Self-conception and personal identity: Revisiting Parfit and Lewis with an eye on the grip of the unity reaction

Social Philosophy and Policy 22 (2):126-164 (2005)
Abstract
Derek Parfit's “reductionist” account of personal identity (including the rejection of anything like a soul) is coupled with the rejection of a commonsensical intuition of essential self-unity, as in his defense of the counter-intuitive claim that “identity does not matter.” His argument for this claim is based on reflection on the possibility of personal fission. To the contrary, Simon Blackburn claims that the “unity reaction” to fission has an absolute grip on practical reasoning. Now David Lewis denied Parfit's claim that reductionism contravenes common sense, so I revisit the debate between Parfit and Lewis, showing why Parfit wins it. Is reductionism about persons then inherently at odds with the unity reaction? Not necessarily; David Velleman presents a reductionist theory according to which fission does not conflict with the unity reaction. Nonetheless, relying on the distinction between person level descriptions of first-person states and the first-person perspective itself, I argue that Velleman's theory does not eliminate fission-based conflict with the unity reaction. Footnotesa * Earlier versions of this paper were presented at the philosophy departments at Rutgers University and Bowling Green State University. I am indebted to many members of these audiences, and to the other contributors to this volume, for their comments—especially Frank Arntzenius, Michael Bradie, David Copp, John Finnis, Jerry Fodor, Brian Loar, Barry Loewer, Colin McGinn, Fred Miller, Mark Moyer, David Oderberg, Marya Schechtman, David Schmidtz, David Sobel, and Sara Worley. Special thanks to David Sanford. I am also grateful to graduate students in my seminar at Bowling Green during the spring of 2003, for urging me to take seriously the grip of the unity reaction; I am especially grateful for the comments of Nico Maloberti, Jonathan Miller, John Milliken, Robyn Peabody, Jennifer Sproul, Jessica Teaman, and Sherisse Webb.
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