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Strawson - Why I Have No Future

(Text as at 23/12/2007 21:11:31)


This write-up is a very brief review and commentary on "Strawson (Galen) - Why I Have No Future".

Galen Strawson argues for what he calls the NOF (No Ownership of the Future). This is the view that if we suffer a sudden and painless death1 of which we are unaware, we suffer no wrong and no loss. Or at least, that nothing is taken away from us. We leave a gap, which causes others to grieve, but not on our account.

Strawson claims that this view is unconnected to another view he holds – an Episodic as against a Diachronic view of the Self2 (where the Self is distinguished from the human being3). He doesn’t think that the Self persists.

His argument for the NOF is a simple appeal to no-ownership. He thinks this claim does not rest on a 4-D account of persistence, though he thinks the intuition is even stronger on a perdurantist4 view.

I disagree with him on both these issues. I think the self does persist, even though human beings are the ultimate persistents that host selves. I hold a continuity5 rather than connectedness6 view of the persistence of selves. That the self persists is central to all our planning for the future. I agree with Baker on the criticality of the first-person7 perspective, and if this persists continuously (though with regular unconscious intermissions), then we have full concern for our future self, even if viewed from the perspective of psychological connectedness, the future self has a lot of different intensional properties from the present one. I disagree with Parfit’s8 claims that we have a lesser concern for our more remote self, which depend on a connectedness view.

Strawson nowhere seems to consider how we actually run our lives prudentially. We deny ourselves present goods in order to enjoy greater future goods. If we have made these sacrifices, and are then terminated so that we never receive the expected benefits, then we have suffered a loss. Not of something that we possessed, but something that (in the statistical sense) we had a right to expect. The fact that Strawson takes an Episodic view of the self may make him unconcerned about the future of an unrelated self. Yet, does he in fact act this way – does he live this belief – or does he act as though his self will persist. Maybe he would think that anything done purely for a future (selfish) end is irrational, but can he live rationally by his own lights?

This isn’t the only issue. Strawson raises the case of young children, who have presumably only lived for the day. They have not made prudential sacrifices for their future. It is still a loss that their lives are terminated, but maybe only for their parents, or society as a whole, which have made the investment in their production.

I also think that there is a coherent concept of the expectation-value of future goods, which one is deprived of if one’s life is terminated prematurely, however abruptly and unbeknownst to one. The fact that one will never be aware of this harm doesn’t mean that one has not suffered it.

I found Strawson’s thoughts on perdurantism obscure. He didn’t actually use that term, but referred to the relativistic “block universe”. I’m not sure that the two views are equivalent. Again, he considers “ownership” and doubted that one part of a 4-D object can own another part of that object. He made an analogy with a part of a 3-D piece of string not owning another part. Yet, I certainly feel as though I own my left leg, and would feel a loss if it was taken from me. However, I’m not sure Strawson has the analogy right. On a 4-D view, that potential temporal part of me that was in fact “cut off” was never a part of the 4-D me. It only belonged to one of my counterparts in another possible world.

This will receive further consideration9 in due course.




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23/12/2007 21:11:31 None available None

Summary of Note Links from this Page

Awaiting Attention (Write-ups) Connectedness vs Continuity Continuity Death First-Person Perspective
Human Beings Parfit Perdurantism Self  

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Summary of Note Links to this Page

Thesis - Chapter 11 (Resurrection)        

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Authors, Books & Papers Citing this Note

Author Title Medium Extra Links Read?
Strawson (Galen) Why I Have No Future Paper Medium Quality Abstract   Yes



References & Reading List

Author Title Medium Source Read?
Strawson (Galen) Why I Have No Future Paper - Cited Medium Quality Abstract The Philosophers' Magazine (Issue ?? Appeared on TPM On-Line on 21st December 2007) Yes



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  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2017




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