Thursday, September 08, 2016

Marya Schechtman is a Professor of Philosophy and a member of UIC’s Laboratory of Integrated Neuroscience. She specializes in the philosophy of personal identity, with special attention to the connection between ethical and metaphysical identity questions. She also works on practical reasoning and the philosophy of mind, and has an interest in Existentialism, bioethics, and philosophy and technology....

MS: There are many different problems that might be called the problem of personal identity. As I put it elsewhere, the question “Who am I?” might be asked either by an amnesia victim or a confused adolescent, and it is a different question in each case. When we think about questions of personal identity in everyday life we tend to think more about the kinds of questions that would be raised by the adolescent – questions about what we truly believe, value, and desire, or where we fit into the world. While philosophers certainly do talk about these issues, “the problem of personal identity” in analytic philosophy usually brings to mind something more like the amnesic’s question. It is a question about what makes someone at age 60 the same person she was at age 15, despite all the many ways in which she might have changed. This question of personal identity is a specific instance of a more general and very ancient worry about the conditions under which complex objects persist through change. If I replace the boards of a wooden ship gradually over many years until I have a ship that has no wood in common with the original is it still the same ship? What if I replace 30% all at once? 50%? What if I take it apart and fly the planks across the country and build a ship just like the first out of them, is it the same ship as the original? What if I divide the original boards in half and build two ships, each with half of the original boards and half new boards? You get the idea. These are the general kinds of puzzles about the identity of objects that philosophers ask. The problem of personal identity is seen as a special case of this general investigation, just as the question of boat identity is.
The absolute inability of "philosophers" to map out the history (Nietzsche would call it a genealogy) of their own interests. The drift away from absolutes towards the documentation of personal experience.

new tags both overdue: The Discovery of Experience, and Drift

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