Setting the Stage: Personal Identity and the Metaphysics of Mind

  • Marc Slors
Part of the Philosophical Studies Series book series (PSSP, volume 86)


The aim of this chapter is to expose the intimate connection between contemporary psychological continuity theories of personal identity and the physicalist orthodoxy in the philosophy of mind. Let me give a quick overview of what it is I shall be arguing.


Mental State Bodily State Psychological State Personal Identity Brain State 
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  1. 1.
    Locke ([1690] 1974).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Baillie (1993, p. 193); Parfit (1984, p. 202).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Noonan (1989, p. 2).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    I am referring to that aspect of Leibniz’ identity definition according to which identity is a relation an object can bear only to itself.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    E.g. Butler ([1736] 1975); Reid ([1785] 1941); Swinburne (1973, 1976, 1984); Chisholm (1976); Madell (1981, 1985, 1986, 1988).Google Scholar
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    E.g. Lewis (1976, 1986); Perry (1975b, 1976); Parfit (1971, 1976, 1984); Shoemaker (1970, 1984); Noonan (1989); Nozick (1981).Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    This is basically Parfit’s (1971, 1984) strategy.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    The idea is derived from Geach (1962, 1967). The connection with personal identity is made by e.g. Noonan (1989, p. 107).Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Cf. e.g. Quine (1976).Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    As Perry (1976, p. 67) vividly puts it: “You learn that someone will be run over by a truck tomorrow; you are saddened, feel pity, and think reflectively about the frailty of life; one bit of information is added, that someone is you, and a whole new set of emotions rise in your breast.”Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Like Schechtman, I am talking here about pre-philosophical intuitions. I will therefore disregard for the moment Parfit’s (1984) claim that the asymmetry between self-concern and other-concern is irrational. Likewise, I will disregard Parfit’s hesitance about the other three features.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Strict identity explains why we should care for our future experiences: they will be had by the same subject that has these experiences now. It also explains survival. Survival is, in terms of this explanans, strict identity of a subject over time. Similarly we can hold a person-stage responsible for past actions, according to the strict-identity theorist, because the agent is strictly identical with the responsible subject. Finally the phenomenon of compensation can be explained in a similar fashion: we compensate a person-stage whose subject is identical with the agent who worked overtime.Google Scholar
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    Cf. Noonan (1989, pp. 105–6).Google Scholar
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    Cf. e.g. Lewis (1986, pp. 192–3).Google Scholar
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    Noonan (1989, p. 108).Google Scholar
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    This way of introducing the perdurance-endurance distinction is borrowed from Schechtman (1996).Google Scholar
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    Lewis (1986, pp. 202 ff).Google Scholar
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    Cf. Quine (1976).Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    I will use the term ‘reductionism’ to refer to Parfit-like views on personal identity. In Chapter 7, I shall be discussing the mind-brain relation. I shall designate views to the effect that the mind can be reduced to the brain with the term ‘reductivism,’ just to keep the two views on two distinct issues apart.Google Scholar
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    Cf. e.g. Perry (1976), Lewis (1976).Google Scholar
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    Cf. Doepke (1996). See Slors (1998b) for criticism.Google Scholar
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    E.g. the idea that one body ‘describes’ one path through space-time.Google Scholar
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    Williams (1956, 1970) is one of the few and most prominent defenders of this theory.Google Scholar
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    Adherents include: Locke ([1690] 1974); Shoemaker (1963, 1970, 1984); Perry (1975b, 1976); Lewis (1976, 1986); Nozick (1981); Parfit (1971, 1984); Noonan (1989).Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Obvious objections to this definition of strong connectedness are (1) that the number of connections that define strong connectedness is rather arbitrarily chosen, and (2) that it is artificial to say that we can in fact count psychological connections. I will set these objections aside for the moment, for the objection I am about to raise to Parfit’s proposal is much more serious. I will return to the first objection in Chapter 4. The second objection will be a recurrent theme in Chapters 2 and 3, even though I will not explicitly mention it after this.Google Scholar
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    Cf. Schechtman (1990b, 1994a).Google Scholar
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    Noonan (1989, p. 68).Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    As Don Locke (1971) argued, it is by no means easy to determine what exactly it is that turns a given ‘introspective’ experience into a seeming memory, rather than, say, a daydream. I will disregard this problem here.Google Scholar
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    Cf. Schechtman (1996, pp. 26–50), see also Wiggins (1980) and Noonan (1989, pp. 104–48).Google Scholar
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    I am disregarding the ‘discount rate’ (Parfit 1984) by which the further away a future state is from my present one, the less I will care for it. This is because concern for future states of oneself is distinguished not by quantity, but by quality; concern for our own future states may be less than concern for the future states of, say, a loved one, but it has got a quite different ‘feel’ to it.Google Scholar
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    Cf. e.g. Oaklander (1987).Google Scholar
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    Cf. e.g. Strawson (1959); Schechtman (1990a, 1996).Google Scholar
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    Lewis (1976); Perry (1976); Mills (1993).Google Scholar
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    The definition of psychological connectedness-relation in terms of qualitative similarity only might have been a third feature. This definition, however, is not strictly speaking accepted by most philosophers. As I will argue in Chapter 3, however, the one-sided focus on relations of qualitative similarity is as responsible for the failure of the neo-Lockean paradigm that 1 will sketch in Chapter 2 as the other two features and the three physicalist doctrines.Google Scholar
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    Analytic functionalists such as Shoemaker (e.g. 1984) are obvious exceptions.Google Scholar
  36. 36.
    It may be thought that when one psychological person stage could have been co-personally related to various other psychological states than the ones it is actually co-personally related to, holism as such is already precluded. However, holism comes in various forms and in various strengths. Depending on the amount of incoherence and irrationality we are willing to condone, a loose form of holism does allow one mental state to be co-personally related to a host of other mental states than the ones it is actually co-personally related to. Thus, holism can be allowed for when it is not held to constitute co-personality relations.Google Scholar
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    Nozick (1981) may seem to be an exception. His closest continuer view allows for cases in which person-stages can be co-personal due to circumstances that have nothing to do with these person-stages (i.e. cases in which the ‘only X and Y principle’ does not hold, see Noonan 1989, pp. 152–4, pp. 234–41). While in such cases there are direct causal relations between these person-stages, these relations may turn from non-sufficient to sufficient conditions for co-personality due to external circumstances. Causal relations are not all there is to connections of co-personality, according to Nozick. Nevertheless he certainly does not reject the idea that person-stages are connected by causal links.Google Scholar
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    See also Kolak (1987) and Ehring (1987). Elliot concludes his rejection of CCR by arguing for the need of a radically new conception of psychological continuity without really pointing at the direction such an account may take. I tend to agree with his criticism of CCR-based theories. But, as I will argue in the next chapter, the real problem with these theories is not so much CCR as the psychological atomism that is responsible for an appeal to CCR. I think it is because Elliot does not question atomism that he cannot find the alternative for CCR-based theories that, according to him (and me), the debate on personal identity so desperately requires.Google Scholar
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    Cf. e.g. McGinn (1991).Google Scholar
  40. 40.
    The classical texts in which this thesis is proposed are Putnam (1975) and Burge (1979).Google Scholar
  41. 41.
    Nozick (1981) and Noonan (1989) are the most notable exceptions.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marc Slors
    • 1
  1. 1.Royal Dutch Academy for the Arts and SciencesUniversity of NijmegenThe Netherlands

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