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Temporal Asymmetry and the Self/Person Split

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Fig. 1


  1. See Derek Parfit, Reasons and Persons (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984).

  2. John Martin Fischer, Our Stories: Essays on Life, Death, and Free Will (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), p. 74. Dan Moller, “Parfit on Pains, Pleasures, and the Time of Their Occurrence,” Canadian Journal of Philosophy Vol. 32, No. 1 (2002) pp. 67–82 argues that any such evolutionary explanations would amount to a ‘debunking’ of temporally asymmetric attitudes, and so entail both that there are no reasons to be temporally biased and that there are reasons not to be biased in this way.

  3. Robin Le Poidevin, Arguing for Atheism: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion (London: Routledge, 1996). Against this, see Mikel Burley, “Lucretius’ Symmetry Argument and the Determinacy of Death,” Philosophical Forum Vol. 38, No. 4 (2007) pp. 327–41 and Gal Yehezkel, “Theories of Time and the Asymmetry in Human Attitudes,” Ratio Vol. 27, No. 1 (2014) pp. 68–83.

  4. J. David Velleman, Self to Self: Selected Essays (Cambridge University Press, 2006), p. 9.

  5. Burley, “Lucretius’ Symmetry Argument and the Determinacy of Death,” 333.

  6. See e.g. Yehezkel op.cit. p. 71.

  7. Fred Feldman, “Brueckner and Fischer on the Evil of Death,” Philosophical Studies Vol. 162, No. 2 (2013) p. 316.

  8. A.N. Prior, “Thank Goodness That’s Over,” Philosophy Vol. 34, No. 128 (1959) pp. 12–17.

  9. Mark Johnston, “Human Concerns without Superlative Selves,” in Jonathan Dancy, ed., Reading Parfit (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), p. 155.

  10. Parfit op. cit. pp. 165–66.

  11. Ibid., p. 181.

  12. Anthony L. Brueckner and John Martin Fischer, “Why Is Death Bad?, Philosophical Studies Vol. 50, No. 2 (1986) p. 221.

  13. Frances C. Kamm, Morality, Mortality Vol. 1: Death and Whom to Save from It (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), p. 35.

  14. Caspar Hare, “A Puzzle About Other-Directed Time-Bias,” Australasian Journal of Philosophy Vol. 86, No. 2 (2008) pp. 269–77.

  15. Hare, it should be noted, ultimately concludes that distance shouldn’t matter to us like this.

  16. Kamm, Morality, Mortality Vol. 1: Death and Whom to Save from It 1, 34. Kamm also insists we should not act in order to achieve a certain type of life-product (1993:32).

  17. Ibid., p. 36. Kamm claims that even from that perspective premortem nonexistence doesn’t seem as bad for a person as postmortem nonexistence.

  18. Brueckner and Fischer op. cit.

  19. John Martin Fischer and Anthony Brueckner, “Prenatal and Posthumous Non-Existence: A Reply to Johansson,” The Journal of Ethics Vol. 18, No. 1 (2014), p. 7.

  20. Hare op. cit. p. 270.

  21. J. David Velleman, “Well-Being and Time,” in John Martin Fischer, ed., The Metaphysics of Death (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993) pp. 327–57.

  22. Fischer, Our Stories, p. 30; cf. Brueckner and Fischer, “Why Is Death Bad?,” p. 216. See also Kamm op. cit. p. 31: “only the desire to experience or act [in the future] could overcome the desire to have lived a good, meaningful life in the past. Future nonexperiental, nonactivity goods are too much like having had the goods of experience or action in the past to make one feel tempted to give up for their sake the many past goods that account for one’s having lived a good life.”

  23. Walter Glannon, “Temporal Asymmetry, Life, and Death,” American Philosophical Quarterly Vol. 31, No. 3 (1994) pp. 235–44.

  24. ‘First personal’ and ‘experiential’ are quite closely related here, though here I would want to insist, contra Glannon, that non-experiential things can have first personal import. I might not care about when I am unknowingly betrayed, but I might care very much that I not be unknowingly betrayed.

  25. Patrick Stokes, “Will It Be Me? Identity, Concern and Perspective,” Canadian Journal of Philosophy Vol. 43, No. 2 (2013) p. 217.

  26. Galen Strawson, “The Self and the Sesmet,” Journal of Consciousness Studies Vol. 6, No. 4 (1999) pp. 99–135; “Episodic Ethics,” in Daniel D. Hutto, ed., Narrative and Understanding Persons (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007) pp. 85–116.

  27. Dan Zahavi, Subjectivity and Selfhood: Investigating the First-Person Perspective (Cambridge MA: MIT Press, 2005); “Self and Other: The Limits of Narrative Understanding,” in Hutto, ed., Narrative and Understanding Persons pp. 179–202.

  28. Marya Schechtman, “Stories, Lives, and Basic Survival: A Refinement and Defense of the Narrative View,” in Hutto, ed., Narrative and Understanding Persons pp. 155–78.

  29. Thomas Nagel, The View from Nowhere (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986).

  30. Mark Johnston, Surviving Death (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010), p. 146.

  31. Ibid., 151–54.

  32. Ibid., 162–63.

  33. Galen Strawson, Selves: An Essay in Revisionary Metaphysics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), p. 297.

  34. Johnston, Surviving Death, 175.

  35. Nothing major hangs on this point about irreducibility for present purposes, but see Stokes, “Will It Be Me?” for a fuller defence of some of the claims made here.

  36. Johnston, Surviving Death, 152–53.

  37. Stokes, “Will It Be Me?”; The Naked Self: Kierkegaard and Personal Identity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015).

  38. Anthony Rudd, Self, Value, and Narrative: A Kierkegaardian Approach (Oxford University Press, 2012).

  39. Christopher Belshaw, Annihilation: The Sense and Significance of Death (Montreal and Kingston: McGill University Press, 2009), pp. 154–58.

  40. Things get more complex when we move away from straightforwardly hedonic cases. For a start, predicaments often do directly impact upon the welfare of the person – indeed many are predicaments precisely because we’re not sure of what choice would best maximise our person-welfare (“Should I risk everything for the sake of my artistic vocation, knowing I might fail? A life of art seems to me a uniquely valuable kind of life, but I also don’t want to be a failure.”) I won’t say more about this here given that it would drag us too far beyond the topic of temporal asymmetry, but I suspect a story can be told that accounts for this in terms of the person/self schema.

  41. There is a deliberate note of volitional ambiguity in this phrasing around the idea of identification, which recalls Frankfurt on ‘satisfaction’. You find yourself satisfied rather than making yourself satisfied, yet this notion of satisfaction also seems to entail some element of active endorsement of the sort Frankfurt had ascribed to the notion of identification in his earlier work. Identifying with something – a family, a marriage, a team, a nation – seems to involve a synthesis of both active and passive elements, finding something to be both necessarily a part of you and something you choose. Harry G. Frankfurt, “The Faintest Passion,” Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association Vol. 66, No. 3 (1992) pp. 5–16; Stan van Hooft, “Commitment and the Bond of Love,” in Adrianne Leigh McEvoy, ed., Sex, Love, and Friendship: Studies of the Society for the Philosophy of Sex and Love, 1993–2003 (New York: Rodopi, 2011) pp. 115–135.

  42. Parfit op. cit.

  43. Marya Schechtman, “Empathic Access: The Missing Ingredient in Personal Identity,” Philosophical Explorations Vol. 4, No. 2 (2001) pp. 99–111.

  44. Strawson, “Episodic Ethics.”

  45. This paper was made possible by a grant from Deakin University. I am grateful to Adam Buben and to seminar attendees at Deakin for comments on an earlier version of this paper.

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Stokes, P. Temporal Asymmetry and the Self/Person Split. J Value Inquiry 51, 203–219 (2017).

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