Recovered post: from a year ago? two? more?
Here I will attempt to articulate, as briefly and as precisely as possible, some of my commitments concerning personal identity. These could very well be similar to other views, and will probably arrive at some of the same conclusions as other views. Still, I think it might be worth writing them down and receiving your feedback.
How is personal identity different than identity in general? Personal identity is unique because a person is an abstract object. When philosophers talk about persons, they are not talking about entities that can be described with only empirical facts. That is not to say that persons do not instantiate any observable features, however. For instance we could say the following about a person:
- Persons have psychology
- Persons have a vantage point for their sensory intake
- Persons involve volition (free or not)
How does this affect personal identity?
In order for one person to be identical with another, then (given Liebniz Law, strictly enforced) they would have to share these variables in common:
- P1 would have the same psychology as P2.
- P1 has the same vantage point as P2.
- P1 has the same volition as P2.
What could be good about this view:
- Avoids location problems. Problems follow is either (i) location is not a property or (ii) location is a property. My commitment to vantage points allows the benefits of a location-like property by smuggling in the concept vantage point (which involves location). Indexing vantage points allows us to pick out one person from another based on something like location, but less problematic than location simpliciter. So two persons are different if they occupy different locations, but one person does not become a new person every time they occupy a new location because their locations share something in common: a chain of connected vantage points.
- It defeats certain alleged modal problems. That is, if I had not chosen to do X (or not had the vantage point Y, or not had the psychology Z), then I would not be more or less better off; someone else would be and I do not have to prefer to be that other person (perhaps I like myself, despite my bad parts, and I am content being the guy who chose X and not Y).
- Panpsychism is avoided. It seems that many philosophers of mind are allergic to panpsychism—whether for good reasons or not I am still unsure. These philosophers might find some solace in a view of personhood that can distinguish persons by both the location of their body and by their psychology, and escaping the need to say that the universe is somehow person-like (or conscious) since it does not have a vantage point of a psychology.
- Personal Identity conclusions can be both intuitive and philosophically valid. The main hesitation with many theories of personal identity is that they seem deeply counter-intuitive—sometimes so much that comprehensive revisions to language and social practice would be required were the theory to be true. My commitments concerning personal identity allow persons to be picked out in ways that are not uncommon for philosophers and non-philosophers alike.
What could be bad about this view:
- Counter-intuitive implications. If I had not chosen to do X (or not had the vantage point Y, or not had the psychology Z), then I would be another person! This means that whenever I actualize one of a few possible options, I shape my person in a sort of irreversible way. This might offend some people’s intuitions. I find it rather palatable.
- (Your suggestion here)
Persons as Information Gatherers
The impetus of this view of personhood is the idea that persons are, among other things, information-gathering beings. Consciously or not, they ‘gather’ information—and sometimes the information is stored. Here’s the kicker: gathered information—whether it is being attended to or not, whether presently in the field of consciousness or stored from a past field of consciousness—is a necessary property of personal identity.
Information as Exclusive to Vantage Points. From this claim about persons I add another: persons, necessarily, collect information from a single location in time and space—henceforth, this location will be called a spatiotemporal vantage point. Persons cannot collect information from multiple locations in time or in space; they also cannot collect information from ‘outside’ of space or ‘outside’ of time—whatever that would mean.
Having described spatiotemporal vantage points, I add another claim: information gathered from a spatiotemporal vantage point is unique to that point. Thus, information from two non-identical spatiotemporal vantage points is non-identical. When I gather info from spatiotemporal point A and you gather info from non-identical spatiotemporal point B—even if we are gathering info about the same event—our info is not identical.
Camcorder Analog. A useful analog for the idea of personhood hitherto outlined is a digital camcorder. It gathers visual and auditory information and stores is on some sort of memory device. The information that is gathered is unique to the spatiotemporal vantage point from which it was gathered. If two camcorders gathered footage from different times and/or spaces, then the footage would not match—this could easily be verified by watching the footage.
I remember hearing recently that this analogy is empirically unsupported. While I welcome this criticism, I should remind the reader that we are talking about personhood here. Personhood itself is not a concept that is meant to be descriptive of an observable entity, like say, an electron.
Conclusions. If what has been outlined is true of personhood and personal identity, then a few implications follow:
- Personal duplication is impossible: once two persons—whether the product of duplication or not—are gathering information that is exclusively available from each non-identical spatiotemporal vantage point, then the persons are non-identical. This conclusion relies on Leibniz’s law being enforced such that when person 1 gathers information X and person 2 gathers information Y, the two persons’ non-identical information deems them non-identical. This means that personal duplication thought experiments will have much less to offer the domain of personal identity.
- Neither the somatic or the psychological view of personal identity are independently sufficient. Brains (or psyche’s) cannot sufficiently account for identity since the brain relies on the body to gather information and the content of gathered information is a direct consequence of the spatiotemporal location of the body that gathered it. So, both the body (its ‘stuff’ and its spatiotemporal location) and the brain (or the psychological content) are necessary elements of personal identity. In this way a person is, among other things, both a physical thing at which one can point—”That guy over there!”—as well as an informational thing that can be ‘picked out’—”The guy with the ‘such-and-such’ mental content.”