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Personal Identity - Research - Proposal

The topic I wish to research is “Personal Identity”, with the focus,,, on the ontology of, and persistence criteria for, human persons and related sortals. Since it is a contingent fact that all existents that are universally agreed to be persons are members of the species homo sapiens, we must start with human beings in deciding what persons are.

I will scrutinise certain basic assumptions that I accept. Firstly, that the “identity” involved in personal identity is the ordinary logical notion. Secondly, that some form of physicalism in the philosophy of mind is true and central to the topic. Thirdly, while it is analytic that survival involves identity, that what matters in survival is both physical & psychological continuity.

In considering what a person is, I will need to consider somatic, forensic and psychological issues, and, in particular, focus on self-consciousness and the first-person perspective. I will need to consider semantic and conceptual issues as well as ontological issues.

I will focus on two views, namely Animalism and the Constitution View. I must consider just what Baker and others mean by “constitution”, and evaluate the cogency of the supposedly knock-down “too many minds” argument that Olson and others have raised against it.

Key questions are whether or not the concept of a person is a natural kind concept, and whether the various views take persons sufficiently seriously. That is, are persons no more than phase sortals of certain animals or are they ontological novelties, as Baker suggests?

I will consider the usual problem cases, whether obtained from clinical observation or thought experiment, including brain transplant, fission, fusion, duplication, replication and metamorphosis. In particular, I want to compare forward and backward psychological continuity and the role of normal causality in preserving identity. However, I need to consider whether all talk of first-person perspectives depends on a, presumably non-existent, Cartesian Ego.

Since I’m particularly averse to “closest continuer” theories, I am tempted by four-dimensionalism and shared person-stages as a solution to some of the paradoxes where, otherwise, awkward choices have to be made. Since there are acknowledged difficulties for the perdurantist in not being able to count tokens of persons and other sortals, I need to address the attempted solutions.

I conclude this document (by way of an end-note) by considering the thought experiment of teletransportation to rehearse the key issues. I would need to repeat this exercise for all the favourites, including Unger’s Siliconisation and Williams’s backup/restore.

Note last updated: 26/09/2007 20:41:17



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Timestamp: 11/10/2017 06:27:50. Comments to theo@theotodman.com.