serve as a true statement about the past when made in the future.
- In my view, the belief that the past has some independent existence must – in the end – be given up. You might find this a little frightening, but I hope that I’ve persuaded you that trying to keep it gives us – gives philosophers – some problems and in fact getting rid of it solves some outstanding problems21.
- So long as we believe in the past as existent we’re unable to resolve a paradox inherent in the almost banal idea of things persisting through change. Consider a green leaf turning brown in autumn. You will agree that it has to be the same leaf that was green that is now brown. If it was a different leaf – a brown leaf – it could not be said to have lost its greenness. But the great philosopher Leibniz22 stipulates – surely incontrovertibly – that a thing cannot be itself and yet have divergent properties. So it seems that the leaf must be the same leaf in order to lose its greenness; but, in order to be the same leaf it must retain its greenness, which is a paradox. Some people will say “well, this is just philosophers’ problems”. Of course things persist within limits, depending on the kind of thing they are. But to this, it will be replied, are you suggesting that it requires less than identity23 to persist?
- These are deep and difficult questions. All I will say here is that in my view identity is an atemporal relation. It cannot accommodate the unidirectionallity of time’s arrow. After much argument, I conclude in my book that the paradox can only be resolved if the leaf’s having been green is accorded less reality than the leaf’s being green now. This leads me finally to demote the past and to conclude that only present things exist.
- But how does this help with the contradiction?
- On one version of presentism, presently existing entities such as the leaf are bearers of past-tensed properties – such as “having been green” – and present-tensed properties – such as “being brown”. The contradiction is apparently resolved because – for presentists – “having been green” is no more like “being green” than “not being green”. But this is difficult to comprehend.
- On another version of presentism, past times are thought of as existing in the present as stories, but this is metaphysically cumbersome.
- My proposal – which accords a crucial role to historians – affirms realism as regards presently-existing objects, including historical texts – the tomes you see lying on bookshelves – but suspends it as regards the non-existent past, which is their subject matter.
“A Realist Present and a Coherentist Past”.
- I’m influenced here by the celebrated philosophers of history – who are also historians in their own right – R. G. Collingwood and Michael Oakeshott – who – being idealists – thought of truth24 as a function of interpretation, not of what actually existed in the past.
A treatment of fictional truth may illuminate. For example, the answer to the question “how can a proposition ‘Romeo loves Juliet’ be true since neither person exists?” It is plausibly replied “because it is actually about Shakespeare’s play, and that does exist.” This reply satisfies the realist demand for an existent truth-maker for the fictional statement, but refuses to follow realists in breaking down the statement into its component parts: subject “Romeo”, object “Juliet”, relation “loves”. Seeking truth-makers for all of them would just be a misunderstanding of literary discourse.
- This is analogous to how I approach a historical text. From one viewpoint it can function as a truth-maker, acceptable to presentists for the claims it contains. For example, “Henry V was the victor of Agincourt” is in my view about the historical text in which it figures. It would be a misunderstanding of historical discourse to insist on breaking this claim down and seeking truth-makers for its component elements. Its content, I suggest, is governed by coherentist principles.
“Historical Texts as Truthmakers”.
- When realists protest “‘Henry V was the victor of Agincourt’ is about a real historical personage and a real battle and that history isn’t fiction or otherwise historians could make up whatever they liked”, I reply “that is not so; historians are held to extremely rigorous standards25 in interpreting their evidence.” And in any case, how can it possibly help to refer to that shadowy realm that O’Brien mocked, which no historian has ever been able to access, in order to check a single of his conclusions?
- My proposal asks you to respect the text in and for itself, not to look through it. It asks you to assess the coherence of the interpretations – to observe how compendious descriptions such as “The Hundred Years’ War” anticipate their outcome. To note the narrative art that is used in shaping and pacing events, bringing to the past its depth and resonance.
- Historians, I suggest, by both their narrative techniques and their intellectual powers play a crucial role in the creation and construction of the historical past, and perhaps the past more generally.
In-Page Footnotes ("Botros (Sophie) - Truth, Time and History - A Philosophical Inquiry with Dr Sophie Botros")
- This Transcript was arrived at by (repeatedly) listening to (a downloaded copy of) the video. It is hopefully fully accurate.
- Passages uttered by the narrator are indented.
- I’ve made my own decision as to how the text spoken by Sophie Botros should be segmented into paragraphs, though this is usually obvious from the video.
- The transcript cannot recreate the full audio-visual effect. The video is professionally done, and very helpful as regards understanding the import of the book – "Botros (Sophie) - Truth, Time and History: A Philosophical Enquiry" – as a whole.
- Occasionally clarificatory text appears on-screen in the video. I’ve added this to the transcript – within quotation marks and in italics – where it doesn’t simply repeat what’s been said in the audio.
- The reason I’ve made this transcript is twofold:-
- To check that the audio can be fully heard and understood – which it can be! Occasionally, I couldn’t catch a word or phrase, but managed to iron out all these difficulties with a bit of repeat listening.
- To provide a convenient way of commenting on and criticising the exposition and argument within the video. Of course, serious discussion of the argument must address the text of the book, but this is at least a start in that direction.
- My comments appear as footnotes, and are in general directed towards Sophie rather than the general reader.
- Isn’t O’Brien something of a monster in 1984? A member of the thought police. See Wikipedia: 1984 - O'Brien.
- Isn’t it certain, therefore, that Orwell disagrees with what O’Brien has to say about history. Indeed, Winston Smith (Wikipedia: 1984 - Winston Smith) works in the Ministry of Truth rewriting history to bring it into conformity with the Party’s propaganda message.
- So, is it wise to quote O’Brien and this whole process in support of your case?
- Of course, it is an ad hominem fallacy to object to what is said merely on the basis of who said it, but in this case Orwell seems to suggest that the very idea that “the past … is infinitely manipulable by present interests” be viewed with horror.
- I thought there was an interesting parallel in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Therein, Macbeth makes the famous and demoralising speech on hearing of the suicide of Lady Macbeth …
She should have died hereafter;→ Macbeth (Act 5, Scene 5, lines 17-28)
There would have been a time for such a word.
— To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
- Are we supposed to go along with this? Is the fact that it is said by a monster about to get his comeuppance supposed to make us view it as sour grapes, or might this really be Shakespeare’s view, placed in the mouth of a monster for fear of the Jacobean thought police? It is wonderfully expressed, of course, and there are a lot of tropes that resonate with your book.
- You make Winston Smith sound like Norman Wisdom out of character in a tragedy.
- He’s only a “hapless everyman” in the sense that Lucky Jim is. He’s not a Prole, but is a member of the Outer Party, and is not of “paralysing stupidity” like his neighbour and colleague Tom Parsons.
- “Everyman” is an interesting term. I think it’s restricted by context – to the ideal readership of the novel (other old Etonians, maybe; or at least those of Orwell’s social and intellectual set; not that Orwell used the term, I don’t think – it’s applied by critics).
- Anyway, I didn’t like the epithet “hapless everyman”, as it seemed to manipulate the viewer into accepting O’Brien’s take on the past.
- “History” is indeed infinitely manipulable by those unconcerned about what actually happened. But “the past” – what actually happened – is just that, whatever happened.
- Isn’t this a travesty of what eternalists think is the case?
- Isn’t it rather like a video-recording? Videos (or their contemporary equivalents) aren’t always playing, but could be played by someone with the equipment to do so?
- Now admittedly, this is beyond the powers of human beings in general – and historians in particular. But traditionally past events have been thought to be written in a book – the recording technology of the time – in which everyone’s deeds were recorded, and which God could call to mind … or not … depending on his mercy.
- Have you read "Lebens (Samuel) & Goldschmidt (Tyron) - The Promise of a New Past"? The paper is on-line, available from the link on my page. The credits thank Hud Hudson and Dean Zimmerman for helpful discussions. There’s also a critique of Dummett’s foray into criticism of the Mishnah (actually a rather vague allusion to “Jewish theology”) – which he thinks claims that “it is logically impossible to alter the past, so to utter a retrospective prayer is to mock God by asking Him to perform a logical impossibility”) in his "Dummett (Michael) - Bringing About the Past".
- I came across Sam Lebens when we were research students at Birkbeck. A fellow research student was delivering a paper critical of "Wegner (Daniel) - The Illusion of Conscious Will", and Sam thought the book so obviously wrong it wasn’t worth reviewing. Not that he’d read it; it just disagreed with Sam’s theology.
- I have to say I’ve not felt this, and initially misunderstood what you were saying. It’s the “ticks” or moments that go to oblivion.
- It sounded more like a worry about the inevitability of future doom – and reminiscent of Macbeth’s speech cited above.
- How you feel in the dead of night no doubt reflects your beliefs and preoccupations, rather than being a guide to them.
- Even if we deny that the past exists, this doesn’t imply that what and who existed in the past is identical to the best current evidence for these events and entities.
- Metaphysics is separate from epistemology. More on this later.
- Well, it might seem that you can, but the present – if that’s all that exists – doesn’t allow you to track your friend without relying on memory. Still, almost everyone is agreed that you can stop still in space – at least relative to other objects moving with the same velocity – and take a look around, while the same isn’t true of time – you can’t look at different temporal parts of an object without waiting for time to tick on.
- Of course, you can look back in time and see things across the cosmos as they were billions of years ago; things that will have faded into non-existence during the time it’s taken for light to get from them to us.
- Physicists seem to be agreed that – given special and general relativity – there’s no such thing as a universal present. If you and I are looking at one another, given the finiteness of the speed of light – let alone the sluggishness of our mental processes – what we each see is the image of someone who no-longer exists, if only the present exists. My present is your past, and vice versa.
- Have you read anything by Carlo Rovelli? He’s a bit of a pop star amongst the physicists – the Italian equivalent of Brian Cox. His technical stuff is – like all mathematical physics – inaccessible to non-specialists, and his popular stuff is rather loosely put together philosophically-speaking, but what he believes to be the case with respect to time is summarised in Chapter 13 of "Rovelli (Carlo) - The Order of Time".
- Agreed; but all this says is that our knowledge of the past – such as it is – is always subject to revision, and becomes less and less secure the more remote in time the past events are.
- I agree that nothing can “assure us” that the past is as we remember it or as the current evidence suggests – because – as you rightly say – we can’t go back to check. But the fixedness of the past is one of our strongest intuitions – probably based on the nexus of cause and effect; you can’t tinker with anything without it having a ripple effect; so, if the past had changed, so would the present. Also, what could cause the past to change, if it doesn’t exist?
- Realists about the past. Not the same as “us realists” later on.
- It may be worth remembering that terms like “realist” and “idealist” are technical terms within philosophy, and risk being misunderstood by lay watchers of your video, should there be any.
- Is this so? It’s the past events that caused our memories – even though these memories may now be incorrect; other past and present events affect our memories of particular past events. But do these past events need to still exist to ground this causal chain. Isn’t this just inference to the best explanation?
- Realists about the present, that is.
- It doesn’t seem like much of a claim to be a realist about the present, but it might not even be a coherent notion. Just what do you mean by it? Which segment of time is “the present”? Today? The present instant?
Footnote 15: You make three claims for the statement “There was a violent rainstorm yesterday” vis-à-vis today’s evidence: intentionality (“aboutness”), truth and meaning.
- This reminds me of discussions of computer simulations. A simulation of the weather “cannot drench us”, but can a simulation of the mind think?
- I see a vague parallel here. Yesterday’s weather did drench people. Today’s evidence cannot.
- Intentionality: Our statement is about yesterday’s rainstorm. It’s just not about today’s puddles. Metaphysics just has to make way for this fact, even though we can’t quite make out how it works if the past doesn’t exist – or we might just have to admit that the aboutness must imply that the past must exist somehow. Similarly, Euclid’s thoughts about the equality of the base angles of an equilateral triangle were about that general triangle – an abstract object, not one drawn in the sand.
- Truth: no doubt it depends on your theory of truth. A minimalist theory would just say that the proposition (or statement) that “There was a violent rainstorm yesterday” is true just if there was a violent rainstorm yesterday. This says nothing about puddles, though our rational belief in (the truth of) this statement might do so.
- Meaning: I really don’t buy this. “Rainstorm” means “rainstorm” whenever that rainstorm was. It doesn’t mean “puddle”.
- Well, “we” would be – but presumably “you” wouldn’t be?
- But, you don’t believe this if you deny the fixity of the past and think that the past “just is” the then current evidence for it.
- Of course, this video is expository, and you say various things to lead the viewer on that you subsequently deny.
- You are one of these sceptics, of course, so the truth is presumably not “obvious”.
- What “representing” is going on here?
- The evidence for what happened in the past is only accessible in the present. But what has happened has happened – and is immutable.
- I agree that this is an assumption, but the fixity of the past is one of the most firmly embedded and will take a lot of argument to dislodge.
- The usual complain it that it would involve backward causation, but this is not a worry in your case, since the past doesn’t exist.
- Maybe it does, but like Lewis’s modal realism, maybe the cost is too great to bear.
- I don’t think it’s been proved that Leibniz ever stated his Law (the indiscernibility of identicals), but this doesn’t matter because it’s not accepted on his authority when it is.
- It is a very useful principle of synchronic identity and motivates all the discussions about constitution – the statue can’t be identical to its constituting clay because the clay has different modal (and maybe actual) properties to the statue – which can’t survive squashing, though the clay can. All very controversial, of course, and it depends on a belief that some things sometimes persist through time.
- Have you read "Kurtz (Roxanne) - Introduction to Persistence: What’s the Problem?", the introduction to "Haslanger (Sally) & Kurtz (Roxanne), Eds. - Persistence : Contemporary Readings"? It’s available on-line (Kurtz: Introduction to Persistence: What’s the Problem?) and I’ve summarised it and commented on it extensively here.
- In her Introduction, Roxanne Kurtz summarises the debate on Persistence by claiming that there are three non-negotiable theses: Non-contradiction, Change and Persistence which are in tension, especially when supplemented by three further “negotiable theses”: Alteration, Survival and Atemporal Instantiation.
- She does mention philosophers who deny one or other of the non-negotiable theses, but treats them as outside the main debate. I think (agreeing with Kurtz) that denying that some things persist though change does such violence to our common-sense and practical view of the world that giving it up has to be the very last option.
- She also thinks that the various options for the metaphysics of time are orthogonal to issues of persistence, though I wasn’t convinced.
- Well, Derek Parfit notoriously said the “identity is not what matters in survival”.
- I noted that you have no reference to Parfit either in the text or the Bibliography of your book.
- Historical truth only, or all truth?
- I think this is the weakest part of your argument.
- While it’s true that at certain times and places historians have followed the evidence, this is a contingent fact when it is one.
- What people are worried about is when this rosy view is misplaced. You’ve quoted 1984 where Winston Smith’s job is to falsify history by adulterating back copies of The Times.
- I quote an extract where Winston worries about the falsification of history:-
- The frightening thing, he reflected for the ten thousandth time ... was that it might all be true. If the Party could thrust its hand into the past and say of this or that event, it never happened - that, surely, was more terrifying than mere torture and death?
- The Party said that Oceania had never been in alliance with Eurasia. He, Winston Smith, knew that Oceania had been in alliance with Eurasia as short a time as four years ago. But where did that knowledge exist? Only in his own consciousness, which in any case must soon be annihilated. And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed - if all records told the same tale - then the lie passed into history and became truth. 'Who controls the past,' ran the Party slogan, 'controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.' And yet the past, though of its nature alterable, never had been altered. Whatever was true now was true from everlasting to everlasting. It was quite simple. All that was needed was an unending series of victories over your own memory. 'Reality control', they called it: in Newspeak, 'doublethink'.
→ Winston Smith, Nineteen Eighty-Four: The Annotated Edition, Penguin Classics, 2013, p. 40.
- And again,
- Comrade Ogilvy, who had never existed in the present, now existed in the past, and when once the act of forgery was forgotten he would exist just as authentically, and upon the same evidence, as Charlemagne or Julius Caesar.
→ Winston Smith, ibid, p. 55.
- And again,
- Do you realise that the past, starting from yesterday, has been actually abolished? If it survives anywhere, it's in a few solid objects with no words attached to them, like that lump of glass there. Already we know almost literally nothing about the Revolution and the years before the Revolution. Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book has been re-written, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street and building has been re-named, every date has been altered. And that process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right. I know, of course, that the past is falsified, but it would never be possible for me to prove it, even when I did the falsification myself. After the thing is done, no evidence ever remains. The only evidence is inside my own mind, and I don't know with any certainty that any other human being shares my memories. Just in that one instance, in my whole life, I did possess actual concrete evidence after the event - years after it.
→ Winston Smith to Julia, ibid, p. 178.
- And again,
- The mutability of the past is the central tenet of Ingsoc. Past events, it is argued, have no objective existence, but survive only in written records and in human memories. The past is whatever the records and the memories agree upon. And since the Party is in full control of all records, and in equally full control of the minds of its members, it follows that the past is whatever the Party chooses to make it. It also follows that though the past is alterable, it never has been altered in any specific instance. For when it has been recreated in whatever shape is needed at the moment, then this new version is the past, and no different past can ever have existed. This holds good even when, as often happens, the same event has to be altered out of recognition several times in the course of a year. At all times the Party is in possession of absolute truth, and clearly the absolute can never have been different from what it is now. It will be seen that the control of the past depends above all on the training of memory. To make sure that all written records agree with the orthodoxy of the moment is merely a mechanical act. But it is also necessary to remember that events happened in the desired manner. And if it is necessary to re-arrange one's memories or to tamper with written records, then it is necessary to forget that one has done so. The trick of doing this can be learned like any other mental technique. It is learned by the majority of Party members, and certainly by all who are intelligent as well as orthodox. In Oldspeak it is called, quite frankly, 'reality control'. In Newspeak it is called doublethink, though doublethink comprises much else as well.
→ Emmanuel Goldstein, The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism, Chapter 1 “Ignorance is Strength”, ibid, pp. 243-4
"Botros (Sophie) - Truth, Time and History - A Philosophical Inquiry with Dr Sophie Botros (Shortened Version)"
Source: Amazon Video, prepared by Bloomsbury Academic Publishing
The past is very important to us. It is where we find the origins of our culture as well as our own roots. There is a whole industry involved in finding out about the past. Bookshops are full of history books. Universities all have history departments. But we can never go back. We shall never know how the flowers smelled in the garden of Epicurus. Everything past is no more; it has fallen into the dark backward and abysm of time. How then do we know anything about it at all? How do we know whether a particular event has even happened? Philosopher Sophie Botros addresses these complex issues in her new book - "Botros (Sophie) - Truth, Time and History: A Philosophical Enquiry". As she considers these matters, she finds herself forced to wonder whether the past exists at all.
- Once we begin to think about it we may be struck by what a queer idea the apparently ordinary idea of the past existing actually is. It’s an idea played on in Orwell’s 1984 when O’Brien – an inner Party member – tries to persuade the hapless everyman – Winston – that the past isn’t set in stone but is infinitely manipulable by present interests. O’Brien asks “Do you really think there exists somewhere or other a place – a world of solid objects – where the past is still happening?”
- Today I am making this video and I know with absolute certainty that “I was making this video a year ago today” will be true in a year’s time. It will be true whatever the conflicting evidence states then.
- It is just conceivable that – suppose some catastrophe – that all our memories had been wiped out, including my own, and that the video was destroyed on completion. The sceptics who are confined to evidence existing then will have therefore to deny this obvious truth. The debate is inconclusive. It depends on how we weigh the truth-value link against moving platform considerations which, as we have seen, suggest very strongly that we cannot view other times from some timeless viewpoint other than the present. So we cannot vindicate the truth-value link claim that our true present-tense statement may also serve as a true statement about the past when made in the future.
- In my view, the belief that the past has some independent existence must – in the end – be given up. You might find this a little frightening, but I hope that I’ve persuaded you that trying to keep it gives us – gives philosophers – some problems and in fact getting rid of it solves some outstanding problems.
- So long as we believe in the past as existent we’re unable to resolve a paradox inherent in the almost banal idea of things persisting through change. Consider a green leaf turning brown in autumn. You will agree that it has to be the same leaf that was green that is now brown. If it was a different leaf – a brown leaf – it could not be said to have lost its greenness. But the great philosopher Leibniz stipulates – surely incontrovertibly – that a thing cannot be itself and yet have divergent properties. So it seems that the leaf must be the same leaf in order to lose its greenness; but, in order to be the same leaf it must retain its greenness, which is a paradox. Some people will say “well, this is just philosophers’ problems”. Of course things persist within limits, depending on the kind of thing they are. But to this, it will be replied, are you suggesting that it requires less than identity to persist?
- My proposal – which accords a crucial role to historians – affirms realism as regards presently-existing objects, including historical texts – the tomes you see lying on bookshelves – but suspends it as regards the non-existent past, which is their subject matter.
A treatment of fictional truth may illuminate. For example, the answer to the question “how can a proposition ‘Romeo loves Juliet’ be true since neither person exists?” It is plausibly replied “because it is actually about Shakespeare’s play, and that does exist.”
- This is analogous to how I approach a historical text. From one viewpoint it can function as a truth-maker, acceptable to presentists for the claims it contains. For example, “Henry V was the victor of Agincourt” is in my view about the historical text in which it figures. It would be a misunderstanding of historical discourse to insist on breaking this claim down and seeking truth-makers for its component elements. Its content, I suggest, is governed by coherentist principles.
- When realists protest “‘Henry V was the victor of Agincourt’ is about a real historical personage and a real battle and that history isn’t fiction or otherwise historians could make up whatever they liked”, I reply “that is not so; historians are held to extremely rigorous standards in interpreting their evidence.” And in any case, how can it possibly help to refer to that shadowy realm that O’Brien mocked, which no historian has ever been able to access, in order to check a single of his conclusions?
- My proposal asks you to respect the text in and for itself, not to look through it. It asks you to assess the coherence of the interpretations – to observe how compendious descriptions such as “The Hundred Years’ War” anticipate their outcome. To note the narrative art that is used in shaping and pacing events, bringing to the past its depth and resonance.
- Historians, I suggest, by both their narrative techniques and their intellectual powers play a crucial role in the creation and construction of the historical past, and perhaps the past more generally.
- “A Realist Present and a Coherentist Past”.
COMMENT: For the video, see Amazon: Sophie Botros Author Page.
In-Page Footnotes ("Botros (Sophie) - Truth, Time and History - A Philosophical Inquiry with Dr Sophie Botros (Shortened Version)")
- This is the Transcript of the shortened version of "Botros (Sophie) - Truth, Time and History - A Philosophical Inquiry with Dr Sophie Botros" which has been placed on Sophie’s Amazon Author’s page (Amazon: Sophie Botros Author Page).
- Passages uttered by the narrator are indented.
- I’ve made my own decision as to how the text spoken by Sophie should be segmented into paragraphs, though this is usually obvious from the video.
- The transcript cannot recreate the full audio-visual effect. The video is very professionally done, and very helpful as regards understanding the import of the book – "Botros (Sophie) - Truth, Time and History: A Philosophical Enquiry" – as a whole.
- Occasionally clarificatory text appears on-screen in the video. I’ve added this to the transcript – within quotation marks and in italics – where it doesn’t simply repeat what’s been said in the audio.
- The reason I’ve made this transcript differs from that for the full version: it is just to check that the video hangs together given the absence of the excised material.
"Broome (John) - Indefiniteness in Identity"
Source: Analysis, Vol. 44, No. 1 (Jan., 1984), pp. 6-12
- A club is constituted by its rules and society's conventions, and these may not be enough to determine everything about it. The rules and conventions, for instance, may not specify the procedure for removing a dishonest treasurer. And they may not determine precisely what counts as the club's demise. Consequently, circumstances can arise that make it unclear whether or not a club started at some date is the same as a club that exists at some later date. (Suppose, for example, that the club has no meetings for a long time and then some people, including perhaps a few of the original members, start to meet again under the same name.) The indefinite- ness here is not merely epistemological. Even if we knew everything there is to be known about the case we might still not know whether the clubs are the same or different. The question of identity has no answer; the facts do not determine one. The club's constitution leaves this particular question unsettled.
- This account of the matter - that it is indeterminate whether or not the club existing earlier is the same as the one existing later - seems perfectly transparent; nothing about it is hard to understand. But an alternative account is possible. We could say that the act of creating an object, such as a club, is incomplete unless the object is defined in enough detail to settle all questions of identity; unless its constitution has this much precision no club has been created. This account, though, is obscure. Few actual clubs can have such precise constitutions, so according to this account most people who think they belong to a club must actually not do so. Indeed they must not belong to anything, not even an uncompleted club, because the same unsettled questions of identity will arise about uncompleted clubs as arise about clubs. It is hard, then, to understand what exactly is supposed to be the condition of these people who think they belong to a club.
- A third possible account insists that if this matter of identity appears to be indeterminate then the clubs must in fact be definitely different, or perhaps definitely the same. This too is obscure. For we can describe cases that plainly amount to the continued existence - or the revival - of the same club, and we can describe cases that plainly amount to the dying of one club and the creation of another, and by varying the conditions gradually we can arrive at cases that are intermediate between these two. It is hard to under- stand what could make a sharp division between them, as this account insists there must be.
- So we have, at least, a good prima facie example of indefinite identity.
"Conolly (Oliver) & Haydar (Bashar) - The Good, the Bad and the Funny"
Source: The Monist, Vol. 88, No. 1, Humor (January 2005), pp. 121-134
- Funniness, a property the nature of which is both seemingly obvious and yet resistant to analysis, has been the object of intermittent attention in philosophy since Plato. Sometimes this attention has taken the form of an investigation into the nature of laughter and the humorous. Sometimes it has taken comic art-forms as its object, though tragedy has received a good deal more attention from philosophers. And sometimes it has focused on jokes and put-downs in their considerable variety, and ethical questions associated with them. All these inquiries are, of course, interlinked. In this paper, we focus on the ethics of jokes, but will then draw connections between that issue and the question of the ethical dimension of humor in put-downs (a distinct category, we argue) and in art. Our inquiry is thus part of a larger investigation in aesthetics on the relation between artistic and moral value generally.
- We define our position on the ethics of jokes with reference to two antithetical positions on the question: ethicism and immoralism.
- The ethicist about jokes holds that the immorality of a joke always counts against its funniness but does not necessarily extinguish it since a joke may be funny in virtue of non-moral qualities, such as inventiveness and the capacity to surprise.
- This distinguishes ethicism from moralism, the view that if a joke manifests ethically bad attitudes, it is therefore unfunny, and hence fails as a joke.
- The immoralist about jokes holds that sometimes, but not always, the immorality of a joke enhances its funniness.
- We will argue for amoralism, the view that jokes are neither moral nor immoral.
In-Page Footnotes ("Conolly (Oliver) & Haydar (Bashar) - The Good, the Bad and the Funny")
- Extracts; copious footnotes omitted.
"Craig (William Lane) - McTaggart's Paradox and the Problem of Temporary Intrinsics"
Source: Analysis, Vol. 58, No. 2 (Apr., 1998), pp. 122-127
- McTaggart's Paradox is so well-ploughed a field that one might doubt whether anything fresh can be said about it. But sometimes new light can be shed on a problem by stepping back and seeing it within a conceptual framework which has hitherto gone unnoticed.
- For example, David Lewis ("Lewis (David) - Prisoners' Dilemma is a Newcomb Problem", 1979) sought to illuminate the Prisoners' Dilemma by his insight that the puzzle is actually an instance of Newcomb's Paradox.
- In the same way, I believe that McTaggart's Paradox is actually a special case of what Lewis has called the Problem of Temporary Intrinsics – a conceptual contextualization of the paradox which, to my knowledge, has gone unnoticed in the philosophical literature. A realization of the proper conceptual context of the paradox will serve to advance our analysis of it.
- The Problem of Temporary Intrinsics is the problem of identity and intrinsic change. The question is, how can an object be self-identical at two different times if it possesses different intrinsic properties at those times?
"Dennett (Daniel) - The Mind's I - Fantasies and Reflections on Self and Soul: Introduction"
Source: Hofstadter & Dennett - The Mind's I - Fantasies and Reflections on Self and Soul
- You see the moon rise in the east. You see the moon rise in the west. You watch two moons moving toward each other across the cold black sky, one soon to pass behind the other as they continue on their way. You are on Mars, millions of miles from home, protected from the killing frostless cold of the red Martian desert by fragile membranes of terrestrial technology. Protected but stranded, for your spaceship has broken down beyond repair. You will never again return to Earth, to the friends and family and places you left behind.
- But perhaps there is hope in the communication compartment of the disabled craft you find a Teleclone Mark IV teleporter and instructions for its use. If you turn the teleporter on, tunes its beam to the Telecone receiver on Earth, and then step into the sending chamber, the teleporter will swiftly and painlessly dismantle your body, producing a molecule-by-molecule blueprint to be beamed to Earth, where the receiver, its reservoirs well stocked with the requisite atoms, will almost instantaneously produce, from the beamed instructions – you! Whisked back to Earth at the speed of light, into the arms of your loved ones, who will soon be listening with rapt attention to your tales of adventures on Mars.
- One last survey of the damaged spaceship convinces you that the Teleclone is your only hope. With nothing to lose, you set the transmitter up, flip the right switches, and step into the chamber. 5 4, 3, 2, 1, FLASH! You open the door in front of you and step out of the Teleclone receiver chamber into the sunny, familiar atmosphere of Earth. You’ve come home, none the worse for wear after your long-distance Telecone fall from Mars. Your narrow escape from a terrible fate on the red planet calls for a celebration, and as your family and friends gather around, you notice how everyone as changed since you last saw them. It has been almost three years, after all, and you’ve all grown older. Look at Sarah, your daughter, who must now be eight and a half. You find yourself thinking “Can this be the little girl who used to sit on my lap?” Of course it is, you reflect, even though you must admit that you do not so much recognize her as extrapolate from memory and deduce her identity, She is so much taller, looks so much older, and knows so much more. In fact, most of the cells in her body were not there when last you cast eyes on her. But in spite of growth and change, in spite of replacement cells, she’s still the same little person you kissed goodbye three years ago.
- Then it hits you: “Am I, really, the same person who kissed this little girl goodbye three years ago? Am I this eight year old child’s mother or am I, actually a brand-new human being, only several hours old, in spite of my memories – or apparent memories – of days and years before that? Did this child’s mother recently die on Mars, dismantled and destroyed in the chamber of a Teleclone Mark IV?
- Did I die on Mars? No, certainly I did not die on Mars, since I am alive on Earth. Perhaps, though, someone died on Mars – Sarah’s mother. Then I am not Sarah’s mother. But I must be” The whole point of getting into the Teleclone was to return home to my family! But I keep forgetting; maybe I never got into that Teleclone on Mars. Maybe that was someone else – if it ever happened at all. Is that infernal machine a tele-porter – a mode of transportation – or, as the brand name suggests, a sort of murdering twinmaker? Did Sarah’s mother survive the experience with the Teleclone or not? She thought she was going to. She entered the chamber with hope and anticipation, not suicidal resignation. Her act was altruistic, to be sure – she was taking steps to provide Sarah with a loved one to protect her – but also selfish – she was getting herself out of a jam into something pleasant. Or so it seemed. How do I know that’s how it seemed? Because I was there; I was Sarah’s mother thinking those thoughts; I am Sarah’s mother. Or so it seems.
- In the days that follow, your spirits soar and plummet, the moments of relief and joy balanced by gnawing doubts and soul searching. Soul searching. Perhaps, you think, it isn’t right to go along with Sarah’s joyous assumption that her mother’s come home. You feel a little bit like an imposter and wonder what Sarah will think when some day she figures out what really happened on Mars. Remember when she figured out about Santa Claus and seemed so confused and hurt? How could her own mother have deceived her all those years?
- So, now it’s with more than idle intellectual curiosity that you pick up this copy of The Mind’s I and begin to read it, for it promises to lead you on a voyage of discovery of the self and the soul. You will learn, it says, something about what and who you are.
- You think to yourself. Here I am reading page 5 of this book; I see my hands holding this book. I have hands. How do I know they’re my hands? Silly question: they’re fastened to my arms, to my body. How do I know this is my body? I control it. Do I own it? In a sense I do. It’s mine to do with it as I like, so long as I don’ harm others. It’s even a sort of legal possession, for while I may not legally sell it to anyone so long as I am alive, I can legally transfer ownership of my body, to, say a medical school once it is dead.
- If I have this body, then I guess I’m something other than this body. When I say “I own my body” I don’t mean “This body owns itself” - probably a meaningless claim. Or does everything that no one else owns own itself? Does the moon belong to everyone, to no one, or to itself? What can be an owner of anything? I can, and my body is just one of the things I own. In any case, I and my body seem both intimately connected and yet distinct. I am the controller, it is the controlled. Most of the time. Then The Mind’s I asks you if in that case you might exchange your body for another, a stronger or more beautiful or more controllable body. You think that this is impossible. But, the book insists, it is perfectly imaginable, and hence possible in principle.
- You wonder whether the book has in mind reincarnation of the transmigration of souls, but, anticipating the wonder, the book acknowledges that while reincarnation is one interesting idea, the details of how this might happen are always left in the dark, and there are other more interesting ways it might happen. What if your brain were to be transplanted into a new body, which it could then control? Wouldn’t you think of that as switching bodies? There would be vast technical problems, of course, but, given our purposes, we can ignore them.
- It does seem hen (doesn’t it?) that if your brain were transplanted into another body, you would go with it. But, are you a brain? Try on two sentences, and see which one sounds more like the truth to you:
→ I have a brain.
→ I am a brain.
Sometimes we talk about smart people being brains, but we don’t mean it literally. We mean they have good brains. You have a good brain, but who or what, then, is the you that has the brain? Once again, if you have a brain, could you trade it in for another? How could anyone detach you from your brain in a brain switch, if you are always go with your brain in a body switch? Impossible? Maybe not, as we shall see. After all, if you have recently returned from Mars, you left your old brain behind, didn’t you? So suppose we agree that you have a brain. Have you ever stopped to ask yourself how you know you have a brain? You’ve never seen it, have you? You can’t see it, even in a mirror, and you can’t feel it. But of course you do know you have a brain. You know it because you know that you’re a human being and all human beings have brains. You’ve read it in books and been told it by people you trust. All people have livers too, and strangely enough what you know about your own brain is rather like what you know about your own liver. You trust what you’ve read in books. For many centuries people didn’t know what their livers were for. It took science to discover the answer. People haven’t always known what their brains were for either. Aristotle is said to have thought that the brain was an organ for cooling the blood – and of course it does cool your blood quite efficiently in the course of its operations. Suppose our livers had been in our skulls and our brains were snuggled into our ribcages. As we looked out at the world and listened, do you think we might have found it plausible that we thought with our livers? Your thinking seems to happen behind your eyes and between your ears – but that is because that’s where your brain is, or is that because you locate yourself, roughly, at the place you see from? Isn’t it in fact just as mind boggling to try to imagine how we could think with our brains – those soft grayish cauliflower shaped things – as to imagine how we could think with our livers – those soft reddish brown liver shaped things?
- The idea that what you are is not simply a living body (or a living brain) but also a soul or spirit seems to many people to be unscientific, in spite of its ancient tradition. “Souls,” they might want to say, “have no place in science and could never fit into the scientific world view. Science teaches us that there are no such things as souls. We don’t believe in leprechauns and ghosts any more, thanks to science, and the suspect idea of a soul inhabiting a body – the ‘ghost in the machine’ – will itself soon give up the ghost.” But not all versions of the idea that you are something distinct from your purely physical body are so vulnerable to ridicule and refutation. Some versions, as we shall see, actually flourish in the garden of science.
- Our world is filled with things that are neither mysterious and ghostly nor simply constructed out of the building blocks of physics. Do you believe in voices? How about haircuts? Are there such things? What are they? What, in the language of the physicist, is a hole – not an exotic black hole, but just a hole in a piece of cheese, for instance? Is it a physical thing? What is a symphony? Where in space and time does “The Star Spangled banner” exist? Is it nothing but some ink trails on some paper in the Library of Congress? Destroy that paper and the anthem would still exist. Latin still exists, but it is no longer a living language. The language of the cave people of France no longer exists at all. The game of bridge is less than a hundred years old. What sort of thing is it? It is not animal, vegetable or mineral.
- These things are not physical objects with mass, or a chemical composition, but are not purely abstract objects either – objects like the number π, which is immutable and cannot be located in space and time. These things have birthplaces and histories. They can change and things can happen to them. They can move about – much the same way a species, a disease, or an epidemic can. We must not suppose that science teaches us that everything anyone would ever want to take seriously is identifiable as a collection of particles moving about in space and time. Some people may think it is just common sense (or just good scientific thinking) to suppose you are nothing but a particular living, physical organism – a moving around of atoms – but in fact this idea exhibits a lack of scientific imagination, not hard-headed sophistication. One doesn’t have to believe in ghosts to believe in selves that have an identity that transcends any particular living body.
- You are Sarah’s mother, after all. But is Sarah’s mother you? Did she die on Mars, or was she moved back to Earth? It seems to you she returned to Earth – and of course it seemed to her before she stepped into the teleporter that she would return to Earth. Was she right? Maybe, but what would you say about the results of using the new, improved Teleclone Mark V? Thanks to the miracles of non-invasive CAT-scanning techniques, it obtains its blueprint without destroying the original. Sarah’s mother stil might decide to push the button and step into the chamber -- for Sarah’s sake, and in order to get the full story of her tragedy back to earth in the words of an eloquent spokeswoman – but she would also expect to step out of the chamber and find herself still on Mars. Could someone – some one – literally be in two places at once? Not for long, in any case, but soon the two would accumulate different memories, and different lives. They would be as distinct as any two people could be.
- Private Lives: What makes you you, and what are your boundaries? Part of the answer seems obvious – you are a centre of consciousness. But what in the world is consciousness? Consciousness is both the most obvious and the most mysterious feature of our minds. On the one hand, what could be more certain or manifest to each of us that that he or she is a subject of experience, an enjoyer of perceptions and sensations, a sufferer of pain, and entertainer of ideas, and a conscious deliberator? On the other hand, what in the world can consciousness be? How can living physical bodies in the physical world produce such a phenomenon? Science has revealed the secrets of many initially mysterious natural phenomena – magnetism, or photosynthesis or digestion are in principle equally accessible to any observer with the right apparatus, but any particular case of consciousness seems to have a favored or privileged observer, whose access of any others – no matter what apparatus they may have. For his reason and others, so far there is no good theory of consciousness. There is not even agreement about what a theory of consciousness would be like. Some have gone so far as to deny that there is any real thing for the term “consciousness” to name.
- The mere fact that such a familiar feature of our lives has resisted for so long all attempts to characterize it suggests that our conception of it is at fault. What is needed is not just more evidence, more experimental and clinical data, but a careful rethinking of the assumptions that lead us to suppose there is a single and familiar phenomenon, consciousness, answering to all the descriptions licensed by our everyday sense of the term. Consider the baffling questions that are inevitably raised whenever one turns one’s attention to consciousness. Are other animals conscious? Are they conscious in the same way we are? Could a computer or a robot be conscious? Can a person have unconscious thoughts? Unconscious pains or sensations or perceptions? Is a baby conscious at or before birth? Are we conscious when we dream? Might a human being harbour more than one conscious subject or ego or agent within one brain? Good answers to these questions certainly will depend heavily on empirical discoveries about the behavioural capacities and internal circumstances of the various problematic candidates for consciousness, but about every such empirical finding we can ask: what is its bearing on the question of consciousness and why? These are not directly empirical questions but rather conceptual ones, which we may be able to answer with the help of thought experiments.
- Our ordinary concept of consciousness seems to be anchored to two separable sets of considerations that can be captured roughly by the phrases “from the inside” and “from the outside.” From the inside, our own consciousness seems obvious and pervasive, we know that much goes on around us and even inside our bodies of which we are entirely unaware or unconscious, but nothing could be more intimately know to us than those things of which we are, individually, conscious. Those things of which I am conscious, and the ways in which I am conscious of them, determine what it is like to be me. I know in a way no other could know what it is like to be me. From the inside, consciousness seems to be an all-or-nothing phenomenon – an inner light that is either on or off. We grant that we are sometimes drowsy or inattentive, or asleep, and on occasion we even enjoy abnormally heightened consciousness, but when we are conscious, that we are conscious is not a fact that admits of degrees. There is a perspective, then, from which consciousness seems to be a feature that sunders the universe into two strikingly different kinds of things, those that have it and those that don’t. Those that have it are subjects, beings to whom things can be one way or another, beings it is like something to be. It is not like anything at all to be a brick or a pocket calculator or an apple. These things have insides, but not the right sort of insides – no inner life, no point of view. It is certainly like something to be me (Something I know “from the inside”) and almost certainly like something to be you (for you have told me, most convincingly, that it is the same with you), and probably like something to be a dog or a dolphin (if only they could tell us!) and maybe even like something to be a spider.
- Other Minds: When one considers these others (other folk and other creatures), one considers them perforce from the outside, and then various of their observable features strike us as relevant to the question of their consciousness. Creatures react appropriately to events within the scope of their senses; they recognize things, avoid painful experiences, learn, plan, and solve problems. They exhibit intelligence. But putting matter this way might be held to prejudge the issue. Talking of their “senses” or of “painful” circumstances, for instance suggests that we have already settled the issue of consciousness -- for note that had we described a robot in those terms, the polemical intent of the choice of words would have been obvious (and resisted by many). How do creatures differ from robots, real or imagined? By being organically and biologically similar to us – and we are the paradigmatic conscious creatures. This similarity admits of degrees, of course, and one’s intuitions about what sorts of similarity count are probably untrustworthy. Dolphins’ fishiness subtracts from our conviction that they are conscious like us, but no doubt should not. Were chimpanzees as dull as sea-slugs, their facial similarity to us would no doubt nevertheless favour their inclusion in the charmed circle. If houseflies were about our size, or warm-blooded, we’d be much more confident that when we plucked off their wings they felt pain (our sort of pain, the kind that matters). What makes us think that some such considerations ought to count and not others?
- The obvious answer is that the various “outside” indicators are more or less reliable signs or symptoms of the presence of that whatever-it-is each conscious subject knows from the inside. But how could this be confirmed? This is the notorious “problem of other minds.” In one’s own case, it seems, one can directly observer the coincidence of one’s inner life with one’s outwardly observable behaviour. But if each of us is to advance rigorously beyond solipsism, we must be able to do something apparently impossible: confirm the coincidence of inner and outer in others. Their telling us of the coincidence in their own cases will not do, officially, for that gives us just more coincidence of outer with outer; the demonstrable capacities for perception and intelligent action normally go hand-in-hand with the capacity to talk, and particularly to make “introspective” reports. If a cleverly designed robot could (seem to) tell us of its inner life, (could utter all the appropriate noises in the appropriate contexts), would we be right to admit it to the charmed circle? We might be, but how could we ever tell we were not being fooled? Here the question seems to be; is that special inner light really turned on, or is there nothing but darkness inside? And this question looks unanswerable. So perhaps we have taken a misstep already.
- My use of “we” and “our” in the last few paragraphs, and your unworried acceptance of it, reveals that we don’t take the problem of other minds seriously – at least for ourselves and the human beings with whom we normally associate. It is tempting to conclude that insofar as there is a serious question yet to be answered about the imagined robot (or about some problematic creature) it must turn out to be answerable by straightforward observation. Some theorists think that once we have better theories of the organization of our brains and their role in controlling our behaviour, we will be able to use those theories to distinguish conscious entities from nonconscious entities. This is to suppose that somehow or other the facts we get individually “from the inside” reduce to facts publicly obtainable from the outside. Enough of the right sort of outside facts will settle the question of whether or not some creature is conscious. For instance, consider neurophysiologist E.R. John’s recent attempt to define consciousness in objective terms.
.. a process in which information about multiple individual modalities of sensation and perception is combined into a unified multidimensional representation of the state of the system and its environment, and integrated with information about memories and the needs of the organism, generating emotional reactions and programs of behaviour to adjust the organism to its environment.
- Determining that this hypothetical internal process occurs in a particular organism is presumably a difficult but empirical task in the province of a new science of neural information processing. Suppose that with regard to some creature it were completed successfully; the creature is by this account, conscious. If we have understood the proposal correctly, we will not find any room to wonder further. Reserving judgment here would be like being shown in detail the operations of an automobile engine, and then asking, “But is it really an internal combustion engine? Might we not be deluded in thinking it was?
- Any proper scientific account of the phenomenon of consciousness must inevitably take this somewhat doctrinaire step of demanding that the phenomenon be viewed as objectively as accessible, but one may still wonder if, once the step is taken, the truly mysterious phenomenon will be left behind. Before dismissing this skeptical hunch as the fancy of romantics, it would be wise to consider a striking revolution in the recent history of thinking about the mind, a revolution with unsettling consequences.
- Freud’s Crutch: For John Locke and many subsequent thinkers, nothing was more essential to the mind than consciousness, and more particularly self-consciousness. The mind in all its activities and processes was viewed as transparent to itself; nothing was hidden from its inner view. To discern what went on in one’s mind one just “looked” – one “introspected” – and the limits of what one thereby found were the very boundaries of the mind. The notion of unconscious thinking or perceiving was not entertained, or if it was, it was dismissed as incoherent, self-contradictory nonsense.
- For Locke, indeed, there was a serious problem of how to describe all one’s memories as being continuously in one’s mind when yet they were not continuously “present to consciousness.” The influence of this view has been so great that when Freud initially hypothesized the existence of unconscious mental processes, his proposal met widely with stark denial and incomprehension. It was not just an outrage to common sense, it was even self-contradictory to assert that there could be unconscious beliefs and desires, unconscious feelings of hatred, unconscious schemes of self-defense and retaliation. But Freud won converts. This “conceptual impossibility” became respectably thinkable by theorists once they saw that it permitted them to explain otherwise inexplicable patterns of psychopathology.
- The new way of thinking was supported by a crutch, one could cling to at least a pale version of the Lockean creed by imagining that these “unconscious” thoughts, desires, and schemes belonged to other selves within the psyche. Just as I can keep my schemes secret from you, my id can keep secrets from my ego. By splitting the subject into many subjects, one could preserve the axiom that every mental state must be someone’s conscious mental state and explain the inaccessibility of some of these states to their putative owners by postulating other interior owners for them. This move was usefully obscured in the mists of jargon so that the weird question of whether it was like anything to be a superego, for instance, could be kept at bay.
- Freud’s expansion of the bounds of the thinkable revolutionized clinical psychology. It also paved the way for the more recent development of “cognitive” experimental psychology. We have come to accept without the slightest twinge of incomprehension a host of claims to the effect that sophisticated hypothesis testing, memory searching, inference – in short, information processing – occurs within us though it is entirely inaccessible to introspection . It is not repressed unconscious activity of the sort Freud uncovered, activity driven out of the sight of consciousness, but just mental activity that is somehow beneath or beyond the ken of consciousness altogether. Freud claimed that his theories and clinical observations gave him the authority to overrule the sincere denials of his patients about what was going on in their minds. Similarly the cognitive psychologist marshals experimental evidence, models, and theories to show that people are engaged in surprisingly sophisticated reasoning processes of which they can give no introspective account at all. Not only are minds accessible to outsiders, some mental activities are more accessible to outsiders than to the very “owners” of those minds. In the new theorizing, however, the crutch has been thrown away.
- Although the new theories abound with metaphors – subsystems like little people in the brain sending messages back and forth, asking for help, obeying and volunteering -- the actual subsystems, are deemed to be unproblematic nonconscious bits of organic machinery, as utterly lacking in a point of view or inner life as a kidney or kneecap. (Certainly the advent of “mindless” but “intelligent” computers played a major role in this further dissolution of the Lockean view.)
- But now Locke’s extremism has been turned on its head, if before the very idea of unconscious mentality seemed incomprehensible, now we are losing our grip on the very idea of conscious mentality. What is consciousness but, if perfectly unconscious, indeed subjectless, information processing is in principle capable of achieving all the ends for which conscious minds were supposed to exist? If theories of cognitive psychology can be true of us, they could also be true of zombies, or robots and the theories seem to have no way of distinguishing us. How could any amount of mere subjectless information processing (of the sort we have recently discovered to go on in us) add up to that special feature with which it is so vividly contrasted? For the contrast has not disappeared. The psychologist Karl Lashley once suggested provocatively that “no activity of the mind is ever conscious,” by which he meant to draw our attention to the inaccessibility of the processing that we know must go on when we think. He gave an example: If asked to think a thought in dactylic hexameter, those who knew which rhythm that is can readily oblige. For instance: How in the world did this case of dactylic hexameter come to me? How we do it, what goes on in us to produce such a thought, is something quite inaccessible to us. Lashley’s remark might seem at first to herald the demise of consciousness as a phenomenon for psychological study, but its true effect is just the opposite. It draws our attention unmistakably to the difference between all the unconscious information processing – without which, no doubt, there could be no conscious experience – and the conscious thought itself, which is somehow directly accessible. Accessible to what or to whom? To say that it is accessible to some subsystem of the brain is not yet to distinguish it from the unconscious activities and events, which are also accessible to various subsystems of the brain. If some particular special subsystem is so constituted that that its traffic with the rest of the system somehow makes it the case that there is one more self in the world, one more “”thing it is like something to be,” this is far from obvious.
- Strangely, enough, this problem is the old chestnut, the problem of other minds, resurrected as a serious problem now that cognitive science has begun to analyze the human mind into its functional components. This comes out most graphically in the famous split-brain cases. (See “Further Reading” for details and references.) There is nothing very problematic in granting that the people who have undergone severing of the corpus callosum have two somewhat independent minds, one associated with the dominant brain hemisphere, and another associated with the non-dominant brain hemisphere. This is not problematic, for we have grown used to thinking of a person’s mind as an organization of communicating subminds. Here the lines of communication have simply been cut, revealing the independent character of each part particularly vividly. But what remains problematic is whether both subminds “have an inner life.” One view is that there is no reason to grant consciousness to the non-dominant hemisphere, since all that has been shown is that that hemisphere, like many unconscious cognitive subsystems, can process a lot of information and intelligently control some behaviour. But then we may ask what reason there is to grant consciousness to the dominant hemisphere, or even to the whole, intact system in a normal person. We had this thought this question frivolous and not worth discussing, but this avenue forces us to take it seriously again. If on the other hand we grant full “inner life” consciousness to the non-dominant hemisphere (or more properly to the newly discovered person whose brain is the non-dominant hemisphere), what will be said about all the other information-processing subsystems posited by current theory? Is the Freudian crutch to be taken away again at the expense of populating our heads, quite literally, with hosts of subjects of experience?
- Consider, for example, the striking discovery by the psycholinguists James Lackner and Merril Garrett (see “Further Reading”) of what might be called an unconscious channel of sentence comprehension. In dichotic listening tests, subjects listen through earphones to two different channels and are instructed to attend to just one channel. Typically they can paraphrase or report with accuracy what they have heard through the attended channel but usually they can say little about what was going on concomitantly in the unattended channel. Thus, if the unattended channel carries a spoken sentence, the subjects typically can report they heard a voice, or even a male or female voice. Perhaps they even have a conviction about whether the voice was speaking in their native tongue, but they cannot report what was said. In Lackney and Garrett’s experiments subjects heard ambiguous sentences in the attended channel, such as “He put out the lantern to signal the attack.” Simultaneously, in the unattended channel one group of subjects received a sentence that suggested the interpretation of the sentence in the attended channel (e.g. “He extinguished the lantern), while another group had a neutral or irrelevant sentence as input. The former group could not report what was presented through the unattended channel, but they favoured the suggested reading of the ambiguous sentences significantly more than the control group did. The influence of the unattended channel on the interpretation of the attended signal is processed all the way to a semantic level – that is, the unattended signal is comprehended – but this is apparently unconscious sentence comprehension! Or should we say it is evidence of the presence in the subject of at least two different and only partially communicating consciousnesses? If we ask the subjects what it was like to comprehend the unattended cannel, they will reply, sincerely, that it was not like anything to them – they were quite unaware of that sentence. But perhaps, as is often suggested about the split brain patients, there is in effect someone else to whom our question ought to be addressed – the subject who consciously comprehended the sentence and relayed a hint of its meaning to the subject who answers our questions.
- Which should we say, and why? We seem to be back to our unanswerable question, which suggests we should find different ways of looking at the situation. A view of consciousness that does justice to the variety of complications will almost certainly demand a revolution in our habits of thought. Breaking bad habits is not that easy. The fantasies and thought experiments collected here are games and exercises designed to help.
- In Part I the exploration begins with some swift forays into the territory, noting a few striking landmarks but mounting no campaigns.
- In Part II our target, The Mind’s I, is surveyed from the outside. What is it that reveals the presence of other minds, other souls to the searcher?
- Part III examines the physical foundation – in biology -- of the mind, and then from this foundation moves up several levels of complexity to the level of internal representations. The mind begins to emerge as a self-designing system of representations, physically embodied in the brain. Here we encounter our first roadblock – “The Story of a Brain.” We suggest some paths around it, and
- in Part IV we explore the implications of the emerging views of the mind as software or program – as an abstract sort of thing whose identity is independent of any particular physical embodiment. This opens up delightful prospects, such as various technologies for the transmigration of souls, and Fountains of Youth, but it also opens a Pandora’s box of traditional metaphysical problems in untraditional costumes,
- which are confronted in Part V. Reality itself is challenged by various rivals: dreams, fictions, simulations, illusions. Free will, something no self-respecting mind would be caught without, is put under an unusual spotlight. In “Minds, Brains, and Programs” we encounter our second roadblock, but learn from it
- how to press on, in Part VI, past our third roadblock, “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” into the inner sanctum, where our mind’s-eye view affords us the most intimate perspectives on our target, and allows us to relocate our selves in the metaphysical and physical world. A guide to further expeditions is provided in the last section.
"Edmonds (David) - Reason and romance: The world’s most cerebral marriage"
Source: Prospect Magazine, 17th July 2014
- In the 1980s there was a seminar held regularly in the wood-panelled Old Library at All Souls College in Oxford. It was known informally as “Star Wars.” Four giants of moral and political philosophy would take turns to lead the discussion and spend the best part of two hours sparring with each other at one end of the room, which would be packed mostly with eager, awestruck postgraduate students. I was one of them and attended for a term.
- The four philosophers were Derek Parfit, Amartya Sen, Ronald Dworkin and GA “Jerry” Cohen (Gerald A. Cohen), all of them in their scholarly prime. In 1982, Janet Radcliffe Richards, who had just moved to Oxford, decided to go along to see for herself what everyone agreed was the best show in town — dazzling, preening intellectual pyrotechnics. She was then in her late thirties, and a lecturer in philosophy at the Open University. She had recently published a book entitled The Sceptical Feminist.
- Sen, who would go on to win a Nobel Prize in economics, already knew Radcliffe-Richards and after the seminar went over to greet her. “Who was that?” Parfit asked him. After extracting her name and being told that she had recently separated from a partner1, Parfit wrote her a letter, which she says she will publish one day. “The most remarkable chat up letter in history,” Radcliffe-Richards calls it. He’d bought The Sceptical Feminist as, according to her, “a sort of audition” and proceeded to pursue her assiduously, oblivious to the fact that he was in competition with four other men.
In-Page Footnotes ("Edmonds (David) - Reason and romance: The world’s most cerebral marriage")
"Everett (Daniel) - Did Homo erectus speak?"
Source: Aeon, 28 February, 2018
- What is the greatest human technological innovation? Fire? The wheel? Penicillin? Clothes? Google? None of these come close. As you read this, you are using the winning technology. The greatest tool in the world is language. Without it there would be no culture, no literature, no science, no history, no commercial enterprise or industry. The genus Homo rules the Earth because it possesses language.
- But how and when did we build this kingdom of speech? And who is ‘we’? After all, Homo sapiens is just one of several species of humans that have walked the Earth. Does ‘we’ refer to our genus, Homo, or to our species, sapiens?
"Fenwick (Cody) - Derek Parfit, Renowned Philosopher of Ethics, Mind and Metaphysics, Dies at 74"
Source: Patch, 3rd January 2017
- "I became a philosopher so that I would have more time to think about what matters," he wrote.
- Derek Parfit, an academic philosopher known for his influential thinking and arguments on issues including ethics, personal identity, the meaning and importance of time, the promise of philosophy, attitudes toward death, our duties to future generations, the nature of reality and the origins of all existence, died on Sunday. He was 74.
- He was an emeritus fellow at the prestigious All Souls College at the University of Oxford and a global distinguished professor of philosophy at New York University. He also held positions at Harvard University and Rutgers University.
- He was known as an eccentric individual, and he was widely regarded as intensely brilliant. Both within the world of philosophy and without, he is best known for his book "Reasons and Persons." A dense work of rigorous and compelling philosophy, it brings to life many deeply puzzling philosophical questions with engrossing thought experiments that students and academics have pondered since its publication in 1984.
- Are we obligated to bring about the best possible consequences with every choice we make? How much faith should we put in our common-sense moral intuitions? Is the person we are at age 10 the same person who exists at age 40? Should we prefer to fulfill whatever our desires presently compel us to do, or should we consider what would be best for our future selves? How should we weight the value of future populations in our moral calculus?
- Though his work is an undisputed pillar of the contemporary canon of Western analytic philosophy, he was happy to note the similarities between his thought and Buddhist teachings. He argued provocatively that there is no "deep further fact" about who we are apart from the psychological connections and continuity that exist between us and any future selves, which may have been what Buddha meant when he said, "There exists no individual, it is only a conventional name given to a set of elements."
- While the question of the self's nature is of deep philosophical import, Parfit also took his answer to have great personal significance. Because he saw his interest in continuing to live as depending on psychological connections, like the persistence of certain memories, attitudes, desires, beliefs and dispositions, rather than on some fundamental core that was "Derek Parfit," death became less frightening to him.
- "Instead of saying, 'I shall be dead,' I should say, 'There will be no future experiences that will be related, in certain ways, to these present experiences,'" he wrote in "Reasons and Persons."
- "Because it reminds me what this fact involves, this redescription makes this fact less depressing."
- He did not believe in afterlives or souls, and many find his reductionist view of the self depressing in its own terms. But for Parfit, his arguments showed not that we've lost something for not having a soul, but that the very idea is less compelling than it seems. There are things more important than this kind of survival, such as the projects we pursue and the connections we make to other people.
- This view transformed his own perspective on life:
- My life seemed like a glass tunnel, through which I was moving faster every year, and at the end of which there was darkness.When I changed my view, the walls of my glass tunnel disappeared. I now live in the open air. There is still a difference between my life and the lives of other people. But the difference is less. I am less concerned about the rest of my own life, and more concerned about the lives of others.
- To draw out the reader's intuitions on these issues, he memorably asked them to imagine how they would respond to the technology of a "tele-transportation" device — not unlike those conceived in the series "Star Trek."
- If this machine were to break down your molecules piece by piece, and rebuild a completely identical replica of you on Mars, would this be just a more efficient method of travel than a spaceship? Would that really be "you" who ended up on Mars, or just an exact copy who "thinks" it's you?
- Parfit thought we should hop in the tele-transporter, even if it makes us nervous. In his view, there's no significant difference between you and your identical copy. You should be happy to live on as either (or even, perhaps, as both).
- But many readers who found his arguments compelling were still wary enough to opt for the shuttle instead.
- Beyond his interest in personal survival and death, Parfit was deeply concerned with ethics and reasons for action. When he thought about our obligations to future generations, he discovered philosophical puzzles he was never able to solve to his own satisfaction.
- Consider: Would it be better to have a future human population of 10 billion, all of whom are extraordinarily happy, or a population of 1 trillion, all of whom live very difficult lives that are only barely worth living?
- Most people think we should prefer the smaller, happier population. But in "Reasons and Persons," Parfit showed through extensive arguments that it is very difficult to defend this position under scrutiny. Parfit dubbed this the "Repugnant Conclusion," because his arguments force us to believe that we should plan for future populations to be as large as possible, as long as their lives are just barely worth living.
- Though his arguments led him to this conclusion, Parfit did not accept it. He hoped someone would discover a theory that could explain why the "Repugnant Conclusion" was not required.
- After "Reasons and Persons" was published in 1984, Parfit was established as a philosophical heavyweight, and his work was immediately destined to be scrutinized for decades to come. Volumes of secondary literature already exist, parsing his words and dissecting his arguments.
- It wasn't until 2011 that "Reasons and Persons" would have company on its shelf — though Parfit published many essays in the meantime — this time in a two-volume set called "On What Matters." The arguments and chapters that make up "On What Matters" were circulated among academics long before publication and were wrestled over with students and colleagues in seminar rooms.
- "On What Matters" marks a distinct shift in focus from "Reasons and Persons." The first volume analyzes the moral theories of consequentialism, Kantian theory and contractualism, and attempts to merge them into one "Triple Theory" of Kantian consequentialism.
- It states, in its briefest form: "An act is wrong just when such acts are disallowed by some principle that is optimific, uniquely universally willable, and not reasonably rejectable."
- He argued that the primary contenders for universal moral theories were all essentially aiming at the same endpoint, or as he put it in an intriguing metaphor, their theorists were climbing different sides of the same mountain. Other philosophers have been reticent to accept these claims and arguments, and many argue that the disparate moral theories are inherently in tension.
- The second volume of "On What Matters" largely focuses on a related, but conceptually distinct, meta-ethical question: What grounds the truth value of moral statements?
- The topic of meta-ethics to which he turned, which focuses on the fundamental nature of moral truths rather than on prescriptions about how to live, is relatively obscure and esoteric, mostly attended to by those who make philosophy their life's work. Parfit was deeply drawn to these questions and felt they required persuasive answers. But he also felt he should explain why he wanted to answer them.
- "Though I became a philosopher so that I would have more time to think about what matters," he wrote, "much of this book is about other questions. It may be worth explaining why."
- Some of what matters is relatively obvious, Parfit notes, such as alleviating suffering and injustice in the world. "Reasons and Persons" discussed issues that were important, but less obviously so.
- He had intended to explore those ideas in further detail in his next book. By the time he wrote "On What Matters," however, his priorities had changed.
- "I became increasingly concerned about certain differences between my views and the views of several other people," he wrote. "We seemed to disagree not only about what matters, but also about what is would be for things matter, and about whether anything could matter."
- He was troubled in particular by philosophers, many of whom were close friends, who argued that moral reasons were derivative of desires, somehow subjective, incoherent or otherwise not universally applicable. Many popular views make these kinds of claims, such as post-modernism, subjectivism, relativism, desire theory, emotivism and expressivism.
- So he argued for the bulk of the 700-page tome that radical skepticism about moral claims is not warranted. Moral claims are coherent and meaningful. They are not reducible to other kinds of facts; they have their own jurisdiction.
- In his view, this is not provable, but it is not rationally doubted.
- If you were to stick your hand into an open flame, he points out, you would have a very good reason to withdraw it: It would cause you intense suffering.
- What does it mean for the suffering to be a reason to withdraw your hand? It means that it counts in favor of this action.
- And could anyone deny that the suffering caused by a burning flame counts in favor of, or is a reason for, withdrawing your hand?
- Parfit argued that, rationally, they could not. It is a simple, yet deeply important, fact. For him, this fact elucidates the nature of reasons, and reasons are the foundation of all morality.
- "After many thousands of years of responding to reasons in ways that helped them to survive and reproduce, human beings can now respond to other reasons," Parfit wrote. "We are a part of the Universe that is starting to understand itself. And we can partly understand, not only what is in fact true, but also what ought to be true, and what we might be able to make true."
- He hoped his work would contribute to the clarification of what is true and what matters.
- In addition to his work in philosophy, he was also an accomplished photographer. His own photographs served as the cover art for his books.
- Parfit is survived by his spouse, Janet Radcliffe Richards, a philosopher and lecturer at the University of Oxford specializing in feminism and bioethics. The world will have reason to miss him.
COMMENT: For the full text, see Patch: Derek Parfit.
In-Page Footnotes ("Fenwick (Cody) - Derek Parfit, Renowned Philosopher of Ethics, Mind and Metaphysics, Dies at 74")
- By Cody Fenwick, Patch National Staff | Jan 2, 2017 3:48 pm ET | Updated Jan 3, 2017 5:29 pm ET
"Grimes (William) - Derek Parfit, Philosopher Who Explored Identity and Moral Choice, Dies at 74"
Source: New York Times, 6th January 2017
- Derek Parfit, a British philosopher whose writing on personal identity, the nature of reasons and the objectivity of morality re-established ethics as a central concern for contemporary thinkers and set the terms for philosophic inquiry, died on Monday at his home in London. He was 74.
- Janet Radcliffe Richards, his wife, said the cause had not been determined.
- Mr. Parfit, who was associated with All Souls College at Oxford for his entire career, rose to pre-eminence with the publication of his first paper, “Personal Identity,” in 1971.
- He developed a theory of identity that downgraded the notion, and the importance, of an irreducible self — the “deep further fact,” as he called it” — in terms not dissimilar to Buddhism.
- He argued that we continue to exist over time by virtue of certain relations among mental states at different times, such as the relation between an experience and the memory of it, or the formation of a desire and the satisfaction of it.
- “It was a revolutionary paper, and it made him a philosophic celebrity instantly,” Jeff McMahan, a professor of moral philosophy at Oxford and one of Mr. Parfit’s former students, said in an interview.
- “Reasons and Persons,” published in 1984, was greeted as the most important work of moral philosophy since Henry Sidgwick’s “The Method of Ethics” in 1874. In it, Mr. Parfit elaborated his ideas on identity and explored issues in moral choice that reanimated the field of ethics, which had descended into abstruse technical analyses of moral terms like “ought,” “good” and “right.”
- “A whole generation of moral philosophers was inspired by the questions it asked, the way it asked them and the methods it employed to answer them,” Mark Schroeder, a professor of philosophy at the University of Southern California, wrote in Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews in 2011.
- The two volumes of “On What Matters,” published in 2011, dealt with the theory of reasons and morality, arguing for the existence of objective truth in ethics.
- In one grand flourish, which he called the triple theory, Mr. Parfit tried to reconcile three competing theories of morality — one based on the idea of a hypothetical contract, another based entirely on the consequences of action and yet another based on Kant’s conception of duty. Philosophers of all three schools, he argued, were actually “climbing different sides of the same mountain.”
- The book included articles by other leading philosophers criticizing Mr. Parfit’s ideas, along with his replies to them. It was a format that echoed a good part of Mr. Parfit’s professional activity. He was renowned as a commentator, offering extensive, detailed critiques of work sent to him in manuscript.
- In the introduction to his book “The Rejection of Consequentialism: A Philosophical Investigation of the Considerations Underlying Rival Moral Conceptions,” Samuel Scheffler wrote that Mr. Parfit’s notes on the work in progress were longer than the book itself.
- “With no other philosopher have I had such a clear sense of someone who had already thought of every objection I could make, of the best replies to them, of further objections that I might then make, and of replies to them too,” the philosopher Peter Singer wrote recently on the philosophy website Daily Nous.
- Derek Antony Parfit was born on Dec. 11, 1942, in Chengdu, China. His father, Norman, and his mother, the former Jessie Browne, were doctors teaching preventive medicine at Christian missions. They returned to England when Derek was still an infant and settled in Oxford, where Derek attended the Dragon School.
- After graduating from Eton, he spent a year in New York visiting his older sister, Theodora, and working briefly as a researcher at The New Yorker. He enrolled in Balliol College, Oxford, and earned a degree in modern history in 1964. While on a Harkness Fellowship at Harvard and Columbia after graduation, he began attending lectures on philosophy and changed course.
- “What interests me the most are those metaphysical questions whose answers seem to be relevant — or to make a difference — to what we have reason to care about and to do, and to our moral beliefs,” Mr. Parfit told the journal Cogito in 1995.
- He was elected to a prize fellowship at All Souls, and by 1984 had become a senior research fellow. For many years he was a visiting lecturer at Harvard, Rutgers and New York University. In 2014, he was awarded the Rolf Schock Prize by the Royal Swedish Academy, philosophy’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize.
- He published seldom, but to great effect. His two major works were compendious and staggeringly ambitious.
- “Reasons and Persons” was four books in one. The first part dealt with morality and rationality, the second part with a theory of individual rationality rejecting the idea that self-interest requires people to be equally concerned about all parts of their future. In Part 3, Mr. Parfit expanded his ideas about personal identity.
- Part 4, devoted to moral thinking about future generations and the morality of bringing other humans into existence, offered a number of paradoxes and puzzles challenging traditional moral thinking. In so doing he opened up a new field of inquiry, population ethics.
- “On What Matters,” much of it based on the Tanner Lectures he delivered at the University of California, Berkeley, in 2002, was similarly wide ranging, with multiple sections, each worthy of its own book, and concluding with a magisterial monograph on meta-ethics.
- In February, Oxford University Press plans to publish a third volume of “On What Matters.” It consists in part of responses to criticism of his work by leading philosophers, which will appear in a companion volume, edited by Mr. Singer, titled “Does Anything Really Matter?”
- In addition to his wife, Mr. Parfit is survived by his sister, Theodora Ooms. In addition to his home in London, he had one in Oxford.
- On Daily Nous, Mr. Singer offered a snippet from Mr. Parfit’s new work: “Life can be wonderful as well as terrible, and we shall increasingly have the power to make life good. Since human history may be only just beginning, we can expect that future humans, or supra-humans, may achieve some great goods that we cannot now even imagine.
- “In Nietzsche’s words, there has never been such a new dawn and clear horizon, and such an open sea.”
COMMENT: For the full text, see New York Times: Obituary - Derek Parfit.
"Hawley (Katherine) - Almost Identical, Almost Innocent"
Source: Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplements, Volume 82 (Metaphysics) - July 2018, pp. 249-263
- In his book "Lewis (David) - Parts of Classes" (1991), David Lewis discusses the idea that composition is identity, alongside the idea that mereological overlap is a form of partial identity1. But this notion of partial identity2 does nothing to help Lewis achieve his goals in that book. So why does he mention it?
- I explore and resolve this puzzle, by comparing Parts of Classes with Lewis’s invocation of partial identity3 in his 1993 paper "Lewis (David) - Many, But Almost One", where he uses it to address Peter Unger’s problem of the many4.
- I raise some concerns about this way of thinking of partial identity5, but conclude that, for Lewis, it is an important defence against accusations of ontological profligacy.
COMMENT: (To be) annotated hard copy filed in "Various - Papers on Desktop".
"Hawley (Katherine) - Persistence and Determination"
Source: Philosophy 83 supplement 62 (2008), 197-212 (special issue on Being: Developments in Contemporary Metaphysics)
- Roughly speaking, perdurantism is the view that ordinary objects persist through time by having temporal parts, whilst endurantism1 is the view that they persist by being wholly present at different times. (Speaking less roughly will be important later.) It is often thought that perdurantists have an advantage over endurantists2 when dealing with objects which appear to coincide temporarily: lumps, statues3, cats, tail-complements, bisected brains, repaired ships, and the like. Some cases – personal fission, for example – seem to involve temporary coincidence between objects of the same kind. Other cases – a cat and its flesh, a statue4 and its lump – seem to involve objects of different kinds.
- When two objects temporarily coincide, they are indiscernible in many basic, temporary respects, but they are discernible in respect of their future careers or past histories. How can this be? How can indiscernibility in all sorts of immediate, ordinary respects fail to guarantee indiscernibility in every respect? This is the ‘temporal grounding problem’.
- According to perdurantists, temporary coincidence is mere sharing of (temporal) parts. Whilst the objects coincide, they share temporal parts, but when they diverge they do not. The spatial analogy is familiar: these chunks of tarmac right here are parts of both High Street and the Great North Road, those chunks of tarmac over there are parts of the Great North Road but not of High Street. Moreover, we do not expect High Street and the Great North Road to be indiscernible merely because they share a few parts: there is no ‘spatial grounding problem’. The partial-overlap account of temporary coincidence is commonly taken to solve the temporal grounding problem, and thereby to secure some advantage for perdurance theory over endurance theory.
- This advantage is not conclusive: perdurantism and endurantism5 compete on various fronts, and if endurantists6 triumph elsewhere, they may simply accept that some differences between temporary coincidents are ungrounded, or else argue that temporary coincidence never occurs. Moreover, the perdurantist story about partial overlap does not apply where objects appear to coincide permanently: here perdurantists and endurantists7 have similar resources available. Nevertheless, a straightforward account of temporary coincidence is a valuable prize, not least because it provides the ontological resources for an epistemicist or a semantic-indecision account of vagueness in persistence: such accounts standardly require hordes of almost-indiscriminable temporarily-coincident objects.
- Ryan Wasserman has challenged the idea that perdurantists have any advantage in accounting for temporary coincidence (Matthew McGrath makes a similar point, to which I will return below; see also "Lowe (E.J.) - Material Coincidence and the Cinematographic Fallacy: A Response to Olson" (2002)). "Wasserman (Ryan) - The Standard Objection to the Standard Account" (2002) argues that, insofar as perdurantists may invoke the fact that temporarily coincident objects differ mereologically at other times, endurantists8 may invoke a similar fact. Temporarily coincident enduring objects differ in their spatial parts at times when they do not coincide; trivially so if one of them goes out of existence. If other-time differences in temporal parts can ground differences between temporarily-coincident perduring objects, then surely other-time differences in spatial parts can do the same job for temporarily-coincident enduring objects. There is, Wasserman suggests, nothing exclusively perdurantist about grounding present differences in other-time mereological differences. What makes these coincident objects distinct? Why, the fact that they will have different parts in the future!
- It is of course true that, if two enduring objects coincide temporarily, then they differ in what parts they have at some other time, and that this is a mereological difference between the two. Why then did anyone ever think that endurantists9 had a special difficulty with the temporal grounding problem? And exactly how was the perdurantists’ invocation of mereological difference between temporary coincidents supposed to solve the problem? To recover the advantage for perdurantists, we need to examine questions of grounding or determination. If we could describe the world without commitment to facts about persistence or identity, endurantists10 and perdurantists would agree on that description: if they disagreed about this, we could hope to rule out one of them empirically. The temporal grounding problem concerns determination or dependence, not just correlation or supervenience11 (so does the analogous modal12 problem, as "Bennett (Karen) - Global Supervenience and Dependence" (2004) and "Shagrir (Oron) - Global Supervenience, Coincident Entities and Anti-Individualism" (2002) have shown); it challenges us to identify a qualitative ground for differences between the temporarily coincident objects in question.
- So if there is a special difficulty for endurantists13 here, it is because endurantists14 have a special reason to think that facts about number, identity or sort must be determined by temporally intrinsic facts, a reason which does not apply to perdurantists. And indeed a special reason does seem to present itself. An enduring object is wholly present whenever it exists. The notion of ‘being wholly present at’ a region has resisted uncontroversial clarification, but must involve localness somehow: if an object is wholly present at a region, then important facts about it are determined by what’s going on within that region. In contrast, if an object is only partially present at a region, then we do not expect the central facts about it to be exhausted by what’s going on in that region.
- The main goal of this paper is to substantiate the thought that endurantists15 and perdurantists should differ about what determines what, that they should disagree about temporal intrinsicness.
- First, I will clarify the temporal grounding problem, distinguishing two versions of it (section 2).
- Then, I will examine the differences between endurantism16 and perdurantism (section 3), and
- Show how perdurantism is better placed with respect to the temporal grounding problem (sections 4 and 5).
- Finally, and briefly, I will make some connections between the temporal grounding problem and ‘metaontological’ scepticism about the distinction between perdurantism and endurantism17 (section 6).
- Two Temporal Grounding Problems
- Temporal Extent and Temporal Parts
- The Region-Focused Temporal Grounding Problem
- Object-Focused Temporal Grounding Problems
- Distinguishing Endurantism18 and Perdurantism
COMMENT: See Link, St. Andrews' Website
"Hodgkin (Adam) - Derek Parfit, typesetting and marmalade"
Source: Adam Hodgkin's Blog, 2nd January 2017
- Derek Parfit, who was an extraordinary and ingenious philosopher and a fascinating and delightful conversationalist, critic and friend to many, has died and will be sorely missed. I knew him reasonably well for about five years whilst I was encouraging him to publish his book Reasons and Persons with Oxford University Press. I was the philosophy editor at that time, and I was convinced that it was most important that his book should appear through the Press. The OUP philosophy list was not then the pre-eminent philosophy publisher that it is now and it seemed to me quite possible that Derek’s book would be snapped up by Duckworth, Blackwells, or — heaven help us — Cambridge where his friends Bernard Williams and Tom Nagel were published. Persuading Derek was not too difficult, and it certainly was not a matter of offering him exceptional terms — except perhaps in guaranteeing that the book would not be too expensive in spite of its considerable length. I think All Souls was putting some pressure on him to produce an important book (had it been an implicit condition of awarding him a second long-term research fellowship?), and all his friends knew that the typescript that he had been cultivating for several years should be published, and that if it were published it would be much read.
- But Derek was not in all ways an easy author. Always delightful and interesting but by no means easy. This period (the early 1980’s) was just the time when word processing was becoming so much a normal feature of scholarly writing that most academics believed that books could be produced much more efficiently and cheaply if the work was ‘typeset’ directly from the word processing files. I had been able to persuade R M Hare that it would be quite impractical to produce his latest book from the 8" floppy disks that he proudly delivered to my office from the Corpus Christi office Xerox 860. Derek was not so easily shepherded and was convinced that his book should be published with maximum efficiency, so with the help of Catherine Griffin (the wife of his friend Jim Griffin), the book’s copy editor, Angela Blackburn, and one or two others who worked long hours as the Oxford University Computing Service, camera-ready copy was generated from the author’s keystrokes. The Computing Service had recently acquired a typesetting machine capable of complex and multi-lingual work, and Catherine Griffin was the expert in charge. I cannot now remember whether the Press paid anything for this work (probably a small charge would have been levied), but I suspect that the process was a lot more finicky and time-consuming than either Catherine or Derek would have allowed for. Derek would not have been good at forswearing the temptation to make further corrections and improvements to the text that had already been signed off. Furthermore, the typesetting computer had an impressive array of fonts in various languages but it did not at that time have a satisfactory program for hyphenation, and so we have the uneven spacing we see in the final work. And not a single hyphenated line ending.
- Derek’s personal presence and slightly eccentric manner, was wonderful. Two memories that have stayed with me, rather deviate from his fondness for philosophical innovation and thought experiments. About matters of taste he was surprisingly conservative. Perhaps he changed, but at that time he insisted that the only thing he would eat at breakfast was toast with marmalade. He had some years earlier realised and decided that the taste and the meal was just right and resolved always to stick to that policy. Similarly, he had decided that Venice in October and St Petersburg (it must then have been Leningrad) in late January or early February, was just perfect for a holiday and for some years those were the holidays he took. One year he was insistent that my wife and I should join him in Leningrad. He was not then married and he liked having companions on these holidays, but since the main attraction of Leningrad for him was taking photographs of the frozen river and the spectacular buildings in their snowy setting, I wonder whether his companions began to stamp their feet and push for more time at the Hermitage. We had very young children and this was before the days of Ryanair so we decided not to go. It would have been ….
- My boss at OUP at that time, a scientist, used to tease me about the importance of Parfit’s book. He was amused and bemused that I thought it was so vital that the book should be published by us. The sales after all were good, but by no means spectacular. It might be a much better book than most philosophy books, but how come, if it were so important, the sales were not spectacular, as for example the sales for Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene, which the Press had published a few years earlier? But I was always unrepentant and confident that the book would have a lasting impact. We cannot be sure that Parfit will still be widely read 100 years from now, but he was an impressive teacher and a powerful thinker. Along with JL Austin’s How to Do Things with Words, HLA Hart’s The Concept of Law, Reasons and Persons is one of the best books to come from the Oxford school of philosophy in the twentieth century. It would have been published any way, but I am glad to have helped it on its way.
COMMENT: For the full text, see Adam Hodgkin: Derek Parfit, typesetting and marmalade.
"Hofstadter (Douglas) - Godel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid - A Metaphorical Fugue on Minds and Machines in the Spirit of Lewis Carroll"
Source: Hofstadter - Godel, Esher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid - A Metaphorical Fugue on Minds and Machines in the Spirit of Lewis Carroll
COMMENT: (Soon to be) annotated printout of the Contents analysis filed in "Various - Papers on Desktop".
"Kingma (Elselijn) - Lady Parts: The Metaphysics of Pregnancy"
Source: Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplements, Volume 82 (Metaphysics) - July 2018, pp. 165-187
- What is the metaphysical relationship between the fetus / embryo and the pregnant organism? In this paper I apply a substance metaphysics view developed by "Smith (Barry) & Brogaard (Berit) - Sixteen Days" to argue, on the basis of topological connectedness, that Foetuses / embryos are Lady-Parts: part of the maternal organism up until birth.
- This leaves two options.
- Either mammalian organisms begin at birth, or
- we revise our conception of organisms such that mammalian organisms can be part of other mammals.
- The first option has some advantages: it is numerically neat; aligns with an intuitive picture of organisms as physically distinct individuals; and ties ‘coming into existence’ to a suitably recognisable and important event: birth. But it denies that the fetus survives birth, or that human organisms existed prior to their birth.
- The second option allows us to recognise that human organisms exist prior to and survive their birth, but at a cost: it leaves the question of when an organism comes into existence unanswered, and demands potentially far-reaching conceptual revision across a range of domains.
→ Terminology (foster and gravida)
- Smith and Brogaard on the metaphysics of organisms
→ 1.1 Substance formation and start of the organism
→ 1.2 The tenant–niche claim
→ 1.3 Testing the ‘tenant–niche’ claim: boundaries
→ 1.4 Interim Conclusion: the part–whole claim
- Metaphysics of Organisms: Beginning at Birth
→ 2.1 Attractions
- Revised Metaphysics: Organisms as Persisting Organism-Parts
→ 3.1 Revising Smith and Brogaard’s account
→ 3.2 Counting Problems
→ 3.3 Distinguishing organs and fosters
→ 3.4 When do fosters begin?
- "Anscombe (G.E.M.) - Were You a Zygote?", Anscombe
- "Haber (Matt) - Colonies Are Individuals: Revisiting the Superorganism Revival", Haber
- "Harris (John) - Clones, Genes and Immortality: Ethics and Genetics", Harris
- "Kingma (Elselijn) - Nine months", Kingma
- "Kingma (Elselijn) - Were You Part of Your Mother?", Kingma
- "Koslicki (Kathrin) - Substance, Independence and Unity", Koslicki
- "McMahan (Jeff) - The Ethics of Killing: Problems at the Margins of Life", McMahan
- "Oderberg (David) - The Metaphysical Status of the Embryo: Some Arguments Revisited", Oderberg
- "Olson (Eric) - The Human Animal - Personal Identity Without Psychology", Olson
- "Olson (Eric) - What are We? A Study of Personal Ontology", Olson
- "Smith (Barry) & Brogaard (Berit) - Sixteen Days", Smith & Brogaard
- "Smith (Barry) & Varzi (Achille) - Fiat and Bona Fide Boundaries", Smith & Varzi
- "Smith (Barry) & Varzi (Achille) - The Niche", Smith & Varzi
- "Toner (Patrick) - Independence accounts of substance and substantial parts", Toner
- "Shoemaker (Sydney) - Time Without Change", Wiggins
- "Wilson (Robert A.) & Barker (Matthew) - The Biological Notion of Individual", Wilson & Barker
COMMENT: Annotated hard copy filed in "Various - Papers on Desktop".
"Kuhn (Steven) - Prisoner’s Dilemma"
Source: Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy
- Tanya and Cinque have been arrested for robbing the Hibernia Savings Bank and placed in separate isolation cells. Both care much more about their personal freedom than about the welfare of their accomplice. A clever prosecutor makes the following offer to each: “You may choose to confess or remain silent. If you confess and your accomplice remains silent I will drop all charges against you and use your testimony to ensure that your accomplice does serious time. Likewise, if your accomplice confesses while you remain silent, they will go free while you do the time. If you both confess I get two convictions, but I'll see to it that you both get early parole. If you both remain silent, I'll have to settle for token sentences on firearms possession charges. If you wish to confess, you must leave a note with the jailer before my return tomorrow morning.”
- The “dilemma” faced by the prisoners here is that, whatever the other does, each is better off confessing than remaining silent. But the outcome obtained when both confess is worse for each than the outcome they would have obtained had both remained silent. A common view is that the puzzle illustrates a conflict between individual and group rationality. A group whose members pursue rational self-interest may all end up worse off than a group whose members act contrary to rational self-interest. More generally, if the payoffs are not assumed to represent self-interest, a group whose members rationally pursue any goals may all meet less success than if they had not rationally pursued their goals individually. A closely related view is that the prisoner's dilemma game and its multi-player generalizations model familiar situations in which it is difficult to get rational, selfish agents to cooperate for their common good. Much of the contemporary literature has focused on identifying conditions under which players would or should make the “cooperative” move corresponding to remaining silent. A slightly different interpretation takes the game to represent a choice between selfish behavior and socially desirable altruism. The move corresponding to confession benefits the actor, no matter what the other does, while the move corresponding to silence benefits the other player no matter what that other player does. Benefiting oneself is not always wrong, of course, and benefiting others at the expense of oneself is not always morally required, but in the prisoner's dilemma game both players prefer the outcome with the altruistic moves to that with the selfish moves. This observation has led David Gauthier and others to take the prisoner's dilemma to say something important about the nature of morality.
- Here is another story. Bill has a blue cap and would prefer a red one, while Rose has a red cap and would prefer a blue one. Both prefer two caps to any one and either of the caps to no cap at all. They are each given a choice between keeping the cap they have or giving it to the other. This “exchange game” has the same structure as the story about the prisoners. Whether Rose keeps her cap or gives to Bill, Bill is better off keeping his and she is better off if he gives it to her. Whether Bill keeps his cap or gives it to Rose, Rose is better off keeping hers and he is better off if she gives it to him. But both are better off if they exchange caps than if they both keep what they have. The new story suggests that the prisoner's dilemma also occupies a place at the heart of our economic system. It would seem that any market designed to facilitate mutually beneficial exchanges will need to overcome the dilemma or avoid it.
- Puzzles with the structure of the prisoner's dilemma were discussed by Merrill Flood and Melvin Dresher in 1950, as part of the Rand Corporation's investigations into game theory (which Rand pursued because of possible applications to global nuclear strategy). The title “prisoner's dilemma” and the version with prison sentences as payoffs are due to Albert Tucker, who wanted to make Flood and Dresher's ideas more accessible to an audience of Stanford psychologists. More recently, it has been suggested (Peterson, p1) that Tucker may have been discussing the work of his famous graduate student John Nash, and Nash 1950 (p. 291) does indeed contain a game with the structure of the prisoner's dilemma as the second in a series of six examples illustrating his technical ideas. Although Flood and Dresher (and Nash) didn't themselves rush to publicize their ideas in external journal articles, the puzzle has since attracted widespread and increasing attention in a variety of disciplines. Donninger reports that “more than a thousand articles” about it were published in the sixties and seventies. A Google Scholar search for “prisoner's dilemma” in 2018 returns 49,600 results.
- The sections below provide a variety of more precise characterizations of the prisoner's dilemma, beginning with the narrowest, and survey some connections with similar games and some applications in philosophy and elsewhere. Particular attention is paid to iterated and evolutionary versions of the game. In the former, the prisoner's dilemma game is played repeatedly, opening the possibility that a player can use its current move to reward or punish the other's play in previous moves in order to induce cooperative play in the future. In the latter, members of a population play one another repeatedly in prisoner's dilemma games and those who get higher payoffs “reproduce” more rapidly than those who get lower payoffs. ‘Prisoner's dilemma’ is abbreviated as ‘PD’.
- Symmetric 2×2 PD With Ordinal Payoffs
- Cardinal Payoffs and Impure PDs
- Multiple Moves and the Optional PD
- Multiple Players, Tragedies of the Commons, Voting and Public Goods
- Single Person Interpretations
- The PD with Replicas and Causal Decision Theory
- The Stag Hunt and the PD
- Asynchronous Moves and Trust Games
- Finite Iteration
- The Centipede and the Finite IPD
- Infinite Iteration
- Indefinite Iteration
→ Axelrod and Tit for Tat
- Iteration With Error
→ Evolution and the Optional PD
- Spatial PDs
- PDs and Social Networks
- Zero-Determinant Strategies
- Group Selection and the Haystack PD
"Lebens (Samuel) & Goldschmidt (Tyron) - The Promise of a New Past"
Source: Philosophers' Imprint, Vol. 17, No. 18, August 2017, pp. 1-25
- If God found this paper offensive, would it now be too late for him to make it such that it was never written? Can God change the past? If he could, would he?
- Our treatment of these questions is based upon two Jewish traditions.
- On some ways of working them out, God will one day change the past by eliminating evil from it. This makes for a new kind of response to the problem of evil: the Divine Proofreader Theory.
- On other ways of working the traditions out, the past evil isn’t eliminated, but personal responsibility for certain sins is removed from the sinner. This makes for a new theory of atonement: the Agent Substitution Theory.
- In §1, we outline the two traditions.
- UF (Ultimate Forgiveness): God will one day erase from history the sins of the penitent, making it such that they never occurred.
- NME (No More Evil): God will remove absolutely all traces of evil from the past — moral evil and natural evil. It will one day be the case that nothing bad will ever have happened.
- In §§2–5, we explore theories of time in order to accommodate the traditions.
- In §2, we explore the notion of hypertime.
- In §3, we present Hud Hudson’s view. He allows God to change the past but, on his view, there is a sort of evil that God can’t change — the evils of the hyper-past. We move beyond this limitation by appealing to an infinite hierarchy of timelines.
- However, in §4, we set out a more streamlined metaphysics of a “moving spotlight” theory of time.
- This allows us, in §5, to explain, without the metaphysics of hypertime, how God could change the past, leaving no trace of evil whatsoever.
- In §6, we respond to a number of objections.
- In §7, we draw a distinction that helps us address why God might want to change the past.
- In §8 we use that distinction to frame the Agent Substitution Theory.
- In §9 we present the Divine Proofreader Theory. Our metaphysics of time makes the case that God can change the past, while our Divine Proofreader and Agent Substitution Theories explain why God might want to.
- In §10, we respond to some objections.
- Two Views
- Relegating Evil to the Hyper-Past
→ 3.1 Heavenly Super Tasks
- The Moving Spotlight and Hyper-Presentism
- Scene Changes in the Dark
- Objections to the Metaphysics
→ Objection 1
→ Objection 2
→ Objection 3
- Deletion and Amputation
- The Agent Substitution Theory of Atonement
- The Divine Proofreader
- Objections and Replies
→ Objection 1
→ Objection 2
→ Objection 3
- "Belot (Gordon) - Dust, Time and Symmetry", Belot
- "Dummett (Michael) - Bringing About the Past", Dummett
- Hud Hudson, The Fall and Hypertime
- "Markosian (Ned) - How Fast Does Time Pass?", Markosian
- "Plantinga (Alvin) - The Nature of Necessity", Plantinga
- "Skow (Bradford) - Objective Becoming", Skow
- "Smart (J.C.C.) - The River of Time", Smart
- "Van Inwagen (Peter) - Material Beings", van Inwagen
- "Williams (Donald C.) - The Myth of Passage", Williams
- "Williamson (Timothy) - Existence and Contingency", Williamson
- "Zimmerman (Dean) - The Privileged Present: Defending an 'A-Theory' of Time", Zimmerman
COMMENT: The paper can be obtained from: Lebens+Goldschmidt: The Promise of a New Past.
In-Page Footnotes ("Lebens (Samuel) & Goldschmidt (Tyron) - The Promise of a New Past")
- Taken from the Introduction and §1.
- I’ve ignored the majority of these references – mostly Rabbinic – that I will never seek to possess.
- For those that I may buy in the future I’ve linked to the author’s works I do possess.
"Lewis (David) - Prisoners' Dilemma is a Newcomb Problem"
Source: Lewis - Philosophical Papers Volume II, Part 7: Dependence and Decision, Chapter 26
- Several authors have observed that Prisoners' Dilemma and Newcomb's Problem are related – for instance, in that both involve controversial appeals to dominance.
- But to call them "related" is an under- statement. Considered as puzzles about rationality, or disagreements between two conceptions thereof, they are one and the same problem.
- Prisoners' Dilemma is a Newcomb Problem – or rather, two Newcomb Problems side by side, one per prisoner. Only the inessential trappings are different. Let us make them the same.
- Some have fended off the lessons of Newcomb's Problem by saying: "Let us not have, or let us not rely on, any intuitions about what is rational in goofball cases so unlike the decision problems of real life."
- But Prisoners' Dilemmas are deplorably common in real life. They are the most down-to-earth versions of Newcomb's Problem now available.
"MacFarquhar (Larissa) - How to be Good"
Source: The New Yorker, 29th August 2011
- You are in a terrible accident. Your body is fatally injured, as are the brains of your two identical-triplet brothers. Your brain is divided into two halves, and into each brother’s body one half is successfully transplanted. After the surgery, each of the two resulting people believes himself to be you, seems to remember living your life, and has your character. (This is not as unlikely as it sounds: already, living brains have been surgically divided, resulting in two separate streams of consciousness.) What has happened? Have you died, or have you survived? And if you have survived who are you? Are you one of these people? Both? Or neither? What if one of the transplants fails, and only one person with half your brain survives? That seems quite diﬀerent — but the death of one person could hardly make a diﬀerence to the identity of another.
- The philosopher Derek Part believes that neither of the people is you, but that this doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter that you have ceased to exist, because what has happened to you is quite unlike ordinary death: in your relationship to the two new people there is everything that matters in ordinary survival — a continuity of memories and dispositions that will decay and change as they usually do. Most of us care about our future because it is ours — but this most fundamental human instinct is based on a mistake, Part believes. Personal identity is not what matters.
"MacIntosh (J.J.) - Reincarnation and Relativized Identity"
Source: Religious Studies, Vol. 25, No. 2 (Jun., 1989), pp. 153-165
- There are five main claims that may be made about life after death:
- We are reincarnated in the self-same body we had in life.
- We are reincarnated in another body. (For my purposes in this paper it is a matter of indifference whether this is thought of as reincarnation in another world, or as reincarnation in this world: the arguments I shall be examining apply equally to either case. Throughout the paper the term 'reincarnation' used without qualification should be taken to mean 'reincarnation in a different body'.)
- We are revived, or continue to live (or to have conscious existence) in a disembodied form.
- We are not exactly reincarnated, because this life is a kind of dream which we are having, and a future life, whether a bodily life or not, will involve waking up (as it were) from this dream or dream analogue.
- There is no life after death.
- It is not difficult to find subscribers, present and past, to each view. Picking more or less at random, for
- we have, for example, St Paul (on some readings, at least), St Thomas, Peter Geach, and a number of other modern writers;
- we have Pythagoras, Plato sometimes, John Hick, and apparently1 a very large number of Eastern thinkers;
- we have Plato in another mood (or perhaps Socrates), Descartes, and - at least for the logical possibility - Peter Strawson;
- we have, primarily, Kant2;
- we have Lucretius, Spinoza, Voltaire, and a wide variety of contemporary thinkers: perhaps most practising philosophers in the western tradition.
- Identity requires a continuant, and there are a number of well-known arguments in the literature which show that the incorporeal soul is not acceptable in this role.
- Thus option (c) above is not a live option.
- Given that, I shall argue that option (b) is also untenable.
- Writers who eschew (c), such as John Hick, Terence Penelhum, Langtry, and an earlier version of myself, cannot consistently opt for (b), even as a logical possibility.
- If (c) is untenable, it will follow that (b) is as well3.
- We will thus be left with the orthodoxy of (a), the implausibility4 of (d), or the truth (as I believe) of (e).
- Can we tell a coherent, non-question-begging story in which reincarnation in a different body occurs?
- At first glance it seems clearly possible.
- Do a little digging, add some elementary identity theory, and it seems impossible.
- Dig a little more, relativize identity, and we see that retaining the impossibility seems to require an assumption - that human beings have essential properties - that not all philosophers are prepared to make.
- Finally, we shall see that this seeming requirement is indeed merely a semblance, and that relativizing identity does not, in fact, save reincarnation as a logical possibility.
COMMENT: See "Noonan (Harold) - The Possibility of Reincarnation" for a reply.
In-Page Footnotes ("MacIntosh (J.J.) - Reincarnation and Relativized Identity")
- I say 'apparently', for in his interesting article "Perrett (Roy W.) - Rebirth" (Religious Studies XXIII (1987), 41-57) Roy W. Perrett argues persuasively that in Indian religions the type of rebirth that is invoked does not (and could not) involve personal identity.
Footnote 3: Footnote 4:
- Kant offers this possibility in the first Critique (A778=B806 – A780=B808).
- He emphasizes that it is merely a possibility, one which cannot be known to be true : but it seems likely that it represents his belief about the matter.
- See "MacIntosh (J.J.) - The Impossibility of Kantian Immortality", 1976.
- In 'The Impossibility of Kantian Immortality', op. cit., I have argued that Kant's version of this story is not only implausible but impossible, but my argument there does not touch the general case.
- (Indeed, I do not think that there is a sound argument available that defeats the general case.)
"Marshall (Richard) & Woollard (Fiona) - Fiona Woollard: On Doing and Allowing Harm"
Source: Marshall (Richard) - Philosophy at 3:AM
- Introductory Quotations
- ‘Intuitively, there are morally relevant distinctions between different ways of being related to harm. One of these is the act/omission distinction: did the harm happen because I did something or because I didn’t do something? I think the act/omission distinction is different from, but related to, another distinction, the doing/allowing distinction: did I do harm or merely allow it to happen? On my view, you can sometimes allow harm through an action – for example, if you cancel a direct debit to charity you *do* something, but because all you do is to prevent money that belongs to you from aiding, you merely allow the harm’.
- ‘I’m inclined to think that you wouldn’t be required to break your *own* legs to save the child. This is partly because it would be very difficult to break your own legs or to kill yourself. I think it makes a difference whether the cost would be upfront or a side effect of saving the child. This connects to my claims about the need for protection against normative imposition in order for our bodies and other resources to genuinely belong to us’.
- ‘It’s obvious that I have a moral reason to run a marathon raising money for a life-saving charity. The potential benefits certainly speak in favour of running. And it might be that there are no strong countervailing considerations. Sure, the training would be hard and it would take up a lot of time, but it would on balance make me healthier, happier and more efficient. But no one thinks they get to require me to justify my failure to run a marathon. I don’t need to feel guilt and no one gets to blame me.’
- Fiona Woollard
- Has research interests in normative ethics, applied ethics, epistemically transformative experiences and the philosophy of sex and pregnancy.
- She has published on topics including the distinction between doing and allowing harm, climate change and the non-identity problem, the moral significance of numbers, pornography and the norm of monogamy.
- Here she discusses
- the distinction between acts and omissions and doing and allowing,
- wicked uncles,
- Frances Kamm’s argument for the moral relevance of the distinction between doing and allowing,
- Warren Quinn’s arguments for the distinction,
- substantial facts and presuppositions,
- Singer’s pond case,
- Unger and Singer on the Donation case and why it links to the pond case,
- whether her work helps decide which normative theory we adopt,
- Parfit’s non-identity argument and the hired gun, and
- whether all moral reasons give rise to moral obligations.
COMMENT: For the full Interview, see 3am: Fiona Woollard.
"Matthews (Dylan) - The whole philosophy community is mourning Derek Parfit - Here's why he mattered"
Source: Vox, 3rd January 2017
- Derek Parfit, who died at age 74 on Sunday evening, was not the most famous philosopher in the world. But he was among the most brilliant, and his papers and books have had a profound, incalculably vast impact on the study of moral philosophy over the past half century.
- His work did not dwell on topics of merely academic interest. He wrote about big topics that trouble everyone, philosopher and layperson alike: Who am I? What makes me “me”? What separates me from other people? How should I weigh my desires against those of others? What do I owe to my children, and to the future in general? What does it mean for an action to be right or wrong, and how could we know?
- Parfit was not a prolific author; he tended to write his books over the course of decades, refining them repeatedly after discussions with colleagues and students. In the end, he wrote only two: 1984’s Reasons and Persons, and 2011’s On What Matters, a two-volume, 1,440 page tome whose third volume is still yet to be published. But both are classics, the latter generating such furious debate that a volume of essays discussing it was released two years before the book itself even came out (most of the key arguments had circulated in draft form for some time).
- For an excellent overview of Parfit’s life and the major themes of his work, I highly recommend Larissa MacFarquhar’s beautiful and incisive New Yorker profile1, published as On What Matters finally hit shelves. But perhaps the best way to experience Parfit’s writing, and understand why both his ideas and his method of articulating them proved so influential, is to dig into a few of his most important and fascinating arguments.
COMMENT: For the full text, see Vox: Derek Parfit - Here's why he mattered.
In-Page Footnotes ("Matthews (Dylan) - The whole philosophy community is mourning Derek Parfit - Here's why he mattered")
Footnote 1: See "MacFarquhar (Larissa) - How to be Good".
"McMahan (Jeff) - Obituary of Derek Parfit"
Source: Academia.edu: "A version of this obituary will be published in Philosophy Now"
- Derek Parfit, who died unexpectedly on the second day of the new year, was one of the most important philosophers of the past half century and, in the view of many, the single best moral philosopher in more than a century.
- His imaginative, innovative, but also meticulously rigorous arguments have transformed the ways in which philosophers, economists, political and legal theorists and others think about many moral issues. He was also an endearingly eccentric and even saintly person.
COMMENT: For the full text, see McMahan - Obituary of Derek Parfit.
"Mellor (D.H.) - Micro-composition"
Source: Birkbeck Philosophy Society, 15 Jan 2008
- Entities of many kinds, not just material things, have been credited with parts. Armstrong , for example, has taken propositions and properties to be parts of their conjunctions, sets to be parts of sets that include them, and geographical regions and events to be parts of regions and events that contain them. The justification for bringing all these diverse relations under a single ‘part–whole’ concept is that they share all or most of the formal features articulated in mereology .
- But the concept has also prompted an ontological thesis that has been expressed in various ways: that wholes are ‘no ontological addition’ to their parts ; that to list both a whole and its parts is ‘double counting’; and that there is ‘no more’ to a whole than its parts: for example, that there is no more to a conjunction than the conjuncts that are its parts, and whose truth or falsity determines whether it is true or false.
- For brevity, I shall express the thesis in the last of these ways, as the claim that entities with parts are ‘nothing but’ those parts.
- Material things aren’t the only kind of entities that have been credited with parts. David Armstrong (1978: 36), for example, has taken propositions and properties to be parts of their conjunctions, sets to be parts of sets that include them, and events and geographical regions to be parts of events and regions that contain them. The justification for bringing all these diverse relations under a single ‘part–whole’ concept is that they share all or most of the formal features articulated in mereology (Simons 1987). But the concept has also been credited with ontological implications, which may be expressed by saying that wholes are no ontological addition to their parts (by which I mean their proper parts, i.e. parts that aren’t identical to what they’re parts of) or that to list wholes and their parts is double counting, or that there’s no more to a whole than its parts: for example, that there’s no more to a conjunction (i.e. to its truth conditions) than the conjuncts that are its parts and whose truth or falsity determines whether it’s true or false. For brevity, I’ll express this rather vague thesis in the last of these ways, as the claim that entities with parts are nothing but those parts.
- The first thing to be said about this nothing-but thesis is that, to be worth discussing, it mustn’t just mean that wholes are the mereological sums of their parts: for since that’s just what the term ‘sums’ means in mereology, that’s a tautology. Just what a non-trivial reading of the nothing-but thesis amounts to is a good question, whose answer may well vary from case to case. Here, however, I’m only concerned with things, by which I’ll mean material things, including us (or at least our bodies): if a material thing has parts, how must it be related to them for a non-trivial nothing-but thesis to be true of it, and are such things in fact so related? And to avoid contentious questions about whether things have temporal parts, and to allow their non-temporal parts to change over time, I’ll only consider a thing’s relations to the spatial parts it has at any one time, a temporal proviso that from now on I’ll mostly take as read.
- I also have an earlier version delivered at the Birkbeck Philosophy Society, 15 Jan 2008.
- The published version makes no mention of this edition, but the text is very similar.
In-Page Footnotes ("Mellor (D.H.) - Micro-composition")
- Taken from PhilPapers / PhilPeople.
- This was taken from the version delivered to the Birkbeck Philosophy Society on 15 Jan 2008. I couldn’t be bothered to replace it when I acquired the published paper. The two texts are very similar.
"Munthe (Christian) - Remembering Derek Parfit"
Source: Philosophical Comment, 5th January 2017
- Unexpectedly, Derek Parfit died on new year's day 2017, an event sending shock-waves throughout the global philosophy community, as he was no more than 74 years old. For you who don't know who he was, it can be summed up in terms of the most important moral philosopher of the 20th and, so far, the 21th century. With his book Reasons and Persons (Oxford UP, 1984), he single-handedly redrew the intellectual maps of normative ethics, philosophy of action and rationality, value theory and existential philosophy, partly by making intriguing revelations of how they interconnect, and demonstrating puzzles and challenges coming out of that, which a lion's share of the philosophy world is still grappling with in one way or the other. He followed that up with the monumental On What Matters, of which two volumes have been published and a third is rumoured to be on its way later this year. In 2014 Parfit was awarded the Rolf Schock Prize in Logic and Philosophy, which I celebrated with this little parody piece of his distinctive writing style.
- There's already a fair portion of good in memoriam pieces out there, featuring personal reminiscence, summaries of his life and works, as well as links to videos of his lectures. A nice listing can be found on Harvard University's (one of the top institutions to which Parfit was linked) memorial webpage.
- I never had the pleasure of meeting Derek Parfit in person (and many bear witness of that this would indeed have been a pleasure), but his philosophical work has had a large impact on my own philosophical explorations, for what they're worth. When I started to attend the "higher seminar" in practical philosophy at Stockholm University in 1985, Reasons and Persons was on the reading list for a full term, and the seniors took turns introducing the different parts, sucking me and the other "youngsters" into sophisticated philosophical reasoning and argument on a level way above what we had ever experienced before. I choose, as a consequence, to write my B.A. thesis on a few pages of part 2 of the book, where Parfit defends what he calls the "Critical present aim theory" of practical reason or rational action, according to which certain individual desires may be irrational in themselves due to their very content. I was critical of Parfit's way of supporting "CP", as I found it putting the cart before the horse by invoking what to me looked like a fundamental moral conviction (that it's not justified to prefer suffering just because it occurs on certain weekdays) as its basis, which would be problematic in a question begging manner given Parfit's aim of using CP to support the idea of objective moral truths. But this was more importantly a formative experience of how well made philosophy will always be open to questioning if only you work hard enough on understanding its details – gaps for criticism are only absent when the work is marked by obscurity and ambiguity, and therefore you should never fear obvious openings for disagreement in your own work, they are unavoidable. Later, I wrote my Ph.D. thesis on the morality of abortion (in Swedish), and there both the discussion of personal identity over time, and (more importantly) the moral importance of future people came to provide very important input. These aspects of his work then continued to have an impact of my later work in bioethics, e.g., on embryo research, reproductive ethics and gene technology. Later, Parfit's musings over problems of collective action, value aggregation and the pragmatics of applying ethical theories in practice (part 1 of Reasons and Persons) added important context and basis for my contributions to public health ethics and the ethics of risk and precaution.
- Now, it should be underlined, that Parfit's influence has never been that of a prophet – someone's whose teachings one accepts and then spends one's life as a follower of, working out the details with the assumption that the master's words must never be doubted. Parfit's strength was never the thesis, but the argument and its analysis – often leading to initially apparently clear positions falling apart into zillion variants, each of which in need of their own little set of arguments. When he pursued a substantive thesis, I often disagreed with him, albeit acknowledging much of the analytical landscape created to reach it. Parfit was a philosopher who ingeniously created intellectual context and complication for others to freely move about within. In that way, much of whatever I have ever managed to contribute to my own little corners of the vast world of philosophy wouldn't have been there for the picking, had it not been for the context of problematisation and complexity provided through Parfit's prior achievements. This, I'm convinced, is true of a great many other currently active philosophers as well. And I believe that this will continue to be the case for a fair amount of time ahead.
COMMENT: For the full text, see Philosophical Comment: Remembering Derek Parfit.
"Nielsen (Lasse) - Reconstructing Thought Experiments in Personal Identity"
Source: Philosophia: Czech and Slovak Journal of Humanities, 2018
- Thought experiments are abundant in the topic of personal identity theory as well as in metaphysics in general. While many of them serve to illustrate and guide us through complicated theories and explain difficult to grasp terms, others are irrelevant and muddle the very discussion they aim to clarify.
- By building upon the work of John D. Norton and Kathleen Wilkes, this paper sets out to establish a formula for a good thought experiment.
- The paper outlines Norton’s theory that all thought experiments can be reconstructed into arguments. His work in this subject refers mainly to thought experiments in science, but the aim of this paper will be to apply his theory of reconstruction to thought experiments in metaphysics.
- Along with Norton, the work of Kathleen V. Wilkes and her critique of fission thought experiments will likewise be taken into consideration.
- The paper concludes that for a thought experiment to be successful it must make sense as an argument, after the impossibilities have been eliminated.
"Noonan (Harold) - Noonan - Bibliography"
Source: Nottingham University Website
Harold Noonan's "complete works", as obtained from Harold Noonan: University of Nottingham.
"Noonan (Harold) - The Possibility of Reincarnation"
Source: Religious Studies, Vol. 26, No. 4 (Dec., 1990), pp. 483-491
- Man has always hoped to survive his bodily death, and it is a central tenet of many religions that such survival is a reality. It has been supposed by many that one form such survival might take is reincarnation in another body. Subscribers to this view include Pythagoras, Plato sometimes, and a large number of Eastern thinkers. Other thinkers have, of course, disputed that reincarnation is a fact, and some have even denied that it is a possibility. But seldom has it been claimed by its opponents that reincarnation is a logical impossibility.
- This, however, is the central contention of a recent article - "MacIntosh (J.J.) - Reincarnation and Relativized Identity". Reincarnation, Macintosh maintains, is a logical impossibility because '[g]iven only two very simple necessary truths about identity, plus elementary first-order modal logic1, we can show that reincarnation is impossible'. Anyone who denies this 'must reject one of the following:
- The particular logical truth with which, Macintosh claims, the possibility of reincarnation is in conflict is the principle of the necessity of identity, that if a = b then necessarily, a = b. Proofs of this principle are familiar to philosophers and logicians and Macintosh gives one in his article. I shall not be disputing the necessity of identity in what follows.
- However, I shall be disputing Macintosh's claim that the necessity of identity rules out the possibility of reincarnation. As we shall see, there are broadly two lines of thought to follow for one who wishes to maintain, consistently with the necessity of identity, the possibility of reincarnation:
- One line is to develop a theory of personal identity in terms of psychological continuity5 and/or connectedness which takes a 'best candidate6' form and to reject a principle I shall refer to as 'the Only x and y7 principle'.
- The other line is to accept the Only x and y8 principle, but still to maintain that psychological continuity9 provides a sufficient ground for identity. A proponent of this second line must endorse what I shall refer to as 'the multiple occupancy view' of certain situations described in the philosophical literature on personal identity.
- Both of these lines of thought have been well-developed in the philosophical literature on personal identity and each has eminent defenders.
- The first line of thought is defended by10, for example, Sydney Shoemaker, Derek Parfit and Robert Nozick, whilst
- The second is defended by11 David Lewis and John Perry.
- Each line has certain implausibilities attaching to it, but neither line requires its proponents to reject the necessity of identity. Macintosh's argument is thus mistaken.
COMMENT: Reply to "MacIntosh (J.J.) - Reincarnation and Relativized Identity".
In-Page Footnotes ("Noonan (Harold) - The Possibility of Reincarnation")
Footnote 10: CitationsFootnote 11: Citations
"Noonan (Harold) - Vague Identity Yet Again"
Source: Analysis, Vol. 50, No. 3 (Jun., 1990), pp. 157-162
- Gareth Evans’s article on vague identity has been the subject of many criticisms. Despite these criticisms, however, I believe that fundamentally Evans's attack on the notion of indefinite identity is sound.
- In what follows I first present what seems to me the most powerful version of Evans's argument and then respond to the recent criticisms of Over, Garrett and Johnsen.
- In doing so I attempt to make it clear that there is, in essence, only one reply to Evans available to the defender of indefinite identity, and that a most uninviting one, namely the defence of indefinite identity as a kind of relative identity1 (which I call 'mere indistinguishability in non-delta properties') and the rejection of a principle I shall refer to as 'the principle of the Diversity of the Definitely Dissimilar'.
"O'Grady (Jane) - Derek Parfit obituary"
Source: The Guardian, 12th January 2017
- Your body is destroyed, but only after it has been scanned and the blueprint beamed to Mars, where an organic replica of you is created. Is that replica you? It is physically and psychologically indistinguishable from what you were – yet suppose several such replicas are made?
- Invoking this and other ingenious thought experiments, the philosopher Derek Parfit, who has died aged 74, transformed the centuries-old question of personal identity – what makes some future person me? – by subtly sabotaging and resetting it. He also reframed the agenda in moral philosophy, helped to replace the ideal of equality with the principle of prioritising the worst-off, and established a new philosophical discipline, population ethics.
- He wrote only two books, Reasons and Persons (1984) and the hefty On What Matters (2011), but their originality, brilliance and provocativeness not only inspired philosophers all over the world, but also influenced discussion of practical and political strategies in tackling poverty, inequality, welfare economics, ageing and global warming. A senior research fellow of All Souls College, Oxford (1984-2010), Parfit was a visiting professor at Harvard, Rutgers and New York University, and elected a fellow of the British Academy (1986). In 2014 he received philosophy’s equivalent of a Nobel prize, the Rolf Schock prize in logic and philosophy.
- He was born in Chengdu, western China, where his parents, Jessie (nee Browne) and Norman Parfit practised preventive medicine in Christian missionary hospitals. The family moved to Oxford a year after Derek’s birth. At the age of seven, he wanted to be a monk, and prayed fervently that his parents, who had by then lost their faith, should return to it.
- However, perturbed by the problem of evil, he lost his own faith at the age of eight, and turned to poetry-writing. He was educated at Eton, and won the top history scholarship of his year to read history at Balliol College, Oxford (1961-64). After graduating, he held a Harkness fellowship for two years at Columbia and Harvard universities, then, in 1967, gained a prize fellowship to All Souls, where he changed from history to philosophy. Within a year of taking up the subject, and without even a degree, let alone a doctorate, in it, he had acquired an international reputation, and his first paper (Philosophical Review, 1971) became famous instantly.
- In it, as in Reasons and Persons, Parfit proposed a solution to the problem of personal identity by disentangling the question “What makes it true that some person in the future will be me?” from “What makes it rational for me to care in an egoistic way about some future individual?” Before him, philosophers had thought that the answer to the second question depended on the answer to the first. But, using thought experiments involving brain transplantation, Parfit maintained that “all-or-nothing” identity is not the point. Just as a nation continues to exist by virtue of certain relations among people, institutions and territory, so a person’s continuing to exist is just a matter of certain relations among mental states over time. There is no “deep further fact”, no time-spanning, sealed-in entity. So if it is rational for me to care not only about myself-right-now but also varyingly attenuated degrees of psychological continuity with it, then the same reasoning compels me to extend my arena of caring.
- By thinning out the connection between my present and future selves, Parfit hoped to reciprocally fatten up the connection between me and (at least some) other people. Although treating personal identity as a separate issue, he nicely enmeshed it in ethics. He helped to dislodge the view – so troublesome for morality, but so entrenched in philosophy, economics and common sense – that the rational action is necessarily the one that best serves my self-interest. Self-interest is partial as regards persons (me), but impartial as regards time (it forces me to consider the long-term effects of present pleasures). But if, argued Parfit, I can have reason to take care of my future self (by not drinking copious whisky, say, even if to do so is my greatest immediate desire), then I can also have reason to take care of other people, even if I now feel strongly disinclined to.
- It can in fact be rational to do what is against my self-interest – to throw myself on the hand grenade if what I most want is to save my comrades’ lives. A “critical present-aim theory” – that, rationally, I should further my present aims if there are sufficient reasons to have such aims – is Parfit’s suggested rival to the self-interest view of individual rationality that has dominated western thinking since Socrates.
- The age-old self-interest theory, Parfit argued, is anyway problematic: if each person does what is best for themselves, often the outcome is worse for everyone than it would have been had they all acted altruistically. By the same sort of “moral mathematics”, it is clear that many “harmless torturers”, each of whom inflicts minute amounts of suffering, will jointly cause a lot. When we see ourselves as less separate, ethics becomes more impersonal.
- Perhaps, Parfit argued, we should ditch the intuition that morality is essentially concerned with how our individual acts harm or benefit particular individuals. If we squander energy, for instance, the people who suffer the effects of climate change will be different people from those who would have existed had we properly conserved it, since, thanks to our actions, quite other couplings and conceptions will have occurred. But their lives will be worse.
- Surely, then, we should be guided by a more impartial principle requiring us to do what will produce the most wellbeing. Unfortunately, though, given the maths, that argument would compel us to prefer a massive population whose lives were barely worth living to a tiny population where everyone was extremely well-off – the so-called repugnant conclusion that Parfit was trying to rebut until his death.
- In On What Matters, Parfit’s massive aim was to try to make systematic sense of three ethical approaches always assumed to be incompatible – Kant’s categorical imperative (deriving moral principles from universalisable impartial reasoning), TM Scanlon’s contractualism (basing them on informed general agreement), and rule consequentialism (focusing on how they achieve the best outcomes) – and combine them into “the triple theory”. Philosophers are divided as to how successful he was in either task, but a huge literature on the book anticipated its publication, and volume 2 contains objections by four eminent philosophers, with Parfit’s rejoinders. (Volume 3 is soon to be published, but volume 4 remains unfinished.)
- Since Darwin, it has been hard to fit values into our naturalistic account of the world. Hating the sceptical notion that morality is ultimately just based on what we desire, Parfit dexterously argued that if we accept that there are non-scientific truths about belief (when it is raining, I ought to believe that it’s raining), and about prudence (I should avoid having unnecessary pain), then that opens the possibility to there being moral truths, too. I have reason to give to starving people, just as I have reason to jump out of the path of a speeding car or to stop smoking, whatever my desires in either case. Parfit’s Kantian rule consequentialism asserted that “everyone ought to follow the principles whose universal acceptance would make things go best”.
- An obvious objection to his theories, Parfit admitted, is the psychological impossibility of viscerally feeling as selfless as they assert we are, or ought to be, which renders them effectively unbelievable. Another moral philosopher, his friend Bernard Williams, said that their plausibility relied on the external, third-person way in which they were presented. They chime with Buddhism, however. At one Tibetan monastery, monks intersperse chanting the usual sutras with intoning memorised passages from Reasons and Persons. Parfit himself also somehow seemed to live his theories, helped by perhaps having – as his wife, the philosopher Janet Radcliffe Richards, said – Asperger syndrome.
- He said that dying became increasingly unregrettable as his selves successively vanished. When his friend Larry Temkin, phoning from America, asked, “How is Janet?” there was a baffled silence before Parfit demanded, “Why do you ask that?” Once informed that friends normally inquire about one another’s nearest and dearest, he made sure to remember that from then on.
- But, despite his obsessive, unremitting industry, he would give exhaustive, invaluable commentaries on other philosophers’ work that were often far longer than the essay or book commented on. And he was financially generous, too, a member of the effective altruism movement, which enjoins everyone to give 10% of their income to charity. He was very emotional, prone to weeping when talking about global disasters or his dead sparring partner, Williams.
- Terrified of wasting time, even on choosing what to eat or wear, he always had identical types of meal and kept duplicate sets of clothes, and he more often ran than walked. He drew people to him as a bright light draws moths, said a friend, but found mere chit-chat perplexing, wanting only to talk about philosophy.
- Even in his one recreation, architectural photography, he was ruthlessly perfectionist. A highly specialised photograph shop, and, later, computers, enabled him to create meticulously modified, bespoke photos. Friends visiting St Petersburg and Venice would find fewer gas lamps, more telegraph poles and people, higher steeples and narrower squares than Parfit’s photos had led them to expect.
- He met Janet in 1982, and they married in 2010. She survives him, as does his sister Theodora. Another sister, Joanna, predeceased him.
- Derek Antony Parfit, philosopher, born 11 December 1942; died 1 January 2017
"Parfit (Derek) - Prudence, morality, and the prisoner's dilemma"
Source: Proceedings of the British Academy, vol. 65, (1979), pp. 539-564
COMMENT: For the full text, see Link.
"Roselli (Andrea) - How Long is Now? A New Perspective on the Specious Present"
Source: Disputatio, Vol. X, No. 49, November 2018
- What is the Specious Present? Which is its duration? And why, ultimately, do we need it to figure in our phenomenological account of temporal perception?
- In this paper, after introducing the role of the Specious Present in the main models that account for our phenomenological present, and after considering the deflationary objection by Dennett (that the debate relies on the fallacy of the Cartesian Theatre of Mind, the idea that it is meaningful to ask where and when an experience becomes conscious), I claim — thanks to a spatial analogy — that there could be a good criterion to distinguish between a present experience and a past experience, that there are good reasons to sustain the Specious Present (while snapshots are in no sense part of our phenomenological life), and that there could be a precise way to define the nature — and to measure the duration — of the Specious Present; as I will clarify, our capability and possibility to act and react are central in this perspective.
- If we accept this change of perspective, there is a definite sense in which the Specious Present is part of our temporal phenomenology.
"Ross (Don) - Consciousness, language, and the possibility of non-human personhood: Reflections on elephants"
Source: Forthcoming (as of 16 January 2019) in Journal of Consciousness Studies
- I investigate the extent to which there might be, now or in the future, non-human animals that partake in the kind of fully human-style consciousness (FHSC) that has been taken by many philosophers to be the basis of normative personhood.
- I first sketch a conceptual framework for considering the question, based on a range of philosophical literature on relationships between consciousness, language and personhood.
- I then review the standard basis for largely a priori skepticism about the possibility that any non-human animal could experience FHSC and be a person to any extent, and indicate empirically motivated grounds for rejecting such skepticism, at least with respect to a select group of hypersocial candidate species with communication systems we do not currently know are not languages: corvids, parrots, elephants, and toothed whales. Relevant facts about elephants are reviewed in some detail, as a mini case study.
- While it is suggested that elephants might partake in the sort of consciousness characteristic of personhood to some extent, grounds are given for expecting that this extent is sharply limited by comparison with normal humans. As these grounds are mainly aspects of elephants’ external niche, however, rather than known limitations in their inboard cognitive or representational capacities, the surprising conclusion emerges that elephants might acquire FHSC, and thereby become persons, if they can be brought into conversation with humans, a possibility opened by considerations canvassed in the paper.
"Rovelli (Carlo) - The Order of Time"
Source: Rovelli (Carlo) - The Order of Time
I’ve reproduced Chapter 13 in full as it’s a good summary of the book as a whole – though it’s not possible to understand the claims – or evaluate them – without reading the book (if then).
Chapter 13 (“The Sources of Time”) Full Text
- We started out with the image of time that is familiar to us; something that flows uniformly and equally throughout the universe, in the course of which all things happen. With the idea that there exists throughout the cosmos a present, a 'now', that constitutes reality. The past for everyone is fixed, is gone, having already happened. The future is open, yet to be determined. Reality flows from the past, through the present, towards the future — and the evolution of things between past and future is intrinsically asymmetrical. This, we thought, is the basic structure of the world.
- This familiar picture has fallen apart, has shown itself to be only an approximation of a much more complex reality.
- A present that is common throughout the whole universe does not exist (Chapter 31). Events are not ordered in pasts, presents and futures; they are only 'partially' ordered. There is a present that is near to us, but nothing that is 'present' in a far-off galaxy. The present is a localized rather than a global phenomenon.
- The difference between past and future does not exist in the elementary equations that govern events in the world (Chapter 22). It issues only from the fact that, in the past, the world found itself subject to a state that, with our blurred take on things, appears particular to us.
- Locally, time passes at different speeds according to where we are and at what speed we ourselves are moving. The closer we are to a mass (Chapter 13), or the faster we move (Chapter 34=1), the more time slows down: there is no single duration between two events; there are many possible ones.
- The rhythms at which time flows are determined by the gravitational field, a real entity with its own dynamic that is described in the equations of Einstein. If we overlook quantum effects, time and space are aspects of a great jelly in which we are immersed (Chapter 45).
- But the world is a quantum one, and gelatinous spacetime is also an approximation. In the elementary' grammar of the world, there is neither space nor time - only processes that transform physical quantities from one to another, from which it is possible to calculate probabilities and relations (Chapter 56). At the most fundamental level that we currently know of, therefore, there is little that resembles time as we experience it. There is no special variable 'time', there is no difference between past and future, there is no spacetime (Part Two). We still know how to write equations that describe the world. In those equations, the variables evolve with respect to each other (Chapter 87). It is not a 'static' world, or a 'block universe' where all change is illusory (Chapter 78): on the contrary, ours is a world of events rather than of things (Chapter 69).
- This was the outward leg of the journey, towards a universe without time.
- The return journey has been the attempt to understand how, from this world without time, it is possible for our perception of time to emerge (Chapter 910). The surprise has been that, in the emergence of familiar aspects of time, we ourselves have had a role to play. From our perspective - the perspective of creatures who make up a small part of the world - we see that world flowing in time. Our interaction with the world is partial, which is why we see it in a blurred way. To this blurring is added quantum indeterminacy. The ignorance that follows from this determines the existence of a particular variable - thermal time (Chapter 911=10) - and of an entropy that quantifies our uncertainty.
- Perhaps we belong to a particular subset of the world that interacts with the rest of it in such a way that this entropy is lower in one direction of our thermal time. The directionality of time is therefore real but perspectival (Chapter 1012): the entropy of the world in relation to us increases with our thermal time. We see the occurrence of things ordered in this variable, which we simply call 'time', and the growth of entropy distinguishes the past from the future for us and leads to the unfolding of the cosmos. It determines the existence of traces, residues and memories of the past (Chapter 1113). We human beings are an effect of this great history of the increase of entropy, held together by the memory that is enabled by these traces. Each one of us is a unified being because we reflect the world, because we have formed an image of a unified entity by interacting with our kind, and because it is a perspective on the world unified by memory (Chapter 1214). From this comes what we call the 'flowing' of time. This is what we are listening to when we listen to the passing of time.
- The variable 'time' is one of many variables which describe the world. It is one of the variables of the gravitational field (Chapter 415=5): at our scale, we do not register quantum fluctuations (Chapter 516=6), hence it is possible to think of spacetime as determined, as Einstein's great mollusc; at our scale, the movements of the mollusc are small and can be overlooked. Hence we can think of spacetime as being as rigid as a table. This table has dimensions: the one that we call space, and the one along which entropy grows, called time. In our everyday life we move at low speeds in relation to the speed of light and so we do not perceive the discrepancies between the different proper times of different clocks, and the differences in speed at which time passes at different distances from a mass are too small for us to distinguish.
- In the end, therefore, instead of many possible times we can speak only of a single time: the time of our experience: uniform, universal and ordered. This is the approximation of an approximation of an approximation of a description of the world made from our particular perspective as human beings who are dependent on the growth of entropy, anchored to the flowing of time. We for whom, as Ecclesiastes has it, there is a time to be born and a time to die.
- This is time for us: a multilayered, complex concept with multiple, distinct properties deriving from various different approximations. Many discussions of the concept of time are confused because they simply do not recognize its complex and multilayered aspect. They make the mistake of not seeing that the different layers are independent.
- This is the physical structure of time as I understand it, after a lifetime of revolving around it.
- Many parts of this story are solid, others plausible, others still are guesses hazarded in an attempt at understanding the whole.
- Practically all the things recounted in the first part of the book have been ascertained from innumerable experiments:
All this has been well ascertained.
- the slowing down of time according to altitude and speed;
- the non-existence of the present;
- the relation between time and the gravitational field;
- the fact that the relations between different times are dynamic, that elementary equations do not recognize the direction of time;
- the relation between entropy and blurring.
- That the gravitational field has quantum properties is a shared conviction, albeit one currently supported only by theoretical arguments rather than by experimental evidence.
- The absence of the time variable from the fundamental equations, as discussed in Part Two, is plausible — but on the form of these equations debate still rages. The origin of time pertaining to quantum noncommutativity, of thermal time, and the fact that the increase in entropy which we observe depends on our interaction with the universe are ideas that I find fascinating but are far from being confirmed or widely accepted.
- What is entirely credible, in any case, is the general fact that the temporal structure of the world is different from the naive image that we have of it. This naive image is suitable for our daily life, but it's not suitable for understanding the world in its minute folds or in its vastness. In all likelihood, it is not even sufficient for understanding our own nature, because the mystery of time intersects with the mystery of our personal identity, with the mystery of consciousness.
- The mystery of time has always troubled us, stirring deep emotions — so deep as to have nourished philosophies and religions.
- I believe, as Hans Reichenbach suggests in one of the most lucid books on the nature of time. The Direction of Time, that it was in order to escape from the anxiety time causes us that Parmenides wanted to deny its existence, that Plato imagined a world of ideas that exist outside of it, and that Hegel speaks of the moment in which the Spirit transcends temporality and knows itself in its plenitude. It is in order to escape this anxiety that we have imagined the existence of ‘eternity’, a strange world outside of time that we would like to be inhabited by gods, by a God or by immortal souls17. Our deeply emotional attitude towards time has contributed more to the construction of cathedrals of philosophy than has logic or reason. The opposite emotional attitude, the veneration of time — by a Heraclitus or a Bergson - has given rise to just as many philosophies, without getting us any nearer to understanding what time is.
- Physics helps us to penetrate layers of the mystery. It shows how the temporal structure of the world is different from our perception of it. It gives us the hope of being able to study the nature of time free from the fog caused by our emotions.
- But in our search for time, advancing increasingly away from ourselves, we have ended up by discovering something about ourselves, perhaps - just as Copernicus, by studying the movements of the heavens, ended up by understanding how the Earth moved beneath his feet. Perhaps, ultimately, the emotional dimension of time is not the film of mist that prevents us from apprehending the nature of time objectively.
- Perhaps the emotion of time is precisely what time is for us.
- I don't think there is much more than this to be understood. We may ask further questions, but we should be careful with questions that it is not possible to formulate properly. When we have found all the aspects of time that can be spoken of, then we have found time. We may gesture clumsily towards an immediate sense of time beyond what we can articulate ('Fine, but why does it "pass?"'), but I believe that at this point we are merely confusing matters, attempting illegitimately to transform approximate words into things. When we cannot formulate a problem with precision, it is often not because the problem is profound: it's because the problem is false.
- Will we be able to understand things better in the future? I think so. Our understanding of nature has increased vertiginously over the course of centuries, and we are continuing to learn. We are glimpsing something about the mystery of time. We can see the world without time: we can perceive with the mind's eye the profound structure of the world where time as we know it no longer exists — like the Fool on the Hill who sees the Earth turn when he sees the setting sun. And we begin to see that we are time. We are this space, this clearing opened by the traces of memory inside the connections between our neurons. We are memory. We are nostalgia. We are longing for a future that will not come. The clearing that is opened up in this way, by memory and by anticipation, is time: a source of anguish sometimes, but in the end a tremendous gift.
- A precious miracle that the infinite play of combinations has unlocked for us, allowing us to exist. We may smile now. We can go back to serenely immersing ourselves in time — in our finite time — to savouring the clear intensity of every fleeting and cherished moment of the brief circle of our existence.
COMMENT: (Soon to be) annotated copy of Chapter 13 filed in "Various - Papers on Desktop".
In-Page Footnotes ("Rovelli (Carlo) - The Order of Time")
Footnotes 1, 4: Chapter 3: The End of the Present.
Footnote 2: Chapter 2: Loss of Direction.
Footnote 3: Chapter 1: Loss of Unity.
Footnotes 5, 15: Chapter 4: Loss of Independence.
Footnotes 6, 16: Chapter 5: Quanta of Time.
Footnote 7: Chapter 8: Dynamics as Relation.
Footnote 8: Chapter 7: The Inadequacy of Grammar.
Footnote 9: Chapter 6: The World is Made of Events, not Things.
Footnotes 10, 11: Chapter 9: Time is Ignorance.
Footnote 12: Chapter 10: Perspective.
Footnote 13: Chapter 11: What Emerges from a Particularity.
Footnote 14: Chapter 12: The Scent of the Madeleine.
- There is something extremely interesting about the fact that this observation by Reichenbach, in a fundamental text for the treatment of time by analytical philosophy, sounds so close to ideas from which Heidegger's reflection stems. The subsequent divergence is enormous: Reichenbach searches in physics for that which we know about time in the world of which we are part, while Heidegger concerns himself with what time is in the existential experience of human beings. The two resultant images of time are completely different from each other. Are they necessarily incompatible? Why should they be? They explore two different problems: on the one hand, the effective temporal structures of the world that reveal themselves to be progressively more threadbare as we widen our gaze; on the other, the foundational aspect that the structure of time has for us, for our concrete sense of ‘being in the world’.
"Shoemaker (David) - The Death of Derek Parfit"
Source: PEA Soup, 6th January 2017
- “When I believed the Non-Reductionist View, I also cared more about my inevitable death. After my death, there will [be] no one living who will be me. I can now redescribe this fact. Though there will later be many experiences, none of these experiences will be connected to my present experiences by chains of such direct connections …. My death will break the more direct relations between my present experiences and future experiences, but it will not break various other relations. This is all there is to the fact that there will be no one living who will be me. Now that I have seen this, my death seems to me less bad…. When I review the arguments for this belief, and reconvince myself, this for a while stuns my natural concern for the future…. Thinking hard about these arguments removes the glass wall between me and others. And, as I have said, I care less about my death. … Can this matter all that much?” (R&P, 281-82)
- These are of course the words of Derek Parfit, in Reasons and Persons. Parfit, who died last night, was, in the estimation of many us, perhaps the greatest moral philosopher in our midst. Regardless of whether his death mattered to him, in the end, it matters to the rest of us quite a bit, and it casts a pall on the start of this New Year.
- Many of us were deeply influenced by his powerful and broad writings. Others will have tales of his generosity, kindness, and gentleness. We welcome all such stories and remembrances below.
13 Replies to “The Death of Derek Parfit”
- David Shoemaker says: January 2, 2017 at 5:04 pm
- I wrote my dissertation on Part 3 of R&P. I’ve since published probably 20 articles that are either directly on or draw heavily from Parfit’s work. I wouldn’t have done anything like what I do without his influence.
- I never had the good fortune to meet him, but he did call me out of the blue one evening when I was a grad student. I was just settling down with dinner to watch 60 Minutes one Sunday night when the phone rang. Irritated at the interruption, I picked up the phone in a mood, growling “Hello?!” Response: “Hello, David, this is Derek Parfit.” I was in CA, so it would have been 4 a.m. in Oxford, where he was at the time. He then went on to explain, with great remorse, why he couldn’t write a letter of recommendation for me that year, due to his many other time commitments and letters to write, but he promised he would do so the next year (which he did, as well as two more years after that). I sat there in a kind of stunned silence throughout, said thank you (I think!), and hung up the phone in a daze. Then I called all my friends and interrupted their Sunday nights with the news.
- Douglas W. Portmore says: January 2, 2017 at 6:13 pm
- The first paper I submitted to a journal was my paper “The Total Principle.” I submitted in the early months of 1994 to Philosophy & Public Affairs. It was, of course, rejected. But, to my great surprise, the journal passed along three single-spaced typed pages of comments signed by Derek Parfit. These were snail mailed to me at my home address. His comments started as follows: “I found the paper interesting, and liked some of its new points. There’s a problem with it, in its present form, however. Some of the author’s main points were already made by me, in the works the author cites. So the paper may not yet add enough that’s new.” Of course, he was right. And most reviewers would have left it at that, or, perhaps, added a couple paragraphs illustrating where I had made points that Parfit had already made. But Parfit was kind enough to give me detailed feedback on every aspect of the paper. And his comments helped me tremendously to revise the paper, which was eventually published in Ratio under the title “Does the Total Principle Have Any Repugnant Implications?” Also, just a few years ago Parfit wrote me a nice note, saying that he had started to work on the non-identity problem again and that he had really enjoyed reading my paper in Ratio. And he was surprised to learn that he had recommend against its publication. He had no recollection of that. But, of course, it wasn’t really the same paper at all, as I had to totally rewrite it after Parfit’s helpful comments. I’m forever grateful to have had this as my first rejection. It gave me the confidence to continue despite the long road of rejections that awaited me. He will be sorely missed.
- Michael Thomas Licciardi says: January 2, 2017 at 6:15 pm
- I had the opportunity to take an undergraduate level seminar with Derek in the spring of 2011. I will never forget it. He was such a kind, responsive, brilliant person. When, at the end of the seminar, I told him I was honored that he was able to remember my name, he told me that it never mattered to him whether anyone remembered his name, since names were the simplest and least significant facts about a person. He was truly one of the greatest teachers I ever had.
- David Sobel says: January 2, 2017 at 6:16 pm
- In 2009 Parfit helped me get a fellowship at All Souls (where Parfit then worked) for a term. Let me tell one story about my time there. On the day his class on his then book manuscript of On What Matters was starting he called me up and invited me to attend the class. He said he thought my presence would prove useful and hoped I would come. At this point I think we had not yet met. I was of course already eagerly planning to go, I was hard at work writing on his book at this point, and told him I would be delighted to attend. 5 minutes later I got a second call from him saying that likely it would be best if I did not come. The class would not be designed for someone like me, and so it would likely be a waste of my time and it would be better if I not attend. 5 minutes later a third call came. He had changed his mind and very much hoped I would attend. I was amazed that it was at all on his radar whether I would attend.
- Travis Timmerman says: January 2, 2017 at 6:28 pm
- I had the honor of meeting Parfit once at the University of Vermont. He was scheduled to give a talk to undergraduates there in the evening. He arrived at the university early in the morning and hung out in an office/lounge area, discussing philosophy with everyone who wanted to talk to him right up until he had to give his own talk. Though only meant for an undergraduate audience his talk was typically brilliant.
- The department took him to dinner afterward and I tagged along. There he discussed philosophy for hours. He was infatigable! During the dinner, he took the time to ask me (a no-name Syracuse graduate student) who I was and to ask me about my work. Those who know him won’t be surprised that there was no air of superiority. He paid no mind to the social hierarchy in philosophy even though he was at the top. He didn’t seem to be engaging with anyone out of politeness either, but rather genuine philosophical interest. He talked with me for a generous amount of time and kindly helped me with a paper I was working on, even though he surely had better things to do. He must have made it back to his hotel around midnight that night. He got up early the next day to do the same thing over again.
- Parfit was not only among the most brilliant philosophers I’ve ever met, but also one of the kindest. The world would be much better if more people were like him. It will surely be worse without him.
- David Shoemaker says: January 2, 2017 at 10:32 pm. FROM STEPHEN DARWALL, POSTED HERE WITH PERMISSION
- The new year brings the terribly sad news that Derek Parfit has died. All who knew Derek knew that in addition to being a brilliant philosopher, he was also extraordinarily kind. He had what Hutcheson called “calm extensive benevolence.” I first met Derek in 1972. I had just gone to UNC as a beginning assistant professor, and Parfit was on the program of the Chapel Hill Colloquium that October. It was an amazing lineup. The program included Rawls, Scanlon, Lewis, Perry, Sellars, Goldman, Marcus, and Stalnaker, among others. Rawls’s Theory of Justice had just been published the preceding year, so his presence was especially impressive on Friday evening. The first two Saturday sessions stole the show though. Saturday morning featured David Lewis’s “Survival and Identity,” which took up Parfit’s “Personal Identity,” which had just appeared in the Phil Review the year before. And in the afternoon, Parfit gave the first version of his anti-Rawlsian argument that if personal identity is not a “further fact” then neither is the “separateness of persons” that Rawls had famously pointed to as the Kantian insight favoring deontology over consequentialism.
- I have always thought that even if Derek was right about personal identity on metaphysical grounds, his own personality, so distinctive and enduring, might stand as evidence that something sufficiently similar might hold for practical purposes.
- David Shoemaker says: January 2, 2017 at 11:01 pm. FROM DAVID BRINK, POSTED WITH PERMISSION:
- Derek Parfit (1942-2017) was the greatest living moral philosopher. He died yesterday. With Derek’s passing, I write to add my voice to those celebrating his life, his work, and his impact on others. I first met Derek as a graduate student in Oxford in 1982. I was spending the 1982-83 year as a visiting graduate student at University College. Derek was frantically preparing the final version of the manuscript of Reasons and Persons for press. In Michaelmas term he lectured on the material on personal identity and its normative significance that would be part III of Reasons and Persons. The material and the discussion were incredibly stimulating, and Derek made last minute changes to the book as a result. Derek’s fierce dedication in those sessions to getting to the bottom of things made a lasting impression on me. Not long after I took up a position at MIT in 1987, Derek began making regular visits at Harvard giving seminars about personal identity and ethics, prioritarianism, and why there is something, rather than nothing. We continued our discussions about the normative significance of reductionism about personal identity and prioritarianism inside and outside of seminar. In these years, we never managed to have a non-philosophical conversation, and I suspect that I am not alone in this experience. But Derek was the most generous and engaged philosophical interlocutor one could possibly hope for. We had long discussions in which his interest never seemed to flag, and we exchanged detailed commentaries on each other’s work in progress, from which I benefited enormously. We continued our correspondence by post and email for a few years after I moved to the west coast, but eventually lack of face-to-face contact and changes in philosophical and personal commitments meant we lost contact. Our philosophical exchanges had a profound impact on me early in my career and have exerted an abiding influence on my philosophical interests and methods. I will always consider myself lucky to have experienced Derek’s incandescent philosophical personality and benefited from his philosophical generosity.
- Others have quoted the passage from Reasons and Persons in which Derek says that his acceptance of reductionism about personal identity led him to feel less bad about the prospect of his own death (R&P 281-82). I’ve tried to defend this response, showing that there can be interpersonal psychological continuity that transcends the limits of one’s own life, allowing us to make sense of Plato’s claim in the Symposium that the right sort of interpersonal relationships can be a surrogate for immortality. If this sort of quasi-persistence is proportional to the influence one has had on others, then Derek’s personal and philosophical legacy should serve as a tremendous counterweight to his own mortality. Indeed, his presence will be unmistakable in the Persons & Values course that I will be teaching this quarter, which will be a fitting way for me to celebrate his life and philosophical contributions.
- Andrew Forcehimes says: January 3, 2017 at 4:43 pm
- I am deeply saddened by Parfit’s death. Like others here, his influence on my thinking — both methodologically and substantively — was profound. But Parfit’s greatest impact on me came from his contagious optimism.
- Working in ethics is a trying endeavor. I am often left confused, depressed. When this happens I find myself flipping to the end of Reasons & Persons, where Parfit writes: “Some people believe that there cannot be progress in Ethics, since everything has been already said. […] I believe the opposite. How many people have made Non-Religious Ethics their life’s work? Before the recent past, very few. In most civilizations, most people have believed in the existence of a God, or of several gods. A large minority were in fact Atheists, whatever they pretended. But, before the recent past, very few Atheists made Ethics their life’s work. Compared with the other sciences, Non-Religious Ethics is the youngest and the least advanced. […] Belief in God, or in many gods, prevented the free development of moral reasoning. Disbelief in God, openly admitted by a majority, is a very recent event, not yet completed. Because this event is so recent, Non-Religious Ethics is at a very early stage. We cannot yet predict whether […] we will all reach agreement. Since we cannot know how Ethics will develop, it is not irrational to have high hopes.”
- Today, in losing such a great mind, my hopes were lowered considerably.
- Victor Tadros says: January 3, 2017 at 5:30 pm
- I met Derek several times, but only talked with him at length once, in his house in Oxford, in the company of Jeff McMahan. We talked about a piece that he was working on to do with the principle against using people. I had defended the principle, but Derek was a sceptic. It was a wonderful, but also dizzying, experience – like being crushed over and over again by a person with nothing in his heart but kindness. We talked for about 7 hours without a break. At some point in the middle of the discussion, I was wilting despite being Derek’s junior by 30 years and I was grateful when Jeff suggested going out for a bite to eat. Over dinner, talk turned to the first world war, and Derek became upset at the thought of the loss of life that the war involved. I found this both unsettling and moving: unsettling because I don’t know anyone else who now has this reaction to deaths that occurred so long ago, and moving because it seemed to me that Derek’s unusual kind of compassion stretched beyond what I or others that I know are capable of. I will always be grateful to have spent this time with him. The combination of unrivalled brilliance and imagination, an extraordinary work ethic, and a deep and unique way of valuing people (or, perhaps more accurately, what people are made up of) made him a towering figure in moral philosophy, and he will be sorely missed.
- Julia Markovits says: January 5, 2017 at 11:12 pm
- Derek Parfit supervised my doctoral dissertation at Oxford, which I finished in 2006, and we kept in loose touch since then (I wish, of course, in retrospect, that it had been less loose). He was unfailingly kind, generous, and supportive of me, even though my arguments fell on the wrong side (from his perspective) of what seemed to him the most important divide in ethics (between what he called “subjectivism” and “objectivism” about reasons). Whenever he had something critical to say, he would try hard to make sure I didn’t give it too much weight: he would say things like, “I might think that’s crazy, but most of the philosophers whose work I respect the most are on your side!” He said things of this sort all the time. For example, he often told me (particularly when I complained about my inefficiency) that he worried about how fast a reader he was, because most of the people he respected the most were slow readers. (He needn’t have worried, of course – his comments on my work were always incredibly careful and helpful.) He had no apparent ego and was the least status-conscious person I know. He was completely indifferent to where you were employed, or even whether you were employed, in philosophy. He always assumed you had something better to do with your time than read his work. And I have seen him, after a talk, pay as absorbed and patient attention to the somewhat inchoate ideas of an undergraduate as he would to those of a philosophical big shot. He did so not out of courtesy or generosity, but because he quite evidently thought it just as likely that he would learn something important from the undergrad as from the big shot. His work is, of course, a paradigm of abstract analytical thinking, but also full of humor and small spot-on human observations. The preface to On What Matters, comparing Kant and Sidgwick, is one of my favorite things I’ve read in a book of philosophy. I wish I’d known Derek better than I did – I liked him enormously, and recognize him so immediately in the many comments posted here.
COMMENT: For the full text, see Pea Soup: The Death of Derek Parfit.
In-Page Footnotes ("Shoemaker (David) - The Death of Derek Parfit")
- The Blog includes a number of interesting comments by well-known philosophers, repeated above!
"Srinivasan (Amia) - Remembering Derek Parfit"
Source: London Review of Books, Blog, 6th January 2017
- I first met Derek Parfit the summer I was 19, when my college boyfriend and I spent a day visiting Oxford. Parfit’s Reasons and Persons was the only thing written by a living person on our first-year philosophy syllabus at Yale. Passing All Souls College, we went to the porter’s lodge and asked, absurdly, if we could see him. The porter said Parfit was teaching a seminar in the Old Library. We stood outside the door, pressing our ears to it, hearing nothing but murmurs, debating whether or not to go in. Eventually the seminar ended and people started to file out. Realising we had no idea what Parfit looked like, we asked every man leaving the room if he was Derek Parfit. They all laughed: they must have been twenty-something graduate students. Finally, out came a man with a mane of white hair and a bright red tie tucked into his trousers, wielding a large Smirnoff vodka bottle. We introduced ourselves.
- Without a trace of annoyance, Parfit signed our books and offered to show us round the college. In the 15th-century chapel he pointed out the hammer-beam roof and gilded angels, the Gothic reredos and its 19th-century statues. We talked about moral philosophy. He said he couldn’t understand why Shelly Kagan, a philosopher at Yale he deeply admired, believed in moral retribution. ‘I just can’t believe that anyone deserves to suffer,’ he said, shaking his head. After the tour he gave us detailed instructions on how to get back to the railway station, anxious that we didn’t get lost, and wished us well.
- Five years later, as I was starting doctoral research at Oxford, I was elected to a prize fellowship at All Souls. Parfit – who had been a fellow there since 1967 – was appointed as my college adviser. He wrote to me suggesting we have lunch in college. Over the soup I tried to describe our first meeting, hoping that he would recall my silly earnestness and his enormous generosity. At first he seemed not to hear me. When I tried again, he changed the subject. That our lives had intersected before held no interest for him. He had simply been kind to me then, and now was kind to me again; one thing didn’t have anything to do with the other.
- Instead he wanted to talk about what I intended to do with the seven years of my fellowship. He suggested I spend the first year reading novels, ‘sowing seeds’. He asked if I would like to comment on his work in progress. (The next day I received two hefty boxes of draft pages of the book that would be published in 2011 as On What Matters.) We talked about meta-ethics, and I told him I was inclined towards anti-realism, the view that moral truths are in some sense dependent on the human mind. He was visibly distressed by this – he said it implied that there was nothing wrong with torture – and I had to recant in order to stop him from leaving. After the soup was cleared we got up, and Derek took two rolls from the bread basket. He placed them on the bench where we had been sitting, to save our seats. When we returned with plates of salad he picked up the rolls and put them back in the basket.
- Until his death on 1 January, Parfit was widely thought to be the most important living moral philosopher. He was loved and admired and is now mourned by even those – including me – who have a strong aversion to the kind of moral philosophy he inspired: broadly utilitarian in spirit, concerned with the maximisation of pleasure and the minimisation of pain, often indifferent to the particularity of individual persons, interpersonal relationships and human institutions. I find it hard to explain why this kind of moral philosophy, when done by Parfit, was not irksome in the way it so often is in other hands. Perhaps it has something to do with Parfit’s complete lack of smugness; one never got the sense, in his writing or in conversation, of a philosopher delighted with the reductive power of his own system. There was also his capacity for aesthetic appreciation, not just of nature (he had a particular love of bluebell woods) and architecture (he was an obsessive photographer of buildings), but of philosophy itself. Discussing in the LRB of 22 January 19982 the question of why the universe exists, he wrote:
Even if these questions could not have answers, they would still make sense, and they would still be worth considering. I am reminded here of the aesthetic category of the sublime, as applied to the highest mountains, raging oceans, the night sky, the interiors of some cathedrals, and other things that are superhuman, awesome, limitless. No question is more sublime than why there is a Universe: why there is anything rather than nothing.
- Finally there was the fact that Parfit’s philosophy was a deeply personal affair. There is something odd in saying this, since he is most famous for the view that personal identity – the conditions under which you continue to exist as you – does not, contrary to appearances, really matter. We are psychological bundles of memories, inclinations, intentions. In the future there will be bundles who will go by my name, who will share many of my memories, and act on some of my intentions. They will think they are me. At a certain point – my death – there will cease to be any such bundles, though there will be other bundles who remember me and perhaps even carry on some of my projects. From this perspective, the boundaries between ourselves and others begin to dissolve. So too, perhaps, does the horror of my death. In "Parfit (Derek) - Reasons and Persons", Parfit wrote that when he used to believe that personal identity mattered, he ‘seemed imprisoned’ in himself. ‘My life seemed like a glass tunnel,’ he wrote, through which I was moving faster every year, and at the end of which there was darkness. When I changed my view, the walls of my glass tunnel disappeared. I now live in the open air. There is still a difference between my life and the lives of other people. But the difference is less. Other people are closer. I am less concerned about the rest of my own life, and more concerned about the lives of others.
- Until a year ago, Derek read everything I wrote for publication, including my pieces for the LRB, and usually sent them back to me with detailed comments within a few hours. He would point me towards a relevant passage of Nietzsche, or suggest that a metaphor was too violent, or raise a fundamental philosophical objection. I wasn’t special to Derek; many philosophers, young and old, have similar stories. Sometimes I would pass by him in college and he would smile at me in a way that didn’t entirely convince me I was recognised.
- I don’t think it’s unfair to say that Derek didn’t see what is obvious to many others: that there are persons, non-fungible and non-interchangeable, whose immense particularity matters and is indeed the basis of, rather than a distraction from, morality. But in not seeing this, Derek was able to theorise with unusual, often breathtaking novelty, clarity and insight. He was also free to be, in some ways at least, better than the rest of us. After he retired from All Souls, Derek didn’t like to go to the college common room, so we had our last meeting in my study. While jostling his papers he knocked over a glass. He was unfazed. We sat and talked for a few hours, his feet in a pool of water and shattered glass.
- 6 January 2017 at 9:21pm, suetonius says:
- Did Prof Parfit really not see that persons are non-interchangeable? I somehow don't think that is the point. I think he just thought their "immense particularity" doesn't matter, when it comes to morals.
- 7 January 2017 at 8:37am, Joe Morison says:
- (I write as an amateur enthusiast.) You are not being unfair to Parfit because he would say, I think, that ‘what is obvious to many others’ is an illusion. The Parfit/Buddhist view (PB) of personal identity is against the non-fungible view (NF). The difference easily seen with a thought experiment in a setting familiar to us all.
- The USS Enterprise comes into Earth orbit and offers you the chance to beam up to them for a week’s vacation. Do you go? Well, yes, obviously. Wait a minute, shout the NFs, it won’t be you who appears on the Enterprise, you’ll be dead. The transporter works by registering the position of every bit of energy and matter that makes you up, in the process it destroys your body and then creates an exact copy of it on the Enterprise. The being on the Enterprise thinks they are you (unless you’re an NF-ist, in which case ‘you’ will need a lot of therapy): they have a scar on their knee identical to the one you got falling off your bike aged four and their ‘memory’ of it happening is just like yours, they have a half digested curry in their gut indistinguishable to the one you ate last night, in fact in every measurable way they are just like you; but, according to the NFs, they are not you.
- So, what do you do? The two sides don’t just disagree, each thinks the other is failing to see something very obvious: NFs say transporter beams kill; PBs say if that’s what you want to call it then we don’t mind dying as long as an exact copy is created (but we, of course, do not do not call it dying), NFs think that insane. It is not a matter of argument, more like religious conversion - are you prepared see the self as a fiction?
- I’m with Parfit. I was more than halfway there, through studying Buddhism, before I read him; and like him, and I think most PB-ers, I have found this view very liberating. In short: ‘Beam me up Scotty!’
- 9 January 2017 at 9:44pm, Saksin says: @Joe Morison
- The enlightened Gautama never denied the person or the self. Our only witness to his doctrines, the posthumously compiled Sutras and the Vinaya, show him unselfconsciously using the first person pronoun, and contain not one single statement of his to the effect that the self does not exist. What he did deny, in his doctrine of Anatta, is the immaterial, immortal soul or self or Atma of his Brahminical rivals. What has erroneously been interpreted as his denial of a self or person is his many, varied, and oft repeated instantiations, under the classificatory scheme of the five Skandhas, of what the self is NOT (i.e. "I am not x, x is not me or mine" and so on).
- All this was noted, known, and broadcast by an early and major school of Indian Buddhism, the Pudgalavadins (from sanskrit Pudgala, 'person', i.e. "the personhooders"). They were eclipsed - even suppressed - by schools for whom the intellectual sensationalism of a radical denial of self became irresistible, and today Pudgalavadin writings survive only in a few fragments in Chinese translation.
- 11 January 2017 at 6:40am, kyoung21b says: @Saksin
- Though is it not uncontroversial, as was my impression, that the Buddha while perhaps never denying the self, taught of the non existence of an independently existing self ? That is certainly one the pillars of all the Mahayana schools.
- Re. Parfit, I have read much that refers to him, but never actually read him. After this lovely memorial piece and a few others I've encountered that sounds like something I should rectify.
- 9 January 2017 at 2:39pm, Jan Sand says:
- This rather old problem of being beamed up involves the obvious difficulty of distinguishing a reproduction from an original. The question that arises is whether you are something unique no matter how perfect a copy may be or if multiple copies equally perfect are all you. There is a continuity of the sense of self existence in a unique self. Undoubtedly an external observer can accept a perfect copy as the original. But the internal self is an observer that will not transfer to a copy. To extend this a bit, this internal self is not perpetual and changes with each new encounter as it proceeds through life. So the word "self" is an illusion since what I am today is not what I will be in the future. Accepting the four dimensional concept of time-space the self exists in different forms as we move through time and, like any three dimensional object, one cross section may be quite different from a different one.
- 9 January 2017 at 9:46pm, Timothy Rogers says: @Jan Sand
- And yet today's self is pretty much the same as yesterday's, so that rather than being significantly different from moment to moment, the "self" is cumulative, with a new thin layer depending on recent experience (which is often repetitive) being deposited upon a very thick older accretion of layers. (See Flann O'Brien's "The Third Policeman" for a comical-mystical version of this). The present does modify the past (memories) in our minds, but another person who knows us very well would be able to point out some of these modifications (falsifications?) of an individual's memory. He or she is more "objective" than you, though equally subjective in his or her mind when this happens ("others" are a sort of "reality check" when it comes to the vagaries of our own consciouness). One can imagine that a truly traumatic experience can render very important changes in a person's mentality and how he or she appears to others as well, so this points to a dramatic "alteration of self", but it is the older continuous "self" that is modified (and remembered by oneself and others, too).
- 9 January 2017 at 11:34pm, suetonius says:
- I would say the non fungible folks have something real to deal with. Quantum teleportation has been done, for individual particles. You end up with another particle with the exact quantum state as the first one, in a different location. There's a reasonable argument that exact quantum state means "the same thing." So if you're NF, you have to allow for exact copy, where exact means EXACT. You can end up with multiple copies. To use the star trek example, what if they teleported you, but didn't get rid of the original? Are both the copies you? I would think they certainly would think they are.
- Interestingly, it's information which is "teleported" it's not a physical thing. Also, it wouldn't help with star trek, since you must first have two entangled particles. So, if you wanted to beam Kirk down, first, you would have to entangle every particle in his body with another particle, then send the entangled particles down to the planet. Of course it would be much easier just to send Kirk down to the planet....
- 10 January 2017 at 5:17am, Joe Morison says: @suetonius
- In Reasons and Persons Parfit considers a wide range of possible transporter scenarios. In the one you mention, he would not say that there are two copies of you but rather that you have split into two independent people. Instead of a single lifeline leading from birth to death, it is now something more like a tuning fork - a single line that bifurcates at the relevant moment.
- 10 January 2017 at 1:17am, suetonius says:
- Sorry, minor correction, it's been a while since I though seriously about QM. You wouldn't have to entangle particles with kirk's particles, you just need as many pairs of entangled particles as kirk has particles. You use the entangled particles to send the state of a third particle. It's still easier just to send kirk.
- 11 January 2017 at 8:53am, Frej Klem Thomsen says:
- I don't know whether saying that Parfit didn't see what is obvious to many others is unfair (fairness is such a terribly slippery concept), but I do think it can charitably be called uncharitable. Parfit certainly wasn't unaware that this was a view most persons hold, or unable to see its intuitive appeal. As he makes clear in one of the passages Srinivasan quotes, it is a view that came naturally to himself in his younger days.
- But Parfit thought longer and harder about whether the view is true than arguably any other thinker to date, and came to a different conclusion. As everyone familiar with his work knows, he produced immensely powerful arguments that our commonsense beliefs about the constitution and moral importance of personal identity are mistaken. It seems to me that there is an overwhelmingly strong case that rather than reflecting his inability to see what is obvious to many, his views reflect his ability to see what is not.
- 15 January 2017 at 5:16pm, Timothy Rogers says:
- It seems to me that there is a great deal of evidence from our natural lives that points to the “interchangeability” or fungibility of human beings. We celebrate our particularity, but from many points of view each of us is also a “generic human being”. That is, we share a common biology, physiology, and evolutionary history, and, as we move from contemplating individuals to thinking about larger groupings of people (families, clans, tribes, nations, cultures) we find that we share a tremendous amount with our fellow group members, including our mental lives (the stuff we think about and talk to ourselves about) – if we did not we could not communicate with each other or co-operate in common enterprises. The self as a “bundle” of material and mental phenomena captures some of this – all the bundles are put together by similar experiences that most people have, so the bundles are very similar – my “unique self” overlaps with yours to a very large extent.
- One of the most powerful of these “mental phenomena” is language, which is thoroughly social and collective. Of course, like other mental activities, language has a strong material basis (i.e., mastering and using our language’s system of phonemes out of which we build words, and then using the words to build statements that can become increasingly abstract and seemingly bereft of ties to the real world around us). So we have a physical mechanism for making articulate sounds and then a “mental (or cultural) mechanism” for combining these in a way that conveys meaning(s). Many shared meanings are highly questionable (e.g., unrepentant sinners go to hell, which is a place of everlasting punishment). Others we all assent to right away because they are primarily ostensive (e.g., that’s a black dog over there behind that fence, and he’s dangerous); the first part we confirm with our eyes, the second part we believe based on the experience of the speaker (he has no reason to lie, as far as we know). “Unique” use of language (in which meanings become very cloudy, though often emotionally charged) is the privilege (or pastime) of the artist who uses language as his or her medium (or the gifted raconteur who has never dreamed of writing anything down). It would seem that that language often conveys meanings that are not as clear or solid as things we report as a result of observing the world, using all of our senses (not just vision), though there are many “bad reports” from our senses too (mirages, hallucinations, optical illusions – these are the physical counterpart of delusions). So language brings us together and can also drive us apart and lead us to believe that as individuals we are far more “unique” than we actually are.
- A lot of this seems implicit in Parfit’s ideas, though I don’t know if he ever indulged in ruminating over these “statistics of human living”. Think of the grisly wisdom of Stalin, who is alleged to have said something like, “A man’s death is a tragedy – a million deaths is a statistic.” (Of course, this softened the blow to his ego that he was in fact the author of millions of deaths – no tragedy in his mind, just the wheels of history grinding “forward”).
COMMENT: For the full text, see LRB: Remembering Derek Parfit.
In-Page Footnotes ("Srinivasan (Amia) - Remembering Derek Parfit")
- The on-line version on the LRB website had some comments appended.
- I’ve repeated them above, but – now having read them – they aren’t of much value – just elementary discussions of the teletransportation problem and Parfit’s (or the Buddha’s) view of the Self.
- Not by professional philosophers, or not ones I recognise.
"The Times - Obituary: Derek Parfit"
Source: The Times, 4th January 2017
- “Dear David. I hope you won’t be too disappointed. But I’m writing to ask you not to publish this article.”
- David Edmonds, the philosopher and broadcaster, was not disappointed. He was distraught. He had spent days researching and writing a draft of a long piece (for Prospect magazine) about the unusual marriage of Derek Parfit and his wife, also an important philosopher, Janet Radcliffe Richards. Parfit had been unhappy with a few aspects of a New Yorker profile of him, and so Edmonds thought it wise to fact-check his effort. Parfit said that Edmonds had committed numerous errors, which he then detailed over two pages.
- As Edmonds went through them, he realised that he had emailed a document containing his half-formed ideas and jottings by mistake. Only Derek Parfit could have believed that this gobbledegook was intended for publication. If you told him that a set of rambling non sequiturs was to appear in a prestigious periodical, that was what he believed.
- Parfit was one of the most important — if not the most important — moral philosophers in the world. Some of his contemporaries go further, making a compelling case that Parfit belongs to an elite canon alongside three other British philosophers in the utilitarian tradition: Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill and Henry Sidgwick.
"Various - Papers on Desktop"
Source: Various - Papers on Desktop
"Wiggins (David) - Identity, Individuation, and Substance"
Source: Wiggins (David) - Continuants: Their Activity, Their Being, and Their Identity
- My subject is identity and individuation. By identity I mean being the same as. By individuation I mean something done by a thinker. Among acts of individuation I include
It will appear in due course how I take identity and individuation to be connected. By a substance I intend, with tradition, something singular or individual, a single particular object or individual thing. Unlike a universal / type / sort / kind / clone / character, a substance does not have specimens or instances. Nothing falls under it, exemplifies it or instantiates it2.
- Singling out something which is a g (a donkey, say) as a g;
- Distinguishing that g from other gs;
- Singling something out when coming upon it again and recognizing it as that g, the same g again1.
- The approach I shall commend to questions of identity and individuation will be a sortalist one, claiming among other things that the identity of x and y is to be determined by reference to some fundamental kind f that x and y each exemplify. This approach is prefigured in Aristotle's question, definitive of his category of substance, ti esti or what is it? Contrast the question, definitive of his category of quality, what is it like? It is no longer wise to assume, however, as I once was apt to do, that everyone with a serious interest in the metaphysics of identity will know Aristotle's distinction or be eager to read such texts as Categories, Chapters 1-5. Nor can the other Aristotelian resonances by which I once set such store be relied upon any longer to enlighten or remind. If they have any effect, it is rather to cast doubt on my claim to have arrived at a general account — an account not at odds with anything that modern science reveals to us — of the identity and individuation of objects which are extended in space and persist through time.
- So putting to one side the insights of Aristotle — who will enter now only at the point where the argument simply forces our attention onto him — we shall proceed here more simply and single-mindedly, starting from the bare logic of the identity relation and setting the still underestimated requirements of that logic in authority over the judgements of same and other into which we are constrained by the effort to make sense of the world of perpetual alteration in which we have to find our way.
- Originally, European Journal of Philosophy, 20, 2012, pp. 1-25.
- This version is much revised.
- (Soon to be) annotated copy filed in "Various - Papers on Desktop".
In-Page Footnotes ("Wiggins (David) - Identity, Individuation, and Substance")
- Some of the acts included in this list, like others I might adjoin, go beyond the dictionary definition of 'individuate'. No matter. The word itself does no distinctive philosophical work here beyond suggesting some of the questions to be pursued and answers to be proposed.
- In due course the adjective 'individuative' will appear as qualifying thoughts or notions or terms, connoting various relations that such things can have to the business of individuation by a thinker confronting the world of substances. Such a thinker is finding his way in the world, needless to say, not creating it.
- It can of course be copied, but that is different.
"Wikipedia - Derek Parfit"
Source: Wikipedia; Extract taken 19th April 2019
- Derek Antony Parfit, FBA (11 December 1942 – 1 January 2017) was a British philosopher who specialised in personal identity, rationality, and ethics. He is widely considered one of the most important and influential moral philosophers of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
- Derek Parfit rose to prominence in 1971 with the publication of his first paper, "Personal Identity". His first book, Reasons and Persons (1984), has been described as the most significant work of moral philosophy since the 1800s. His second book, On What Matters (2011), was widely circulated and discussed for many years before its publication.
- For his entire academic career, Parfit worked at Oxford University, where he was an Emeritus Senior Research Fellow at All Souls College at the time of his death. He was also a visiting professor of philosophy at Harvard University, New York University, and Rutgers University. He was awarded 2014 Rolf Schock Prize "for his groundbreaking contributions concerning personal identity, regard for future generations, and analysis of the structure of moral theories."
- Ethics and rationality
→ 2.1 Reasons and Persons
→ 2.2 On What Matters
→ 2.3 Criticism
- Personal identity
→ 3.1 Criticism of personal identity view
- The future
COMMENT: For the full text, see Wikipedia: Derek Parfit.
"Wikipedia - Newcomb's Paradox"
Source: Wikipedia, 17 April 2019
- In philosophy and mathematics, Newcomb's paradox, also referred to as Newcomb's problem, is a thought experiment involving a game between two players, one of whom purports to be able to predict the future.
- Newcomb's paradox was created by William Newcomb of the University of California's Lawrence Livermore Laboratory. However, it was first analyzed and was published in a philosophy paper spread to the philosophical community by Robert Nozick in "Nozick (Robert) - Newcomb's Problem and Two Principles of Choice" (1969), and appeared in the March 1973 issue of Scientific American, in Martin Gardner's "Mathematical Games." Today it is a much debated problem in the philosophical branch of decision theory.
- The problem
- Game theory strategies
- Causality and free will
- Influencing the predictor
- Extensions to Newcomb's problem
→ 7.1 The meta-Newcomb problem
COMMENT: For the full text, see Wikipedia: Newcomb's Paradox.
In-Page Footnotes ("Wikipedia - Newcomb's Paradox")
- Some of these look worth following up!
"Williams (Bernard) - Personal Identity"
Source: London Review of Books, Vol. 6, No. 10, 7 June 1984
- Ten or fifteen years ago, the complaint against moral philosophy was that it did not address practical problems, but concentrated on meta-ethics: that is to say, on questions about the status, meaning, objectivity and so forth of ethical thought. That complaint is now out of date. For a decade, analytical philosophy has been conspicuously concerned to display its credentials for being of use in helping us to think about concrete problems.
- In doing that, it has escaped the charge of evasiveness, but has slipped back into the line of fire of other accusations. One is that it has disconnected itself from other speculative, critical or, indeed, philosophical thought. Philosophers have tended to turn to ethical theory, an enterprise that tries to resolve practical dilemmas by appealing to a structure of moral principles, a systematic framework which philosophical ingenuity can hope to apply to concrete issues. This raises the question why a set of ideas should be thought to have any special authority over our sentiments and our lives because it has the structure of a theory. Besides having this very basic problem of what might be called theoretical authority, ethical theory has sometimes been impoverished because it has cultivated too much the autonomy of ethics, and neglected other areas of philosophy, and (with the exception of some philosophers such as John Rawls) other disciplines.
- Derek Parfit has written a brilliantly clever and imaginative book which treats in a very original way a wide range of ethical questions. It spends virtually no time on meta-ethics (perhaps too little), but it avoids many of the deformations that sometimes afflict first-order ethical philosophy. It makes contact with other subjects, such as welfare economics. It is deeply involved with some other parts of philosophy, in particular with questions of personal identity and of what a person is. It also starts the subject, rightly, not within the sphere of morality but in the wider area of practical reason, setting out from the question ‘what have we most reason to do?’ rather than from any distinctively ‘moral’ question.
- Within ethical thought, Parfit does not start off with any ethical system. Nor does he hope to conjure one out of nothing at all. He concentrates on questions of consistency, asking us, over and over again, in different connections, what is implied by our ethical judgments, and whether what is implied hangs together with other implications to which, equally, we seem to be committed. That is not his only method. He uses many methods of ethical argument, more than moral philosophers often acknowledge. It is only when in his concluding chapter he quietly displays a few of them, that one realises how naturally they have been deployed. In these ways he goes some way to meet the problem of theoretical authority – though not, I believe, far enough.
- In starting with practical reason, and in some of his methods of argument, Parfit agrees with the Victorian moral philosopher Sidgwick, whom he greatly admires. Keynes thought that Sidgwick lacked intensity and was suffocated by respectability. Parfit would deny these charges against Sidgwick, but whether he is right in that or not, the charges certainly do not apply to this strange and excitingly intense book. It is in four parts. In the first, Parfit considers what it is for a theory of rational action to be, in any of various ways, self-defeating. He deals, very subtly, with such problems as this: if one believes that one’s aim should be to produce the best outcomes all round, it is very unlikely that the best way to do this is to consider, on each occasion, how one can bring about the best outcome. The best outcomes are more likely to be produced if each person acts from motives which do not involve thinking directly about the outcome. This has been thought to be a problem for consequentialist theories of this kind. Parfit insists that it is not, and that this result does nothing to refute the theory that we should produce the best outcomes all round. It merely tells us how to produce them, by cultivating in ourselves other dispositions. In other cases, however, theories can be damagingly self-defeating, by enjoining on each of us courses of action which, when we all pursue them, collectively defeat the objectives at which the theory was aiming in the first place (which is not so, Parfit claims, with the innocuously self-defeating consequentialist theories).
- In these connections, Parfit has a lot to say about problems that have concerned decision theorists, such as the famous Prisoner’s Dilemma, which makes it distressingly clear how courses of action that are individually rational can be jointly damaging, and also that when the parties know that fact, they may still have good reason to follow them. These issues, and many others of the same kind which he discusses, have a good deal to do with politics. Parfit makes it clear that they do, but he does not for the most part discuss them as though they did. The discussion is detailed, quite hard, and very revealing, but in social or political terms it is rather airless. He does not consider what institutions would be needed, for instance, or what forms of social understanding, in order to do what he, like Sidgwick, recommends us to do, which is to induce in ourselves dispositions of action which serve the ends of an underlying ethical theory while not revealing its content.
- It is perhaps a pity that this rather daunting section has to come before the winningly ingenious discussion of rationality and time that forms the second part. In this Parfit asks whether we should be more concerned with what will happen tomorrow than with what will happen years from now, and if so, why. That is only the most familiar of such questions. He also wants to ask, for instance, why we should be more concerned with what will (or rather, may still) happen than we are with what has happened. Why is it good news that the nasty operation has already happened? If one is disposed to think that this issue, at least, is perfectly obvious, Parfit, with a very light touch, can turn one round to see that it is not.
- In this section, too, he makes some important moves in a campaign which runs throughout the book and helps to unify it – the war against the Self-Interest Theory, which holds that the rational thing to do is to be concerned with one’s own aims and interests as viewed, so far as possible, over one’s whole life. This war Parfit conducts on two fronts, as he puts it. On one side, the theory is harassed by Morality, which says that we should be concerned with more than ourselves – for instance, with everybody. On the near side, it is undercut by the Present Aim Theory, which says that what it is rational for one to do now is what one wants now. For this view of things, or rather for a slightly more respectable version of it, Parfit makes a very good case against the Self-Interest Theory. One of his main objectives is to show that prudence does not have the special priority in rational behaviour that is often given to it. This is a good objective, but feckless readers who hoped to be liberated by it will find their enthusiasm dampened when they learn later that there is something wrong with imprudence after all: it is not irrational but immoral.
- The reason for this is that our later selves are properly to be seen as rather like other people. Parfit is trying to get us to see that in practical reasoning ‘when?’ is much the same sort of question as ‘who?’ We should get rid of the picture that dominates us, or most of us, that there is some special identity that one has, some underlying item which is really me. We should get rid of the very compelling idea that there must always be a fully determinate answer to such questions as: ‘Will that person who will be in pain in ten years’ time be me or not?’ On the true view of things, according to Parfit, there may be simply no answer to that question. We should realise that, as Hume believed, a person is no more than a collection of experiences held together by certain relations, such as those of memory and continuity of character. When we see that, we shall understand that it is misguided to draw a sharp ethical or prudential line between ourselves and others.
- These are the subjects of the third part of the book. In the final part, Parfit turns to problems raised by our concern for future generations, in particular by population policy and the question of how many people there should desirably be. As with personal identity, he has already published articles on this subject, and has made notable contributions to it – for instance, in discovering what he calls the Identity Problem. This lies in the fact that when we discuss whether future people will be better-off or not as a result of our policies, we cannot suppose that the same people will be there to be affected by one or another of our policies, since our actions will radically affect what individual people will come to exist. Parfit shows how arguments that may seem plausible in this area can lead to undesirable results, such as the Repugnant Conclusion, as he calls it, according to which an indefinitely large population of people whose lives were just worth living would be morally preferable to a smaller population of people who were a lot better-off. Parfit tries to find a theory that will avoid this result and at the same time certain other paradoxes. In the end, despite much ingenuity and refinement of argument, he confesses failure: but he can claim credit for identifying some remarkable problems along the way, which will undoubtedly generate discussion for a long time to come.
- The intensity displayed by the book is in good part argumentative. Short, sharply-defined sentences are loosed at one in compact formations; the effect, at times, is of one who will not let you go. But there is an imaginative intensity as well, displayed above all in the examples, often simple, carefully designed, each presented with a title – a device that could have been arch if used with less skill. Many of these examples are fanciful, particularly in the personal identity section, where teletransportation, bodily fission and other fantasies are introduced to construct cases that challenge our everyday assurance that we know what would and what would not count as the same person. Such fanciful cases have often been used by the philosophers who over the past decades have helped to set the agenda of Parfit’s discussion. Others reject them, saying that our concepts have developed to deal with the actual, not with worlds extensively different from ours, and there is no reason to expect those concepts to be able to breathe that alien atmosphere. To this line, Parfit has several sophisticated replies. One is that this idea could explain why in certain unlikely cases we might not know what to say, but it can hardly explain why, with other equally unlikely cases, we do seem to know what we would say. In some matters, again, and personal identity is one of them, the whole idea of not being able to give an answer is something that our common notions seem to exclude, and is a basic part of the problem.
- They are good replies, it seems to me, when these are regarded simply as metaphysical issues. But it is less clear why they are adequate when we are concerned, as Parfit is, with supposed ethical consequences of metaphysical positions. To put it another way, it is not always clear why metaphysical positions, arrived at in this way, have ethical consequences at all. Parfit is encouraged by his metaphysics of the merely agglomerated self to accept an ethical outlook which abstracts from self-interest and sees other people, and stages of oneself, as more like one another than we normally suppose. He thinks that philosophy should move us to a more impersonal outlook. But the extent to which it should do that must surely depend on what the world is actually like. If the experiences which constitute one person are powerfully related to one another, and give their owner (as Parfit, rather riskily, allows us to call that person) a strong sense of his or her own identity and of difference from others, why should a metaphysical belief, that he or she is really a fuzzy set of experiences, provide a reason for feeling and acting in some altered way?
- Connections between metaphysical and ethical issues are central to this work, but it is not always made clear how they run. In at least one case, one which Parfit touches only very briefly, they do not run at all. He says that if, as some metaphysicians have claimed, the passage of time is an illusion, it cannot be irrational in practical thought to have no preference for one time over another, such as a preference for the near over the far. But this does not follow. If time’s passage is an illusion, so is the flow of time apparently involved in action and deliberation themselves; relative to the metaphysical truth of the matter, the whole enterprise of practical deliberation, and all the various principles that might be brought to it, would alike have to be bracketed. If time’s passage is an illusion, we live that illusion, and finding out that it was an illusion would not provide us with a reason for deliberating in one way rather than another within it.
- Parfit can convert the metaphysical into the practical so easily, I suspect, because the view that he takes of the practical, and of experience in general, is throughout the book so radically external. Philosophically speaking – it is not true of his literary allusions – he sees everything from the outside. In dealing with personal identity, this conceals from him one of the main reasons why people think that it must be a determinate question whether some future experience will be theirs or not: that if it will be theirs, they can, as well as expecting that it will happen, also expect it, in the sense of imaginatively anticipating having it; and there seems to be no room for the idea that it is simply indeterminate whether I can appropriately do that or not. If Parfit had discussed that particular point, it would not necessarily have harmed his case, and it might even have helped to reconcile us to it. But in other ways his neglect of the first-personal view, in the theory of personal identity as in his earlier discussion of one’s need to induce certain dispositions in oneself, leaves a gap. When we think how the argument is to be understood and applied, a dimension is missing.
- In one respect, Parfit leaves it unclear whether he has adequately applied his metaphysical conclusions to his own argument. In the last part of the book, where population policy is in question, the idea that people are only aggregates of experiences seems to have been left behind. The whole discussion rests on a notion which seems uneasily related to that idea, the notion of ‘a life worth living’. All Parfit’s paradoxes involve the question whether the people in various populations have lives which are, or are not, worth living. But the discussions of personal identity and of prudence have earlier led us to distrust the ethical importance of a life at all. Perhaps a life worth living need not be taken to mean a life which as a whole will have been worth living. Perhaps it just means some living which, at any given time, is worth living. But Parfit cannot, as things stand, simply contract it to that. Almost the only clue that he gives to what is meant by saying that a life is not worth living is that people who had a life very much not worth living would kill themselves if they could. But he cannot use that notion without reference to the identity of the life that such a person would be ending. On his own view, that involves the question of the lives which suicide would be preventing: meaning by that, not the children that the agent would not have, but the selves that he would not become. Parfit cannot use the willingness to commit suicide as a neutral test of how a person values his or her own life. If imprudence is, as Parfit says, immorality, then suicide is murder.
- There is another question raised by the section on population policy, besides those that come from the metaphysics of persons. That section tests more severely than any other part of the book the reliability of our ethical reactions when we are confronted with extreme and very abstractly presented possibilities. Correspondingly, it is the part that most calls in question Parfit’s refusal to raise questions of meta-ethics. Asked by him to say whether it would be better if there were two large populations, not connected with each other, each consisting of people whose life was just worth living, rather than one of those populations with a standard of life rather higher, or some yet more complex question of the same kind, I may wonder what I am being invited to do. What real substance can such judgments possess?
- The problem presses all the more when I have, for once, a belief on these questions that seems very solid, but it turns out that theoretical argument may lay it aside. Very many of us believe in what Parfit calls ‘The Asymmetry’. If any child that I had now would (very probably) have a miserable life, that in itself would be some reason against my having a child now. On the other hand, if any child I have is likely to have quite a happy life, that fact in itself is no reason for having a child rather than not. We do not think in terms of doing the child a good turn by bringing him or her into existence. Parfit argues that we should probably think in those terms. To me, I must confess, it seems that ‘The Asymmetry’ is as clearly valid as anything is in this area, and while we certainly need a philosophical account of that impression, I do not see how theory acquires the power to cancel it. If moral philosophy is to do as much as Parfit hopes, by his very abstract means, it badly needs an account of the authority of theory.
- However, here as elsewhere, the conflicts that Parfit has discovered are entirely real, and his imaginative and powerful arguments have uncovered deep questions which have in most cases never been explored so thoroughly, while, in other cases, they have barely been thought about at all. They are important questions, for practice as well as for philosophy, and in a moving last chapter, Parfit makes it clear how important he takes them to be. This ingenious, unusual, compelling book fully meets the importance of its questions.
"Williams (Christopher) - Death and Other Difficulties"
Source: Williams (Christopher) - Being, Identity, and Truth, Chapter 2
- Predicating Existence of People: There are many examples of sentences which make sense and which seem to involve predicating existence of individuals.
- Existence in Fiction: Where 'exists' means 'exists in fact rather than in fiction', the proposition which contains it is about a word rather than about what the word names.
- Continued and Contingent Existence: The analysis of propositions of the form 'a might never have existed' or 'a still exists' does not reveal embedded propositions of the form 'a exists'.
- Differences Between the Counter-Examples: Unlike the counter-examples considered in (§ 2) the propositions ascribing contingent or continued existence do predicate something of the persons or things named by the names which occur in them.
- God and Creation: Some things that are said in the Bible involve the use of '— exist' as a first-level predicable. It is no more difficult to suppose that biblical authors were confused about the use of language than that they were mistaken about matters of scientific fact. The concept of creation can be analysed without recourse to a first-level concept of existence.
- Existence as Being the Same as Something: The suggestion that '— exists' as applied to individuals means '— is the same as something' will not help to deal with the problems arising from existence in fiction, from continued and contingent existence and from creation.
- Conclusion: None of the difficulties examined in this chapter force us to abandon the claim that whatever can be said with the use of 'exist' can be said with the use of 'some'. We need to examine the notion of existential generalization.
COMMENT: (To be) annotated hard copy filed in "Various - Papers on Desktop".
In-Page Footnotes ("Williams (Christopher) - Death and Other Difficulties")
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