Personal identity, indeterminacy and obligation

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It is the foundation of all rights and obligations, and of all accountableness; and the notion of it is fixed and precise. (Thomas Reid 1975 [1785]) Personal identity and indeterminacy In Reasons and Persons (1984), Derek Parfit defends the complex view of personal identity, which he formulates as follows: The complex view: Facts about personal identity consist in other, impersonal facts. More specifically, Parfit defends the view that facts about personal identity reduce to facts about psychological continuity or connectedness (Parfit 1984, p.216). He then goes on to argue that this view implies the possibility of indeterminacy: The Indeterminacy of Personal Identity: It is possible for questions about personal identity to lack determinate answers. Parfit explains his reasoning as follows: We can describe cases where, between me now and some future person, the physical and psychological connections hold only to reduced degrees. If I imagine myself in such a case, I can always ask, “Am I about to die? Will the resulting person be me?” On the Reductionist View, in some cases there would be no answer. My question would be empty. The claim that I was about to die would be neither true nor false. (Parfit 1984, p. 214) Many people find this conclusion incredible, and not in a good way. Chisholm, for example, writes that: When we use “the same person” in [the] strict way … although cases may well arise in which we have no way of deciding whether the person x is the same person as the person y, nevertheless the question “Is x the same person as y?” will have an answer and that answer will be either “yes” or “no.” If we know that x is a person and if we also know that y is a person, then it is not possible to imagine circumstances under which the question “Is x the same person as y?” is a borderline question – a question admitting only of a “yes and no” answer. (Chisholm 1970a, p. 171)

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPersonal Identity
Subtitle of host publicationComplex or Simple?
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9781139028486
ISBN (Print)9781107014442
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Arts and Humanities


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