Our aim in this entry is to articulate the state of the art in the moral psychology of personal identity. We begin by discussing the major philosophical theories of personal identity, including their shortcomings. We then turn to recent psychological work on personal identity and the self, investigations that often illuminate our person-related normative concerns. We conclude by discussing the implications of this psychological work for some contemporary philosophical theories and suggesting fruitful areas for future work on personal identity.
Recently T. M. Scanlon and others have advanced an ostensibly comprehensive theory of moral responsibility—a theory of both being responsible and being held responsible—that best accounts for our moral practices. I argue that both aspects of the Scanlonian theory fail this test. A truly comprehensive theory must incorporate and explain three distinct conceptions of responsibility—attributability, answerability, and accountability—and the Scanlonian view conflates the first two and ignores the importance of the third. To illustrate what a truly comprehensive theory might look (...) like, I investigate what it would say about the difficult case of the psychopath. (shrink)
This paper attempts to provide a more plausible theory of moral accountability and the crucial role in it of moral address by taking seriously four "marginal" cases of agency: psychopaths, moral fetishists, and individuals with autism and mild intellectual disabilities. Each case motivates the addition of another key accountability capacity.
This paper articulates and defends a noncognitive, care-based view of identification, of what privileged psychic subset provides the source of self-determination in actions and attitudes. The author provides an extended analysis of "caring," and then applies it to debates between Frankfurtians, on the one hand, and Watsonians, on the other, about the nature of identification, then defends the view against objections.
Many philosophers have taken there to be an important relation between personal identity and several of our practical concerns (among them moral responsibility, compensation, and self-concern). I articulate four natural methodological assumptions made by those wanting to construct a theory of the relation between identity and practical concerns, and I point out powerful objections to each assumption, objections constituting serious methodological obstacles to the overall project. I then attempt to offer replies to each general objection in a way that leaves (...) the project intact, albeit significantly changed. Perhaps the most important change stems from the recognition that the practical concerns motivating investigation into personal identity turn out to be not univocal, as is typically thought, such that each of the different practical concerns may actually be related to personal identity in very different ways. (shrink)
Susan Wolf objects to the Real Self View (RSV) of moral responsibility that it is insufficient, that even if one’s actions are expressions of one’s deepest or “real” self, one might still not be morally responsible for one’s actions. As a counterexample to the RSV, Wolf offers the case of JoJo, the son of a dictator, who endorses his father’s (evil) values, but who is insane and is thus not responsible for his actions. Wolf’s data for this conclusion derives from (...) what she takes to be our “pretheoretic intuitions” about JoJo. As it turns out, though, experimental data on actual pretheoretic intuitions does not seem to support Wolf’s claim. In this paper, we present such data and argue that, at least with respect to this particular objection, the RSV can survive Wolf’s attack intact. (shrink)
This essay attempts to provide and defend what may be the first actual argument in support of P. F. Strawson's merely stated vision of a response-dependent theory of moral responsibility. It does so by way of an extended analogy with the funny. In part 1, it makes the easier and less controversial case for response-dependence about the funny. In part 2, it shows the tight analogy between anger and amusement in developing the harder and more controversial case for response-dependence about (...) a kind of blameworthiness. It then defends the view from three serious skeptical challenges. (shrink)
Animalism—the view that the identity across time of individuals like us consists in the persistence of our animal organisms—does poorly at accounting for our identity-related practical concerns. The reason is straightforward: whereas our practical concerns seem to track the identity of psychological creatures—persons—animalism focuses on the identity of human organisms who are not essentially persons. This lack of fit between our practical concerns and animalism has been taken to reduce animalism’s plausibility (relative to psychological criteria of identity). In this paper, (...) I survey the three leading replies to this challenge, finding them either implausible or incomplete. I will then attempt to construct the only viable response, one that begins by admitting that our practical concerns actually do not consist in a monolithic set; rather, there are distinctly different types of practical concerns, and while some are clearly grounded on psychological relations, some are actually grounded on others, including animalistic and humanistic relations; furthermore, their actual connection to identity is tenuous at best. What these concerns are, how they divide up, and what they are grounded on in each instance—these are the issues it is my second aim in this paper to take up. (shrink)
In this paper, I attempt to show that the moral/conventional distinction simply cannot bear the sort of weight many theorists have placed on it for determining the moral and criminal responsibility of psychopaths. After revealing the fractured nature of the distinction, I go on to suggest how one aspect of it may remain relevant—in a way that has previously been unappreciated—to discussions of the responsibility of psychopaths. In particular, after offering an alternative explanation of the available data on psychopaths and (...) their judgments of various sorts of norm transgressions, I put forward a hybrid theory of their responsibility, suggesting how they might be criminally responsible, while nevertheless failing to meet the conditions for an important arena of moral responsibility. (shrink)
It is taken to be platitude that I can be responsible only for my own actions. Many have taken this to entail the slogan that responsibility presupposes personal identity. In this paper, I show that even if we grant the platitude, the slogan is not entailed and is at any rate false. I then suggest what the relevant non-identity relation grounding the ownership of actions consists in instead.
One of P. F. Strawson's suggestions in was that there might be an elegant theory of moral responsibility that accounted for all of our responsibility responses (our in his words) in a way that also explained why we get off the hook from those responses. Such a theory would appeal exclusively to quality of will: when we react with any of a variety of responsibility responses to someone, we are responding to the quality of her will with respect to us, (...) and when we let her off the hook (either for her action or with respect to her qua agent), we are doing so in virtue of her lacking the capacity for the relevant quality of will. Strawson's own attempt to put forward such a view fails, for reasons Gary Watson has given, but several other theorists have advanced their own, more developed, Pure Quality of Will theories in recent years (including Scanlon, Arpaly, and McKenna). Specifically, there have been three distinct interpretations of defended in the literature, yielding three different possible targets of our responsibility responses: quality of character, quality of judgment, or quality of regard. (shrink)
David Shoemaker presents a new pluralistic theory of responsibility, based on the idea of quality of will. His approach is motivated by our ambivalence to real-life cases of marginal agency, such as those caused by clinical depression, dementia, scrupulosity, psychopathy, autism, intellectual disability, and poor formative circumstances. Our ambivalent responses suggest that such agents are responsible in some ways but not others. Shoemaker develops a theory to account for our ambivalence, via close examination of several categories of pancultural emotional responsibility (...) responses and their appropriateness conditions. The result is three distinct types of responsibility, each with its own set of required capacities: attributability, answerability, and accountability. Attributability is about the having and expressing of various traits of character, and it is the target of a range of aretaic sentiments and emotional practices organized around disdain and admiration. Answerability is about one’s capacity to govern one’s actions and attitudes by one’s evaluative judgments about the worth of various practical reasons, and it is the target of a range of sentiments and emotional practices organized around regret and pride. Accountability is about one’s ability to regard others, both evaluatively and emotionally, and it is the target of a range of sentiments and emotional practices organized around anger and gratitude. In Part One of the book, this tripartite theory is developed and defended. In Part Two of the book, the tripartite theory’s predictions about specific marginal cases are tested, once certain empirical details about the nature of those agents have been filled in and discussed. (shrink)
What justifies our holding a person morally responsible for some past action? Why am I justified in having a special prudential concern for some future persons and not others? Why do many of us think that maximizing the good within a single life is perfectly acceptable, but maximizing the good across lives is wrong? In these and other normative questions, it looks like any answer we come up with will have to make an essential reference to personal identity. So, for (...) instance, it seems we are justified in holding X responsible for some past action only if X is identical to the person who performed that action. Further, it seems I am justified in my special concern for some future person only if he will be me. Finally, many of us think that while maximization within a life affects only one person, a metaphysical unity, maximization across lives affects many different, metaphysically distinct, persons, and so the latter is wrong insofar as it ignores this fundamental separateness of persons. (shrink)
Presentation and discussion of two new experimental studies surveying intuitions about cases of moral ignorance due to childhood deprivation. Discussion of resulting asymmetry between negative and positive cases and proposal of speculative hypothesis to explain results, The Difficulty Hypothesis.
Many people believe that for someone to now be responsible for some past action, the agent of that action and the responsible agent now must be one and the same person. In other words, many people that moral responsibility presupposes numerical personal identity. In this paper, I show why this platitude is false. I then suggest an account of what actual metaphysical relationship moral responsibility presupposes instead.
It has long been thought that certain key bioethical views depend heavily on work in personal identity theory, regarding questions of either our essence or the conditions of our numerical identity across time. In this paper I argue to the contrary, that personal identity is actually not significant at all in this arena. Specifically, I explore three topics where considerations of identity are thought to be essential – abortion, definition of death, and advance directives – and I show in each (...) case that the significant work is being done by a relation other than identity. (shrink)
Personal Identity and Ethics provides a lively overview of the relationship between the metaphysics of personal identity and ethics. How does personal identity affect our ethical judgments? It is a commonplace to hold that moral responsibility for past actions requires that the responsible agent is in some relevant respect identical to the agent who performed the action. Is this true? On the other hand, can ethics constrain our account of personal identity? Do the practical requirements of moral theory commit us (...) to holding that persons do remain identical over time? Or is it the case that personal identity is not, in fact, relevant to ethics? -/- Shoemaker provides the first comprehensive examination of these issues for the undergraduate audience. Topics include personal identity and prudential rationality; personal identity's significance for moral responsibility and ethical theory; and the practical consequences of accounts of personal identity for issues such as abortion, stem cell research, cloning, advance directives, populations ethics, multiple personality disorder, and the definition of death. (shrink)
In this essay, I provide responses to the trenchant critical remarks of Michael McKenna, Matt Talbert, and Gary Watson on my book Responsibility from the Margins. In doing so, I provide some new thoughts on the nature of attributability, what work talk of "capacities" is doing in my tripartite, qualities of will theory of responsibility, and what the relation is between our attitudes and practices of holding others and ourselves responsible.
This essay explores the boundaries of the moral community—the collection of agents eligible for moral responsibility—by focusing on those just inside it and those just outside it. In particular, it contrasts mild mental retardation with psychopathy, specifically among adults. For those who work with and know them, adults with mild mental retardation are thought to be obvious members of the moral community (albeit not full-fledged members). For those who work with and theorize about adult psychopaths, by contrast, they are not (...) members of the moral community (albeit not in such a full-fledged fashion as the insane). Both psychopaths and adults with MMR have a disability, and the essay is interested in how disability sometimes exempts one from the moral community and sometimes doesn't. It will be through two associated puzzles that we will eventually come to see the complicated tripartite relation between disability, responsibility, and moral community. (shrink)
This paper critically examines several game theoretic interpretations of Hobbes' state of nature, including Prisoner's Dilemma and Assurance Game, and argues instead that the best matrix is that of a combination of the two, an Assurance Dilemma. This move is motivated by the fact that Hobbes explicitly notes two distinct personality types, with different preference structures, in the state of nature: dominators and moderates. The former play as if in a Prisoner's Dilemma, the latter play as if in an Assurance (...) Game. But when meeting one another, the Assurance Dilemma represents their differing strategies, and can explain various other features of Hobbes' state of nature, as well as a key informational role played the Sovereign. (shrink)
Derek Parfit claims that, at certain times and places, the metaphysical units he labels *'selves" may be thought of as the morally significant units (I.e., the objects of moral concern) for such things as resource distribution, moral responsibility, commitments, etc. But his concept of the self is problematic in important respects, and it remains unclear just why and how this entity should count as a moral unit in the first place. In developing a view I call *'Moderate Reductionism," I attempt (...) to resolve these worries, first by offering a clearer, more consistent account of what the concept of *'self ' should involve, and second by arguing for why selves should indeed be viewed as moral (and prudential) units. I then defend this view in detail from both *'conservative" and *'extreme" objections. (shrink)
In this introduction to the special issue of Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics on the topic of personal identity and bioethics, I provide a background for the topic and then discuss the contributions in the special issue by Eric Olson, Marya Schechtman, Tim Campbell and Jeff McMahan, James Delaney and David Hershenov, and David DeGrazia.
Before being able to answer key practical questions dependent on a criterion of personal identity (e.g., am I justified in anticipating surviving the death of my body?), we must first determine which general approach to the issue of personal identity is more plausible, reductionism or non-reductionism. While reductionism has become the more dominant approach amongst philosophical theorists over the past thirty years, non-reductionism remains an approach that, for all these theorists have shown, could very well still be true. My aim (...) in this paper is to show that non-reductionism is actually either irrelevant – with respect to the practical questions we want answered – or logically impossible. In arguing for this conclusion, I draw from a case Derek Parfit has employed – the Combined Spectrum – and I provide a number of variations to it which ultimately reveal that we have no possible rational recourse other than to become reductionists. (shrink)
According to a popular contemporary contractualist account of moral motivation, the most plausible explanation for why those who are concerned with morality take moral reasons seriously — why these reasons strike those who are moved by them with a particular inescapability — is that they stem from, and are grounded by, a desire to be able to justify one’s actions to others on grounds they could not reasonably reject.1 My.
Unabridged dictionaries are dangerous books. In their pages man’s evilest thoughts find means of expression. Terms denoting all that is foul or blasphemous or obscene are printed there for men, women and children to read and ponder. Such books should have their covers padlocked and be chained to reading desks, in the custody of responsible librarians, preferably church members in good standing. Permission to open such books should be granted only after careful inquiry as to which word a reader plans (...) to look up, and how he plans to use it. (shrink)
In this paper we articulate and diagnose a previously unrecognized problem for theories of entitlement, what we call the Claims Conundrum. It applies to all entitlements that are originally generated by some claim-generating action, such as laboring, promising, or contract-signing. The Conundrum is spurred by the very plausible thought that a later claim to the object to which one is entitled is a function of whether that original claim-generating action is attributable to one. This is further assumed to depend on (...) one’s being identical to the person who performed the claim-generating action. But the right theory of personal identity for grounding these later claims proves quite elusive. In demonstrating both the Claims Conundrum and diagnosing its source, we begin with its instantiation in John Locke’s theories of personal identity and initial acquisition, and then we gradually expand its net to include both Lockean and non-Lockean theories of both, moving ultimately to show that this is a problem for most entitlements generally. We then diagnose the source of the trouble, showing that a basic assumption about the link between attributability and identity that most people take to be obvious is in fact false, clearing a path for future investigation into this overlooked but serious problem’s resolution. (shrink)
In this paper I consider Derek Parfit’s attempt to respond to Rawls’ charge that utilitarianism ignores the distinction between persons. I proceed by arguing that there is a moderate form of reductionism about persons, one stressing the importance of what Parfit calls psychological connectedness, which can hold in different degrees both within one person and between distinct persons. In terms of this form of reductionism, against which Parfit’s arguments are ineffective, it is possible to resuscitate the Rawlsian charge that the (...) utilitarian maximizing approach to matters of distribution ignores something that is of moral relevance, viz., the difference between the degrees of connectedness that hold between different stages of the same person, and between that person and his nearest and dearest, and the lack of connectedness between that person and distant others who may be benefitted at his cost. To Parfit’s charge that reductionism sees the differences between persons as being ‘less deep’, I reply that the sense in which they are less deep is not at odds with their retaining their original moral importance, perhaps now better understood. (shrink)
In this paper, I investigate the role played by Quality of Will in Michael McKenna’s conversational theory of responsibility. I articulate and press the skeptical challenge against it, and then I show that McKenna has the resources in his account to deflect it.
This is a reprint of the paper "Responsibility and Disability," first published in Metaphilosophy in 2009. It articulates some similarities and differences between psychopaths and individuals with mild intellectual disabilities that have important implications for both types of agents' moral and criminal responsibility.
Ethical theories must include an account of the concept of a person. They also need a criterion of personal identity over time. This requirement is most needed in theories involving distributions of resources or questions of moral responsibility. For instance, in using ethical theories involving compensations of burdens, we must be able to keep track of the identities of persons earlier burdened in order to ensure that they are the same people who now are to receive the compensatory benefits. Similarly, (...) in order to attribute moral responsibility to someone for an act, we must be able to determine that that person is the same person as the person who performed the act. Unfortunately, ethical theories generally include a concept of a person and criteria of personal identity either as notions implied or presupposed by the already worked out theory, with little or no argument given in support of them. But both approaches are unsatisfactory, for each runs the risk of ignoring certain fundamental features of the way persons actually are. What is needed first is a plausible metaphysical account of persons and personal identity to which an ethical theory might then conform and apply. Derek Parfit has attempted to provide such an account in Reasons and Persons, where he argues for what he calls the reductionist view of persons and personal identity and then attempts to show how such a conception provides a metaphysical background that lends important partial support to utilitarianism. 1 But Parfit’s metaphysical view is neutral between two possible conceptions of personhood, and utilitarianism presupposes the truth of the more radical of the two conceptions, which precludes the possibility of there being a class of goods crucial to any plausible ethical theory. Utilitarianism thus presupposes a wildly implausible conception of persons, and so is itself implausible. (shrink)
In this commentary on Lori Gruen's “Death as a Social Harm,” I first lay out the basics of Gruen's argument, then I offer some critical discussion, and finally I explore whether there might be some metaphysical structure that would support her most provocative idea—that death harms our social selves. What would it take for this idea to be more than metaphor, so that when a loved one dies a part of me has died? In constructing one possibility, I draw from (...) the distinction between identity and what matters in identity to paint a picture of social selves whose relationships are constructed out of the tendrils of psychological connectedness and continuity that serve to unite different stages of single persons. I conclude by exploring whether this metaphysical picture is sufficient to generate the conclusions at which Gruen aims. (shrink)
Before being able to answer key practical questions dependent on a criterion of personal identity, we must first determine which general approach to the issue of personal identity is more plausible, reductionism or non-reductionism. While reductionism has become the more dominant. approach amongst philosophical theorists over the past thirty years, non-reductionism remains an approach that, for all these theorists have shown, could very well still be true. My aim in this paper is to show that non-reductionism is actually either irrelevant---with (...) respect to the practical questions we want answered---or logically impossible. In arguing for this conclusion, I draw from a case Derek Parfit has employed---the CombinedSpectrum---and I provide a number of variations to it which ultimately reveal that we have no possible rational recourse other than to become reductionists. (shrink)