The Mystery of Personal Identity

Project: Research project

Project Details

Description

There are two main questions philosophers address when they address the (metaphysical) nature of personal identity: 1.under what conditions is a person at some time identical with someone at some other time? 2.what are we? (Are we, e.g., immaterial souls, physical bodies, brains, something else?) These questions have drawn the attention of philosophers for thousands of years. But, I plan to argue, there are major obstacles to our finding the correct answers to these questions. For there are three exhaustive possibilities, each of which is problematic: 1.we are simple (i.e., things without parts); 2.we are composite (i.e., things with parts); 3.”we” aren’t anything, because we do not exist. Our inability to choose among these three possibilities results in agnosticism with respect to the metaphysics of personal identity.

My arguments for this agnosticism are entirely original, and to some extent build off of some of my previous work (especially my “Mereological Nihilism and Personal Ontology”, published in The Philosophical Quarterly). A particularly novel contribution to the ongoing debates regarding personal identity is this: surprisingly, those considerations which have convinced most philosophers to reject the idea that we are each a simple immaterial soul also seem to undermine the standard alternative, that we are each a composite physical object. I will also engage at length with Buddhist arguments for the non-self doctrine, arguments almost completely neglected by English-language philosophers working on the subject of personal identity.

My conclusions regarding personal identity have implications which are of broad general interest, both inside and outside of academia. This is because the answers to the central questions regarding personal identity have important practical and moral ramifications, and I plan to discuss at length the implications of my agnosticism regarding personal identity for what we should think of those ramifications. The ramifications include: what religious beliefs to endorse (insofar as certain religions – e.g., Buddhism, Roman Catholicism – take a definitive stance on questions regarding personal identity); whether life after death is possible; whether “cryonics” (freezing dead bodies for future resuscitation), “mind-uploading” (which usually involves whole-brain emulations – i.e., computer simulations of the physical structures associated with a particular human brain), and other transhumanist/futurist approaches to surviving death are feasible and morally permissible; whether the very recent production of “mini-brains” (brain structures grown in labs) is morally problematic; whether abortion is morally permissible.

The goal of the project is to produce a monograph and one paper on these subjects.
StatusFinished
Effective start/end date1/07/2130/06/23

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