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Personal Identity

Thesis - Chapter 01 (Introduction)

(Text as at 14/07/2019 18:05:46)

(For other versions of this Note, see the tables at the end)


Research Methodology

Links to Notes
  1. General Surveys6,
  2. Locke7,
  3. My Current Stance8
  4. Maybe others9 (to be supplied).

Chapter Introduction
  1. Why should we care about the topic of Personal Identity? The question hardly needs answering, as it’s just about the most important question to be posed by a reflective (if selfish) person. Historically, answers to this question have provided – or so Locke hoped – grounds for the possibility of life after death. Yet, the question is difficult, and has had many attempted solutions offered – and while some philosophers think there is no problem left to solve, there is no consensus as to the answer.
  2. My favourite paradigm – in the sense of the one I think most likely to be correct, rather than necessary the one I’d like to be correct – is Animalism. This is the claim that we are human animals and that consequently death is the end of us. This sensible view is only supported by around 17% of philosophers, according to a 2009 poll10 with about twice as many supporting some form of psychological view.
  3. In one sense it is just obvious that we are – in some sense of that weasel word “are” – human animals. But then the problem cases kick in – whether actual real-life cases or thought experiments that may never be real-life possibilities.
  4. About 36% of the respondents in the aforementioned survey though we could survive teletransportation – though 31% thought that the result would be death.
  5. Transhumanists11 think we can be uploaded to computers, which makes no sense if we are animals.
  6. So, as noted, there’s no consensus.
  7. Further detail to be supplied12.

Main Text: Brief historical survey of the topic of Personal Identity
  1. As already noted, there are many fine introductory books on this topic, and I don’t intend to compete with them here. What I want to do is situate what I want to say in its historical context. I don’t intend to supply this section with a detailed scholarly apparatus.
  2. it was Locke who first –or at least most famously – made the distinction between the PERSON and the MAN.
  3. The Person13 is individuated by a locus of consciousness and extends as far at that consciousness14 extends. No doubt for most of the time since Locke, this locus of consciousness was thought of as an immaterial Soul15, which makes the thought experiments – from Locke’s Prince and Cobbler onwards – easier to credit, though for some time this has been no longer an option for most philosophers.
  4. The Man is variously cashed out as the Human Being16 or Human Animal17, though for much of the time since Locke the division has been between the Mind (thought of as what the person really is) and the Body18.
  5. It is occasionally claimed that philosophers prefer the mind to the body, and are naturally inclined to take the “mental” side in these debates. While that may be true, the consciousness envisaged is not that of philosophical contemplation, but the everyday sort enjoyed by cobblers and the rest of us. It includes appreciation of all things bodily, and is the ground of everything that matters19 to us.
  6. In the ensuing arguments between those supporting psychological continuity20 and connectedness21, and those preferring bodily continuity22, the question what we are23 seemed to have been forgotten. Maybe it had been assumed that Person was a substance24-concept?
  7. This is still assumed by those who think that Persons – whether as souls or reified First-Person Perspectives25 – are separable from the infrastructure that – in normal circumstances – “grounds” them.
  8. But, for most people these days it is – or ought to be – obvious that the default position is that “we” are human animals, and that the consequences that stem from this have to be lived with.
  9. But it is difficult not to be – and maybe correct to be –dissatisfied with this. We may end up in what has been called a “disjunctivist” account: we are animals, but even so, we “go where our psychology goes”. In particular, the brain transplant26 intuition is difficult to escape from.
  10. If this is so, the answers to our questions will rest on just where our “psychology” does – or can (in the widest sense) “go”.
  11. As already noted, Transhumanists27 imagine all sorts of scenarios whereby “we” are uploaded to a computer. Even were this practical – we will discuss it in the next chapter – it assumes that “we” are our mental contents rather than the things that enjoy these contents. This strikes me as continuing a mistaken route in the history of philosophy taken by supporters of the psychological view, and continued by Parfit28 and his supporters.
  12. Further text to be supplied29 in due course.

Concluding Remarks
  1. To make any progress on this topic, we need to come to a conclusion as to what sort of thing we are. We discuss this in the next Chapter30.
  2. Further details to be supplied31.

Links to Books / Papers to be Addressed32
  1. In this Chapter I will consider the following papers or book chapters (together with some others referenced by these). There are doubtless many more that are relevant and which will be addressed in the course of the thesis, but these are probably sufficient to get us going.
  2. The purpose of this Chapter is to introduce and motivate the Thesis. As such, I need to situate it in the history of the topic. This is done in a number of introductory books, General Surveys, or collections of Papers that are standard fodder in courses on Personal Identity.
  3. Consequently, I will review the various Surveys of Personal Identity that feature in the standard reading lists, both to demonstrate that I’ve read them, and to ensure I’ve missed nothing major.
  4. If a Paper in a Collection or Chapter in an Introduction is specific to a later Chapter in this Thesis, its consideration may be reserved until a later Chapter, even if the Book itself is not. These will be noted in due course.
  5. As the topic of Personal Identity stems primarily from Locke’s account, I need a brief statement of what this is. Most of the relevant material will appear in due course in the anthologies, but I few items not anthologised are listed below.
  6. Other works were considered and either cut or reserved for later, as indicated below. The easiest way to see all the works considered is via the reading list at the end of this Note.
  7. Introductory or General Books
  8. Standard Collections
  9. Locke

The Cut
  1. Various works were considered for this Chapter, but were either reserved for consideration in other Chapters, or were rejected, at least for the time being.
  2. Priority Works to be read later for other Chapters:-
  3. Secondary Works to be “parked” for the time being:

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 3: Footnote 4: Footnote 5: Footnote 9: Footnote 10: Footnote 32: Footnote 33: As this is a PhD Thesis in my general subject-area, I ought at least to have read it!

Footnote 34: Somewhat elementary, but worth (re-)reading quickly

Footnote 35: Footnote 36: This is a set of papers for discussion in a research seminar. Most are probably covered elsewhere, but in case not …

Footnote 37: For a review, see "Lerner (Berel Dov) - Review of 'Personal Identity and Ethics: A Brief Introduction' by David Shoemaker".

Footnote 38: Decide where to park the various Chapters of this book after reading the précis.

Footnote 39: Footnote 40: This is more recent than the others.

Footnote 45: But note that Baker’s account of constitution differs from the mereological account assumed in Rea’s anthology.

Footnote 46: The works by Reuscher and Trupp are too eccentric to be given any priority.

Footnote 47: The works by Slors may be worth reading as a fairly contemporary defence of the psychological view; just not yet.

Footnote 48: The work by Vesey is too out of date for a priority item.

Live Version of this Archived Note

Date Length Title
14/07/2019 18:05:46 11801 Thesis - Chapter 01 (Introduction)

Table of 12 Earlier Versions of this Note (of 13)

Date Length Title
18/04/2019 18:18:43 8847 Thesis - Chapter 01 (Introduction)
24/04/2018 00:12:58 14139 Thesis - Chapter 01 (Introduction)
05/04/2016 23:19:41 14136 Thesis - Chapter 01 (Introduction)
04/04/2015 00:17:17 13307 Thesis - Chapter 01 (Introduction)
13/01/2015 19:07:41 12400 Thesis - Chapter 01 (Introduction)
06/11/2014 10:13:26 12058 Thesis - Chapter 01 (Introduction)
02/10/2014 17:12:29 11086 Thesis - Chapter 01 (Introduction)
02/08/2014 17:41:17 11725 Thesis - Chapter 01 (Introduction)
22/07/2014 22:23:31 10191 Thesis - Chapter 01 (Introduction)
05/07/2014 13:48:00 5817 Thesis - Chapter 01 (Introduction)
18/12/2010 19:58:05 468 Thesis - Outline - Introduction
26/11/2007 23:25:26 414 Thesis - Outline - Introduction

This version updated Reading List for this Topic Parent Topic
14/07/2019 18:05:46 None available Thesis - Introduction

Summary of Notes Links from this Page

Awaiting Attention (Personal Identity) (3) Body Body Criterion Brain Transplants Connectedness vs Continuity
Consciousness First-Person Perspective General Surveys Human Animals Human Beings
Locke Parfit Person Psychological Continuity Souls
Status: Thesis Dashboard (2018: March) Substance Thesis - Chapter 02 (What are We?) Thesis - Chapter 03 (What is a Person?) Thesis - Chapter 04 (Basic Metaphysical Issues)
Thesis - Chapter 05 (Persistence and Time) Thesis - Chapter 07 (The Constitution View and Arguments for It) Thesis - Current Stance Thesis - Method & Form Transhumanism (2)
What are We? What Matters      

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Summary of Note Links to this Page

Status: Personal Identity (2019 - December) Status: Personal Identity (2019 - September) Status: Personal Identity (2020 - March) Status: Priority Task List (2019: December) Status: Priority Task List (2019: September)
Status: Priority Task List (2020: March) Status: Summary (2019 - December) Status: Summary (2019 - September) Status: Summary (2020 - March)  

To access information, click on one of the links in the table above (if any).

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