Marya Schechtman offers a new theory of personal identity, which captures the importance of being able to reidentify people in our daily lives. She sees persons as loci of practical interaction, and defines the unity of such a locus in terms of biological, psychological, and social functions, mediated through social and cultural infrastructure.
Can we understand what makes someone the same person without understanding what it is to be a person? Prereflectively we might not think so, but philosophers often accord these questions separate treatments, with personal-identity theorists claiming the first question and free-will theorists the second. Yet much of what is of interest to a person—the possibility of survival over time, compensation for past hardships, concern for future projects, or moral responsibility—is not obviously intelligible from the perspective of either question alone. Marya (...) Schechtman encourages us to adopt a more unified perspective. (shrink)
This article examines the narrative approach to self found in philosophy and related disciplines. The strongest versions of the narrative approach hold that both a person's sense of self and a person's life are narrative in structure, and this is called the hermeneutical narrative theory. This article provides a provisional picture of the content of the narrative approach and considers some important objections that have been raised to the narrative approach. It defends the view that the self constitutes itself in (...) narrative and argues for something less than the hermeneutical view insofar as the narrative is less agency-oriented and without an overarching thematic unity. (shrink)
Abstract A small but significant number of residents of Second Life (SL) insist that SL is as real to them as Real Life (RL) and that their SL avatars are as much themselves as their offscreen selves. This paper investigates whether this claim can be literally true in any philosophically interesting way. Using a narrative account of personal identity I argue that there is a way of understanding these identity claims according to which the actions and experiences of the offscreen (...) user and the online avatar are indeed actions and experiences of a single person. In the course of describing how this is so, the paper also uncovers new insights into how a narrative approach to personal identity should be structured and developed. Content Type Journal Article Category Special Issue Pages 1-15 DOI 10.1007/s13347-012-0062-y Authors Marya Schechtman, Department of Philosophy M/C 267, University of Illinois at Chicago, 1423 University Hall, 601 South Morgan Street, Chicago, IL 60607, USA Journal Philosophy & Technology Online ISSN 2210-5441 Print ISSN 2210-5433. (shrink)
Everyone loves a good story. But does everyone live a good story? It has frequently been asserted by philosophers, psychologists and others interested in understanding the distinctive nature of human existence that our lives do, or should, take a narrative form. Over the last few decades there has been a steady and growing focus on this narrative approach within philosophical discussions of personal identity, resulting in a wide range of narrative identity theories. While the narrative approach has shown great promise (...) as a tool for addressing longstanding and intractable problems of personal identity, it has also given rise to much suspicion. Opponents of this approach charge it with overstating or distorting the structure of actual lives. (shrink)
Philosophical discussions of personal identity depend upon thought experiments which describe psychological vicissitudes and question whether the original person survives in the person resulting from the described change. These cases are meant to determine the types of psychological change compatible with personal continuation. Two main accounts of identity try to capture this distinction; psychological continuity theories and narrative theories. I argue that neither fully succeeds since both overlook the importance of a relationship I call “empathic access.” I define empathic access (...) and discuss its role in a complete account of personal identity. (shrink)
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. (shrink)
Among the many topics covered in Sven Bernecker’s impressive study of memory is the relation between memory and personal identity. Bernecker uses his grammatical taxonomy of memory and causal account to defend the claim that memory does not logically presuppose personal identity and hence that circularity objections to memory-based accounts of personal identity are misplaced. In my comment I investigate these claims, suggesting that the relation between personal identity and memory is more complicated than Bernecker’s analysis suggests. In particular, I (...) argue that while he shows that some memories do not presuppose personal identity he fails to show that those that are appealed to in memory-based accounts of personal identity do not, and that the features of his view that allow him to define memory without reference to personal identity also obscure important features of memory that must be part of a complete account. (shrink)
Traditionally, it has been assumed that metaphysical and practical questions about personhood and personal identity are inherently linked. Neo-Lockean views that draw such a link have been problematic, leading to an opposing view that metaphysical and ethical questions about persons should be sharply distinguished. This paper argues that consideration of this issue suffers from an overly narrow conception of the practical concerns associated with persons that focuses on higher-order capacities and fails to appreciate basic practical concerns more directly connected to (...) our animality. A more inclusive alternative is proposed. (shrink)
Steven Luper offers richly-textured arguments against the Embodied Part View developed by Jeff McMahan and offered as an answer to the “too many thinkers” problem. One of the major objections he raises is connected to McMahan's claim that the mind, and so the person, is to be identified with the part of the brain in which consciousness is directly realized. This view has the implausible consequence, Luper argues, that persons do not and cannot think or reason or have desires or (...) interests. While this is indeed a worrisome consequence, it is not clear that McMahan is committed to the understanding of what constitutes “the part of the brain in which consciousness is directly realized” that Luper attributes to him. Making reference to McMahan's Theory of Time-Relative Interests, I develop an alternate way of reading this phrase, one which avoids the difficulties Luper raises. I acknowledge that my understanding yields a view that, while formally consistent, is unattractive in a variety of ways. I suggest, however, that this should not be taken as a reason to favor animalism, since animalism has its own difficulties, which are not entirely unlike those faced by the Embodied Part View. (shrink)
In the spirit of the discussion in Daniel Kolak’s I Am You: The Metaphysical Foundation for Global Ethics, I consider the way in which divisions that we usually think of as borders between distinct people occur within a single life. Starting with the dispute between constructionist and non-constructionist views of persons, I argue for a view that places the unity of persons in the dynamic generated by simultaneously taking a constructionist and non-constructionist view of oneself. In order to unify ourselves (...) as agents we need to treat past and future selves as others, but to motivate this endeavor we need to think of ourselves as temporally extended agents, and so identify with past and future selves. Understanding this dynamic illuminates the structure of our agency and the unity of the self. (shrink)
It is a commonplace of contemporary thought that the mind is located in the brain. Although there have been some challenges to this view, it has remained mainstream outside of a few specialized discussions, and plays a prominent role in a wide variety of philosophical arguments. It is further assumed that the source of this view is empirical. I argue it is not. Empirical discoveries show conclusively that the brain is the central organ of mental life, but do not show (...) that it is the mind's location . The data are just as compatible with a view where mentality is a human capacity on the model of circulation or respiration, with the brain playing the same kind of role as the heart or lungs. The standard conception of the brain as the locus of mind stems, I claim, from the imposition of a Cartesian conception of the self on a materialist ontology. Recognizing that the empirical data do not justify such a move casts doubt on the foundations of a number of philosophical discussions and raises new questions about the nature of the psychological subject. (shrink)
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. Footnotesa I am indebted to many friends and colleagues for their input in the course of writing this essay. I would like especially to thank David DeGrazia, Anthony Laden, Ray Martin, Marc Slors, and the editors of Social Philosophy and Policy. (shrink)
Mary Walker and Catriona Mackenzie's "Neurotechnologies, Relational Autonomy, and Authenticity" provides much needed reflection on the lens through which ethical concerns about the use of neurotechnologies are usually viewed. There is a general worry about the sometimes rapid and radical effects that such technologies can have on personalities and values. These concerns are often described as worries about how such technologies might alter our identities or compromise our authenticity. Clear theorizing of the notoriously slippery notions of "identity" and "authenticity" is, (...) however, surprisingly rare in these discussions. Walker and Mackenzie's paper undertakes that theoretical work, arguing that the major... (shrink)
This article uncovers difficulties with a widely-held account of the kind of agential unity required for autonomous action and offers an alternative account that avoids these difficulties. One influential approach to characterizing agency holds that autonomous action occurs only when an agent is wholeheartedly committed to the motivation on which he or she acts. The basic idea behind this approach is that autonomous action is action that flows from motivations that are truly internal to the agent, and that it is (...) an agent’s wholehearted commitment to a motivation that makes it internal in the relevant sense. Reflection on the diachronic aspects of agency reveals some serious challenges for this approach. These challenges are diagnosed as stemming from a fundamental structural tension between two of its key elements; on the one hand the requirement of absolute wholeheartedness about our commitments, and on the other the claim that questions of agency and autonomy must take as their target the principles, plans, and projects that individual actions represent rather than the actions themselves. The article argues that this tension is unavoidable in the approach as usually defended and outlines a different strategy for characterizing agential unity that does not require wholeheartedness. (shrink)
This collection of philosophical papers reflects on the existence and nature of the self. A collection of philosophical papers devoted to the subject of the self. Reflects on key questions about the existence and nature of the self. Comprises contributions from leading authorities in the field: Barry Dainton, Ingmar Persson, Marya Schechtman, Galen Strawson, Bas van Fraassen, and Peter van Inwagen.