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Introductory Meeting: Friday 28th September 2007

This was a brief introductory session, items discussed included:

  1. Persons as artefacts: We’re not claiming that anyone believes this – eg. that persons are artefacts of language, but reflects Wiggins’ response to Snowdon1 (see reference2 below). Adopting a functional approach is effectively treating persons as artefacts (which are defined by their functions – eg. a corkscrew – though there can be broken exemplars that can no longer perform the function). Presumably this is intended as a reductio of the functionalist account of personhood.
  2. Has the debate on personal identity been hijacked by a term (whose meaning has changed over time) that can now be dispensed with? You mentioned the Greeks. I noticed that Wiggins claims that they had no term for “person” (I need to re-read the paper by "Trendelenberg (Adolf) - A Contribution to the History of the Word Person" to double-check this).
  3. Olson and “our” identity: According to my interpretation of Olson, “we” are (identical to) human animals. Human animals have no mental characteristics essentially (and certainly none of the high self-conscious level usually assumed to be partly constitutive of persons), since they can survive in a Persistent Vegetative State, and pre-existed as a fetus prior to enjoying any mental states at all). Have we always secretly been talking about human animal identity when we thought we were talking about something separate, namely persons? Olson doesn’t deny the possibility of non-human persons3.
  4. Things and properties: is this another take on the same distinction? That is, the thing is the human being; its property is that of being a person. I am a student, but my studenthood cannot become detached from me as a human being, and nothing ceases to exist when I depart the scene having found all this philosophy too difficult.
  5. Wiggins and sortals: we can’t talk of the persistence conditions of anything until we know what sort it is. Olson (if I remember correctly) claims that it’s futile to talk of the persistence4 conditions of persons per se – if human beings, God and angels are all persons – since their persistence conditions (assuming the existence of God and angels, for the sake of the argument) are completely different.
  6. Lynne Rudder Baker & the claim that ontological novelty arises when something can consider itself as itself. I got the impression that you agreed with this, though maybe it was just that self-consciousness is a very important property, whose first appearance was an important event. I agree with this (though think that the prior requirement of phenomenal consciousness itself is more remarkable).
My topics list:-
  1. Use of web technology: see (Link). Especially follow the Philosophy/Research Papers link. Two aspects
    • Reading lists / abstracts and such like, and
    • The interconnectedness of thoughts (as exemplified in my research proposal).
    I’d like to use this in addition to the essay-style approach. I think both of the above aspects are useful ways of communicating where I’m at. There’s a list of all the papers on Personal Identity (and cognate matters) I’ve actually read (though not necessarily those I can remember much about), and another of all the papers I actually possess copies of. Building on these would seem sensible. The hyperlinking approach starting from the research proposal5 or the Personal Identity jump table seems to me to be the way to keep the research in some sort of context, and broken down into inter-related sub-topics, so we can decide which should be addressed and which not.
  2. What is the aim of the PhD (assuming I get that far): is it training in how to philosophise, a professional qualification, or the in-depth pursuit of a tasty topic? Or a combination? Somehow I seem to have escaped being interviewed at either of my applications for the MPhil, so haven’t really had the chance to discuss this matter. In a sense it’s up to me what I get out of the course, but I’d like to discuss what it would be most natural to want out of it, given what the course provides. If it is a course.
  3. Next steps: An essay. See my status report6 for my thoughts prior to the supervision. See below for the agreed topic.
  4. First “real” supervision: purpose: review an essay and plan the term / year. I’d also like your thoughts on my web-stuff.
  5. Birkbeck Research Seminars: purpose and priority.
  6. Intercollegiate research seminars: I can’t see any this term that are useful.
  7. Intercollegiate lectures: I could see none that were useful. I probably won’t go to any as they are rather an inefficient use of time (because of the travel) and can be a distraction from serious thought. I am, however, considering attending the Aristotelian Society and possibly the Royal Institute of Philosophy, provided these don’t become a substitute for working.
  8. What is the aim of the first year? To produce a research proposal? What more do I need to do than I’ve already done? Produce a draft chapter and a more focused plan and a reading list that I can actually read and interact with within the time available (and how any years should I aim for - 5 years, or less?).
  9. Communication with my supervisor. We discussed this briefly at the time. Firstly, I have a tendency to say “yes, yes”, even when I don’t fully understand, with the intention of receiving enlightenment on further reflection. This often doesn’t happen (especially if I’ve forgotten the reflectandum). Also, I think that all communication is interpreted within a context, that all statements are ambiguous, and that without an understanding of what our interlocutors take as “the given”, we have few controls within which to interpret what the other person says. Finally, I think communication is better in writing, with the face-to-face7 element only best used for sorting out persistent misunderstandings. I discussed this in a blog8, though I understand that (because of the time factor if nothing else) the writing should be by me. Maybe all this was covered in the “you and your supervisor” talk I missed.
  10. A point I didn’t have on my list was to ask how demanding I can be. This isn’t intended to be a plea for special attention, but a management of expectations. For real communication, two people need to get inside one another’s heads, which may not be possible if the boundaries are three sessions of 1.5 hours a term with an hour of pre-reading on your part before each. I suppose I want to know whether this project is some sort of collaboration, or whether your role is a bit of gentle guidance here and there. I dare say an issue is that the thesis is supposed to be “my work” – is this so in the same way as a BA pre-submission?

Prior to next supervision:-
  1. Write an essay focusing on "Dennett (Daniel) - Conditions of Personhood".
  2. Also, look at "Wiggins (David) - Reply to Snowdon (Persons and Personal Identity)", a response to "Snowdon (Paul) - Persons and Personal Identity" in "Lovibond (Sabina) & Williams (S.G.) - Identity, Truth & Value: Essays for David Wiggins".

Items for discussion in the future:
  1. "McDowell (John) - Reductionism and the First Person" in "Dancy (Jonathan), Ed. - Reading Parfit".
  2. Read "Wiggins (David) - Personal Identity" in "Wiggins (David) - Sameness and Substance Renewed".

Note that I’ve already read all these papers with the exception of "Wiggins (David) - Personal Identity".

As I missed your talk “Knowledge of Language and Epistemic Interdependence” on 4th Oct, could you email me a copy? Also, please copy me on any handout from “You and Your Supervisor”.

Next Supervision: Monday 22nd October 2007; 11:30.

Table of the Previous 2 Versions of this Note:

Date Length Title
21/10/2007 10:14:53 7683 Jen_070928
17/10/2007 14:41:17 7663 Jen_070928

Note last updated Reading List for this Topic Parent Topic
18/12/2010 12:00:00 None available None

Summary of Notes Referenced by This Note

Face-to-face Discussion Jen_070928_J1 Jen_070928_N1 Jen_070928_N2 Jen_070928_N2J1
Jen_070928_N3 Research - Proposal Status: Summary (2023 - June)    

To access information, click on one of the links in the table above.

Summary of Notes Citing This Note

Status: Personal Identity (Summary of Progress to Date) Website - Outstanding Developments (2023 - August), 2      

To access information, click on one of the links in the table above.

References & Reading List

Author Title Medium Source Read?
Dancy (Jonathan), Ed. Reading Parfit Book - Cited Medium Quality Abstract Dancy (Jonathan), Ed. - Reading Parfit 17%
Dennett (Daniel) Brainstorms - Philosophical Essays on Mind and Psychology Book - Cited (via Paper Cited) Low Quality Abstract Bibliographical details to be supplied 43%
Dennett (Daniel) Conditions of Personhood Paper - Cited High Quality Abstract Dennett - Brainstorms - Philosophical Essays on Mind and Psychology, Chapter 14, 1976 Yes
Lovibond (Sabina) & Williams (S.G.) Identity, Truth & Value: Essays for David Wiggins Book - Cited High Quality Abstract Lovibond (Sabina) & Williams (S.G.) - Identity, Truth & Value: Essays for David Wiggins 10%
McDowell (John) Reductionism and the First Person Paper - Cited Medium Quality Abstract Dancy - Reading Parfit, 1997, Chapter 11 Yes
Snowdon (Paul) Persons and Personal Identity Paper - Cited Medium Quality Abstract Lovibond & Williams - Identity, Truth & Value: Essays for David Wiggins, 1996 Yes
Trendelenberg (Adolf) A Contribution to the History of the Word Person Paper - Cited Low Quality Abstract Monist, 20 (1910), 336-363 Yes
Wiggins (David) Personal Identity Paper - Cited Low Quality Abstract Wiggins - Sameness and Substance Renewed, 2001, Chapter 7 48%
Wiggins (David) Reply to Snowdon (Persons and Personal Identity) Paper - Cited Lovibond & Williams - Identity, Truth & Value: Essays for David Wiggins, 1996 Yes
Wiggins (David) Sameness and Substance Renewed Book - Cited Medium Quality Abstract Wiggins (David) - Sameness and Substance Renewed 16%

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