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Areas: Agency/Identity

| Gendler | Schechtman | Teichman |


Gendler, T

Gendler,# T. (2002). Personal Identity and Thought- Experiments. Philosophical Quarterly 52 (206):34-54.

Kw: Fission; split brains; personal identity; Parfit

Through careful analysis of a specific example, Parfit’s ‘fission argument’ for the unimportance of personal identity, I argue that our judgements concerning imaginary scenarios are likely to be unreliable when the scenarios involve disruptions of certain contingent correlations. Parfit’s argument depends on our hypothesizing away a number of facts which play a central role in our understanding and employment of the very concept under investigation; as a result, it fails to establish what Parfit claims, namely, that identity is not what matters. I argue that Parfit’s conclusion can be blocked without denying that he has presented an imaginary case where prudential concern would be rational in the absence of identity. My analysis depends on the recognition that the features that explain or justify a relation may be distinct from the features that underpin it as necessary conditions.

Gendler,# T. (1998). Exceptional Persons: on the Limits of Imaginary Cases. Journal of Consciousness Studies 5 (5-6): 592- 610

Kw: Brain; body; transplant

Ever since Locke (and particularly in the last 50 years or so) the philosophical literature on personal identity has centred on arguments of a certain type. These arguments use an assumed convergence of response to purely imaginary cases to defend revisionary conclusions about common-sense beliefs concerning the nature or importance of personal identity. So, for instance, one is asked to contemplate a case in which A's brain is transplanted into B's body, or a case in which some of C's memories are implanted in D's brain, or a case in which information about the arrangement of the molecules which compose E is used to create an exact replica of E at another point in space-time.
Thinking about these cases is supposed to help us tease apart the relative roles played by features that coincide in all (or almost all) actual cases, but which seem to be conceptually distinguishable. So, for instance, even though we can ordinarily assume that the beliefs, desires, memories, etc. which are associated with a given body will not come to be associated with another body, it does not seem to be in principle impossible that such a state of affairs should come about. Indeed, it seems that we can describe a mechanism by which such a situation might come about: for instance, A's brain (and with it A's beliefs, desires and memories) might be transplanted into B's body. And since the scenario described strikes us as something of which we can make sense, it seems we can make judgments of fact or value about which of the two factors really matters in making A who she is. We might ask, for instance, whether it would be true to say that A had survived in a body that used to belong to B, or whether it would be right to punish the B-bodied human being for A's actions, or whether if we were A before the intended operation, we ought to worry about what would be happening to the B-bodied person afterwards. And on the basis of these judgments about what we would say in the imaginary case, we can return to the actual case having learned something about which features are essential and which accidental to our judgments concerning the nature or value of personal identity. My goal in this paper is to suggest reasons for thinking that this methodology may be less reliable than its proponents take it to be, for interesting and systematic reasons.

Schechtman, M.

Schechtman,# M. (2005). Personal Identity and the Past. Philosophy, Psychology and Psychiatry 12 (1): 9-22

Kw: Locke; consciousness; continuity theory

In the second edition of the Essay Concerning Human Understanding, John Locke argues that personal identity over time consists in sameness of consciousness rather than the persistence of any substance, material or immaterial. Something about this view is very compelling, but as it stands it is too vague and problematic to provide a viable account of personal identity. Contemporary "psychological continuity theorists" have tried to amend Locke's view to capture his insights and avoid his difficulties. This paper argues that the standard approach fails because it takes Locke to be a memory theorist, and does not focus enough on his claim that we need continuity of consciousness for personal persistence. An alternative reading of Locke is offered, emphasizing the role of self-understanding in producing continuity of consciousness. This alternative overcomes the difficulties with the standard approach, and shows how it is possible to attribute unconscious psychological elements to a person, even when personal persistence is defined in terms of consciousness.


Schechtman,# M. (2005). Experience, Agency and Personal Identity. Social Philosophy and Policy 22(2): 1-24

Kw: persons; identity; Derek Parfit; agential unity

Psychologically based accounts of personal identity over time start from a view of persons as experiencing subjects. Derek Parfit argues that if such an account is to justify the importance we attach to identity it will need to provide a deep unity of consciousness throughout the life of a person, and no such unity is possible. In response, many philosophers have switched to a view of persons as essentially agents, arguing that the importance of identity depends upon agential unity rather (...) than unity of consciousness. While this shift contributes significantly to the discussion, it does not offer a fully satisfying alternative. Unity of consciousness still seems required if identity is to be as important as we think it is. Views of identity based on agential unity do, however, point to a new understanding of unity of consciousness which meets Parfit's challenge, yielding an integrated view of identity which sees persons as both subjects and agents.


Schechtman,# M. (2004). Self-Expression and Self-Control. Ratio XVII: 409-427

Kw: H. Frankfurt; self

It is often said that people are 'not themselves' when they are in situations which rob them of their self-control. Strangely, these are also circumstances in which people are often said to be most fully themselves. This paper investigates the pictures of the self behind these two truisms, and the relation between them. Harry Frankfurt's work represents the first truism, and standard objections to his work the second. Each of these approaches is found to capture one independent and widely employed picture of the self. The connection each draws between being oneself and flourishing, however, suggests a point of contact between them. This point of contact is used to develop a third view of being oneself which integrates the insights of the other two.


Schechtman,# M. (1994). The Truth About memory. Philosophical Psychology 7 (1): 3-18

Kw: psychological continuity theory; autobiographical memory

Contemporary philosophical discussion of personal identity has centered on refinements and defenses of the “psychological continuity theory”—the view that identity is created by the links between present and past provided by autobiographical experience memories. This view is structured in such a way that these memories must be seen as providing simple connections between two discrete, well-defined moments of consciousness. There is, however, a great deal of evidence—both introspective and empirical—that autobiographical memory often does not provide such links, but instead summarizes, and condenses life experiences into, a coherent narrative. A brief exploration of some of the mechanisms of this summarizing and condensing work furthers the philosophical discussion of personal identity by showing why a view with the structure of the psychological continuity theory will not work, and by illuminating the role of autobiographical memory in the constitution of personal identity.


Teichman, J.

Teichman,# J. (1985). The Definition of Person. Philosophy: The Journal of the Royal Institute of Philosophy 60: 175- 186

Kw: Person

The aim and purpose of this short essay is to prove that all philosophers since john locke (1632-1704) have completely buggered up the analysis of the concept of "person".