Parfit’s Reductio of a Substratum-Oriented Conception of Psychological Continuity

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


In the previous chapter I explained the alliance between a conception of psychological continuity based on a (diachronic) mental atomistism and the concurring idea that causal connections between psychological states co-analyse psychological continuity on the one hand and a physicalist ontology of mind on the other. I labelled this alliance ‘the substratum-oriented conception of psychological continuity.’ The main purpose of the present chapter is to argue that the substratum-oriented conception does not suffice as an analysis of psychological continuity and hence (according to the position I am investigating) personal identity.


Personal Identity Thought Experiment Causal Connection Brain State Background Belief 
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  1. 1.
    I will use the terms `psychological states’ and `mental states’ when I do not want to refer specifically to such states in either their content-or their substratum aspect. In other cases I will speak either of `brain states’ or of `mental or psychological contents’. Thus, to give an example of the way I will use these terms, while contemporary philosophy of personal identity often individuates mental states in terms of brain states, I will claim that instead they should be individuated in terms of mental contents.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    In this chapter, page number references without a year will refer to this book.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Pp. 231–3, the argument is borrowed from Williams (1970).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    In normal human beings the two hemispheres perform distinct functions. This thought-experiment is based on an idealisation of rare but actual cases of persons whose different hemispheres are capable of performing the same tasks. In such cases each hemisphere is more or less like a complete brain, function-wise.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Cf. Sperry (1966).Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Parfit adds that “Two other relations might have some slight importance: physical continuity, and physical similarity.” In his theory, these other relations do not play a major role. We may ignore them here.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Cf. Nagel (1971).Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Noonan (1989, pp. 198–201); Nozick (1981, pp. 60–1).Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    See Lewis (1976), Mills (1993), and in one reading also Perry (1976).Google Scholar
  10. 11.
    Cf. Schechtman (1990a, 1994b); see also Slors (forthcoming).Google Scholar
  11. 12.
    Cf. Schechtman (1990a, pp. 79–86).Google Scholar
  12. 13.
    Cf. e.g. Dennett (1982, pp. 168–9)Google Scholar
  13. 14.
    It need not count against a theory of memory to drop the requirement that an experience-memory should resemble an original experience in its entirety. In fact, the requirement is too strong anyway. If my recollection of seeing a bear last summer vacation was accompanied by the thought I had then—“I am seeing a bear now”—I am not remembering that event but having an illusion. If, on the other hand, my memory is accompanied by the thought “I saw this bear so many months ago,” I am having a memory of that event even though the contents of my mind do not completely resemble those at the time when I saw the bear.Google Scholar
  14. 15.
    Cf. e.g. McDowell (1997, pp. 240–1).Google Scholar
  15. 16.
    See the next chapter for reasons why perceptual states cannot be isolated from their contexts without loosing content.Google Scholar
  16. 17.
    Cf. e.g. Fodor & LePore (1992).Google Scholar
  17. 18.
    Cf. e.g. Block (1981), Dennett (1981b), Tye (1991).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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