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Status: Personal Identity (2008-September)
(Text as at 02/10/2008 18:57:36)
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Rationale for this Project
I am researching the subject of Personal Identity primarily because of its intrinsic interest and importance. It is really a sub-topic in my Philosophy of Religion project. Additionally, I hope to acquire a PhD in Philosophy from Birkbeck at the end of my research (or at least at an appropriate point within it). This PhD is neither an end in itself, nor the usual means to an end; I do not want a job in philosophy at the end of the course. It’s intended to teach me research techniques, provide focus and direction, and furnish a professional qualification should I want to publish any results in this or any other area of philosophy. Maybe the most important reason is to get feedback on my outpourings, for which I have been grateful for the forbearance of my former Supervisor (Birkbeck: Jen Hornsby), Prof. Jen Hornsby.
Summary of Progress during September 2008
I’ve decided not to continue with my part-time PhD beyond the end of this academic year, but to re-apply for a full-time place commencing in October 2010. I do intend to continue research in the interim, but I have done next to nothing since deciding to intermit.
Items that were addressed in September included:-
- Started reviewing "Kurtz (Roxanne) - Introduction to Persistence: What’s the Problem?", the introduction to "Haslanger (Sally) & Kurtz (Roxanne), Eds. - Persistence : Contemporary Readings". I’ve decided to get a firmer view on Persistence before reverting to Animalism, so intend to read this book in its entirety.
- Continued listening to "Smith (Steven B.) - Introduction to Political Philosophy" - rather tenuously connected to my Thesis topic, but useful background no doubt. 18 lectures (of 24) listened to so far; 2 in May, 6 in June, 1 in July, 4 in August, 5 in September.
- Started trawling through on-line resources (JSTOR, etc.) for relevant papers.
Time Divisions (Where, for “YTD” – Year to Date – the year commences in October 2007):
I spent 22 hours in September (608 hours YTD) on my Thesis or Thesis-related work. The minimum requirement for a part time student is 20 hours / week, which would give 86 hours (960 hours YTD). Hence, my expended hours are woefully short - 25% of expectation for the month (63% YTD). Moreover, of this 17 hours (219 hours YTD), or 77% (36% YTD) were spent on background activities. This means that only 5 hours (389 hours YTD) were spent on core activities. This is only 6% (41% YTD) of the minimum requirement. I must put in more effort if this project is to achieve its goals.
The background activities include Book / Paper cataloguing, Aristotelian Society / Philos-List, and General Admin and Status Reporting. This needs to come down, as they are not strictly necessary (nor fall within the 20-hour / week expectation).
I’ve adjusted the task lists below in line with what is realistically achievable. Anything listed as “for immediate progression” is intended to be completed, or at least progressed, in the coming month. Other items that cannot be addressed in this timeframe are relegated to the second list, however intrinsically appealing.
Priority Tasks for Immediate Progression
- Write review of "Kurtz (Roxanne) - Introduction to Persistence: What’s the Problem?", the introduction to "Haslanger (Sally) & Kurtz (Roxanne), Eds. - Persistence : Contemporary Readings".
- Complete the write-up1 from my final Supervision of 16th June.
- Complete listening to "Smith (Steven B.) - Introduction to Political Philosophy".
- Trawl the Philosophers Index for recently-posted papers on my research topic. This is required urgently as my SHL subscription will no doubt expire shortly.
- Ensure some minimal data on Abstracts for all Identity Papers Read – ie. Review papers read to date, and ensure some minimal write-up is available for each.
Items Outstanding for Less Urgent Progression
- Complete reading and reviewing "Fine (Kit) - The Non-Identity of a Material Thing and Its Matter".
- Write a paper on Constitution.
- Complete a full review of "Baker (Lynne Rudder) - Persons and Bodies: A Constitution View".
- Write a full review of "Olson (Eric) - What are We? A Study of Personal Ontology".
- Revise / correct / complete essays in the light of supervisions. Ie:-
- Complete a draft chapter9 on “What are We?”; sub-tasks as defined in the plan.
- Continue write-up of "Moreland (J.P.) & Rae (Scott) - Body & Soul - Human Nature and the Crisis in Ethics".
- Continue write-up of "Bynum (Caroline) - Resurrection of the Body in Western Christianity, 200 - 1336".
- Complete reading "Plato, Gallop (David) - Phaedo".
- Transfer marginalia to Notes. I think this is a key step on-going, and will lead to the proper structuring and interlinking of the Notes by topic. I find myself writing variants of the same thought over and over again. This way, one priceless nugget per topic can be continually refined. Or so I hope. Unfortunately, this approach conflicts somewhat with the “essay-style” approach to philosophy demanded at Birkbeck, which seems to require that one topic be pursued resolutely to a (tentative) conclusion to the (temporary) exclusion of others. This is all very well and focused, but reading a collection of papers to see what they have to say on one sub-topic, and then reading them again and again for others is rather wasteful. I’d prefer to read them once or twice and at that time update the Notes I have on all the sub-topics they address. I’d prefer to leave essays and chapters alone for a year or so until I’ve finished accumulating enough comments on material read from which (any number of) essays can be developed.
- Ensure the categorization by Sub-topic of books and papers is correct. When I started off, I wasn’t clear what categorizations I should have; nor am I yet, quite. The Names of the Sub-topic level Notes and the Sub-topics themselves are supposed to be in line, for the automatic reading-list links to work. Obviously I can make this more flexible (and should do so).
Some Tedious Tasks Outstanding
- Correct data format on Identity Abstracts. Required because of failures in the extraction process from the Philosophers Index. The formatting in PI is often upper case, so I wrote a change-of-case algorithm, which unfortunately de-capitalised proper names in some instances. Also some websites or .pdf documents seem to have embedded carriage returns at the end of lines displayed, which have carried forward on cutting and pasting. And finally, truncation to 255-characters seems to have occurred on occasion.
- Correct author's names - Surname (Forename) - for all papers and books. I was originally rather sloppy on this, and it’s messing up the indexing.
- Complete extraction of abstracts from the Philosopher’s Index and elsewhere. I did a large matching-exercise based on the first 6 characters of the author’s name, together with the article title (but accounting for the annoying occasional full-stops in the PI titles). This picked up 1,500-odd abstracts, but there must be a lot more out there. Of course, I could use PI directly, but it’s slow and not integrated with the rest of my database.
Summary of Progress to Date
Year 1, Term 3:
- Supervision: 16th June10 2008.
- Reviewed11 "Fine (Kit) - A Counter-Example To Locke's Thesis", discussed at the above supervision.
Year 1, Term 2:
- Detailed term plan (not adhered to).
- Supervisions: 4th February12 and 18th February13 2008, 3rd March14 and 17th March15 2008.
- Wrote reviews of papers prerequisite to my draft chapter16 on “What are We?”
- Commenced reviewing
- Completed listening to "Kagan (Shelly) - Death: Course introduction".
- Somewhat irregular attendance at Birkbeck Research Seminars.
Year 1, Term 1:
- Supervisions: 28th September28, 22nd October29, 12th November30 and 19th November31 2007.
- Essay32 on "Dennett (Daniel) - Conditions of Personhood" produced and reviewed33.
- Chapter-outline34 for my thesis drafted, reviewed35 and revised.
- Web-technology36 paper drafted and reviewed37.
- Regular attendance at Birkbeck Research Seminars. Some correspondence with fellow students.
- Reading lists researched & papers / books obtained. I seem to have accumulated over 3,000 papers on the subject. Note that while a lot of these are held electronically, I’ve not made my copies available on the web (for copyright reasons).
- I have my collection of 1,400 philosophy books and 11,000 philosophy papers catalogued and the catalogue available on-line. Clearly I will not live long enough to look at more than a small fraction of these.
- Reading commenced. This is a bit of an understatement. My database informs me that I’ve read 407 papers or book-chapters on the subject. Unfortunately, any notes on these exist only as copious marginal annotations.
- Web-based Research infrastructure enabled. I cannot stress enough how important this is. My theory is that we have many conflicting intuitions about Personal Identity (and any other philosophical topic) and our positions in one area affect those elsewhere. So, being able to get one’s hands on all these assumptions and arguments at the click of a mouse is a huge advantage. This is now the way philosophy ought to be done. We don’t discuss philosophical questions any more in the agora, so we don’t write dialogues. We don’t need to communicate by letter, so there’s no need for papers. Of course, there are issues of volume and quality control. I expect to write a paper-generator in due course. But before all this, I’ll need the material to link to. That’s where the real philosophy starts.
- Abstracts for many papers obtained and incorporated into the database.
- Research proposal produced and used as a prototype for the metaphilosophical model I’ve developed.
- Application to Birkbeck made and successful.
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