How to Be a Conventional Person

The Monist 87 (4):457 - 474 (2004)
Abstract
Recent work in personal identity has emphasized the importance of various conventions, or ‘person directed practices’ in the determination of personal identity. An interesting question arises as to whether we should think that there are any entities that have, in some interesting sense, conventional identity conditions. We think that the best way to understand such work about practices and conventions is the strongest and most radical. If these considerations are correct, persons are, on our view, conventional constructs: they are in part constituted by certain conventions. A person exists only if the relevant conventions exist. A person will be a conscious being of a certain kind combined with a set of conventions. Some of those conventions are encoded in the being itself, so requiring the conventions to exist is requiring the conscious being to be organized in a particular way. In most cases the conventions in question are settled. There is no dispute about what the conventions are, and thus no dispute about which events a person can survive. These are cases where we take the conventions so much for granted, that it is easy to forget that they are there, and that they are necessary constituents of persons. Sometimes though, conventions are not settled. Sometimes there is a dispute about what the conventions should be, and thus a dispute about what events a person can survive. These are the traditional puzzle cases of personal identity. That it appears t h a t conventions play a part in determining persons’ persistence conditions only in these puzzle cases is explained by the fact that only in these cases are the conventions unsettled. Settled or not though, conventions are necessary constituents of persons.
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