Monday, November 19, 2007

For Monday after break:

Kane's views: Ch. 11 and 12

For Wed.:
Last chapter of Conee & Sider entitled "What is Metaphysics?"


Final Exam

Due: Wed. December 5, 10:30 AM



At least 5 pages, carefully written and flawlessly proofed

This exam presents an opportunity for you to show that you have a deep, comprehensive and nuanced understanding of free will problems and their complexity.

Write an essay where all these questions below are answered. Write for an audience that knows nothing about the free will problem: explain everything so they understand. Your essay should have an introduction.

For more guidance on writing, see the Pryor article handed out in class.

  1. What is the best definition, concept or theory of what it is to act freely or have free will? To answer this, you must explain and discuss a specific definition, concept or theory (so not a broad category like “libertarian”; you need a specific version of a broad theory) and contrast it to two other specific definitions, concepts or theories. You need to argue that your favorite specific definition, concept or theory is the best. So you need to explain everything you need to do that so that your audience understands.

  1. Is this theory compatible with determinism? If someone might think it is, explain why someone might think this. If they are mistaken in suspecting this, explain why they are mistaken.

  1. Is this theory compatible with indeterminism? If someone might think it is, explain why someone might think this. If they are mistaken in suspecting this, explain why they are mistaken.

  1. Thus, is your preferred theory of free will or free action compatiblistic or incompatiblistic?

  1. In light of (1), (2) and (3) above, do we ever have such a free will, or act freely, on this understanding of free will, determinism and indeterminism?

  1. What are two of the strongest objections to your position? How do you respond to these objections?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

For Friday: Ch. 8 Kane: Moral Responsibility and Alternative Possibilities

Harry Frankfurt's views are discussed in this chapter and the next. Here's some on him:


On Bullshit

Harry G. Frankfurt

Book Description | Shopping Cart | Endorsements
Chapter 1 [HTML] or [PDF format]

Harry Frankfurt

Video interview with Harry G. Frankfurt

Clip 1. What brought you, as a professional philosopher, to write about bullshit? (1:41)
QuickTime: Dial-up | Broadband RealPlayer: Dial-up | Broadband WindowsMedia: Dial-up | Broadband
Clip 2. What is your theory of bullshit? What is bullshit? (:39)
QuickTime: Dial-up | Broadband RealPlayer: Dial-up | Broadband WindowsMedia: Dial-up | Broadband
Clip 3. Do you find bullshitters actually more reprehensible than liars? (1:01)
QuickTime: Dial-up | Broadband RealPlayer: Dial-up | Broadband WindowsMedia: Dial-up | Broadband
Clip 4. Is it difficult for you as a philosopher to deal with behavior so indifferent to your values? (1:14)
QuickTime: Dial-up | Broadband RealPlayer: Dial-up | Broadband WindowsMedia: Dial-up | Broadband
Clip 5. Does bullshit require a kind of creativity or imagination that simple falsehood doesn't? (1:00)
QuickTime: Dial-up | Broadband RealPlayer: Dial-up | Broadband WindowsMedia: Dial-up | Broadband
Clip 6. Is there more bullshit today than, say, 100 years ago, or ever before? (1:10)
QuickTime: Dial-up | Broadband RealPlayer: Dial-up | Broadband WindowsMedia: Dial-up | Broadband
Clip 7. Are more highly educated people more likely to engage in bullshit? (:52)
QuickTime: Dial-up | Broadband RealPlayer: Dial-up | Broadband WindowsMedia: Dial-up | Broadband
Clip 8. Can you give us any salient examples of bullshit today that we might be familiar with? (1:33)
QuickTime: Dial-up | Broadband RealPlayer: Dial-up | Broadband WindowsMedia: Dial-up | Broadband
Clip 9. Can anything be done about bullshit, or is it just a universal human tendency? (1:08)
QuickTime: Dial-up | Broadband RealPlayer: Dial-up | Broadband WindowsMedia: Dial-up | Broadband
Entire interview in one file (10:23)
QuickTime: Dial-up | Broadband RealPlayer: Dial-up | Broadband WindowsMedia: Dial-up | Broadband
Audio iPod (MP3) Dial-up Video iPod (MP4) Broadband

File created: 2/11/05


Notes on Kane Ch. 7: Is Free Will Possible? Hard Determinists and Other Skeptics


  1. Paper topics (and, ideally, “target” papers/writings) due Friday. See assignment sheet.
  2. The Georgia Philosophical Society meeting is this Saturday at Georgia State. Want to go to part of it? See your email, the blog and/or talk to Dr. Nobis.
  3. Some students never addressed the problems with their midterms from a long time ago. This will be a problem for these students.

Some cases of what seems to be serious wrongdoing (p. 69-70):

  • Oklahoma City bombing
  • Columbine killings
  • Far too many other cases … some of which might hit especially “close to home”

Question: did these people act freely? Were they morally responsible for what they did, i.e., they should be held morally accountable, punished, thought bad of, criticized, be used in classroom examples of (bad) people doing very bad things, etc.

Common answers? Common reasons that would be given for these answers?

1. No “external” coercion, force, manipulation, etc.

2. “Internal” factors – beliefs and desires – can be overcome [“ultimate,” “genuine” or “true” responsibility” made at crucial choices]

In short, “common sense” seems to presuppose the ability to do otherwise in exactly the same antecedent circumstances. Thus, it seems to presuppose some kind of libertarian / incompatiblist conception of free will.

But this kind of free will, some argue, is incompatible with determinism, but it is also hard to see how it is compatible with indeterminism (e.g., luck, randomness objections). Thus, perhaps this conception of free will is incoherent or an impossibility.

Reply to conditional analysis of “can”: “Yes, if they had chosen or wanted to not do these evils, then they would have not done them and they could have chosen or wanted to not do what they did.

Of interest: A principle: “‘Ought’ implies ‘can.’” If you ought to do X, then you can do X. So if you cannot do X, it is not the case that you ought to do X.

Strawson’s Argument to add fuel to the fire (p. 71-72)

Is hard determinism (FW & DET are incompatible and we don’t have FW) an acceptable position? Literally, can we (or anyone) even accept it? What, if anything, would be bad about accepting it? What would follow if it were true or if we believed it to be true about:

  • Our view on our own accomplishments? (p. 74)
  • Our view on punishment? (p. 75)

Two theories about punishment: (1) punishment is justified if, and when, it is deserved; (2) punishment is justified if, and when, it is has good consequences for the future (e.g., keeps the rest of us safer, deters future crime, rehabilitates people, etc.).

· Love and relationships (p. 76-77)

Similaksy: Common beliefs about free will and responsibility are an illusion.

Some responses: (1) defend a version of libertarianism from the randomness objections; (2) develop a better version of compatiblism that doesn’t rely on conditional analysis; (3) accept MYSTERY!!

Monday, November 12, 2007

For Wed. please have carefully read Ch. 7 on hard determinism.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Here are some philosophers to look at for target papers for your final paper; of course there are many more!:

Pereboom ( a hard determinist):

O'Connor ( agent causation-ist):

Saul Smilansky (a hard determinist)

Tom Kapitan (a compatiblist, but of a kind we haven't seen):

Eddy Nahmias from Georgia State:

And a blog on free will issues:

Friday, November 2, 2007

for Monday, re-read Dennett in Reading Metaphysics; discussion questions are due.

For Wed., read Kane Ch. 4 on libertarianism, indeterminism and chance.

Bring your books to class. We read them in class, so you need to have them.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

For Friday, read Kane Ch. 2 on Compatiblism.
Also read Dennett on compatiblism in Reading Metaphysics. Discussion questions are due Monday.

If you'd like, do the discussion questions on van Inwagen also. And re-read Kane Ch. 3.

Start thinking about papers. I have much more to say about that, but the best plan is to do a "critical paper" on some article/chapter/ selection on some topic of interest. One ideal plan would be to find something by one of the authors discussed by Kane and critique their arguments/position. 3000 words, and you should consider submitting your paper to the local undergraduate philosophy conference in the spring. More later.

Another plan, of course, would be the same kind of thing on ANY of the topics we have covered (or will cover). I suspect arguments related to God's existence are another more accessible topic; some of the other topics are less easy to get into, I suspect.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

For Friday, re-read the Sider chapter.
And please read Chapter 1 of the Kane book. We are going to do a free will blowout. If you don't have the book, I put copies of the chapter in my box in my office.

Tomorrow there's a good talk at Emory:

"One Person Doesn't Make a Difference ," Stuart Rachels, Associate Professor of Philosophy, University of Alabama. 205 White Hall, 4:15pm. William Edwards Lecture

If you are interested in going, let me know.

Start thinking about papers. I have plans so you can do something that will be suitable for submitting to this local conference in Feb.:




FEBRUARY 16, 2008


The inaugural meeting of the Southeast Philosophy Conference is scheduled for Saturday, February 16, 2008, at Clayton State University in Morrow, Georgia. Papers in any area are welcome. There will be a $15 registration fee, payable at the conference.

Submissions must not exceed a length of 3000 words, and must include a cover letter stating the paper's title, author's name, university or college, mailing and email addresses, and telephone number. Either email submissions to or send two printed copies to:

Southeast Philosophy Conference

Department of Communicative Arts & Integrative Studies

Clayton State University

Morrow, Georgia 30260

Papers must be received by January 28, 2008. Notification of acceptance will be made via email by February 4, 2008. Papers will be published in a Proceedings of the Conference.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Metaphysics Take-Home Midterm

Due Friday, October 12. 2007 in class (not later in Dr. Nobis’s box, etc.)

Class Monday and Wednesday are optional:

come and discuss the questions and issues of the exam, if you’d like.


Read the materials on how to write a philosophy paper; see handout or blog.

Construct your answers so that someone who hasn’t read the material, has not ever discussed these issues, and is totally ignorant about them – but is very smart and is a careful and critical thinker – could understand your answers. That is, you must explain everything, give the relevant backstory, and provide everything else so that your reader is able to understand.

Response to all these writing prompts:

  1. Describe two different kinds of logically possible “splitting” cases, i.e., where a persons’s mind and/or body (i.e., brain, typically) are divided. Explain the implications of these kinds of cases for what we should think about the issue of personal identity. In light of these cases, explain Parfit’s proposal that personal identity does not matter; rather, what matters is survival. Thus, explain which (broad) view about the nature of person identity we should accept. Defend your answers from objections.

  1. Fully present and explain the strongest argument that you believe can be given in defense of fatalism (metaphysical or logical, or theological: you need to explain what fatalism is, of course). Explain whether this argument is sound or not and why and, thus, whether anyone should think that any kind of fatalism is true or not. Defend your answers from objections. \

  1. Is time travel logically possible? Explain what time travel is. Explain why one might think that it is logically possible (or, at least, why there is no reason to think that it is not possible) or why it is logically impossible. Explain which theory (or theories) or conception of time on which time travel might be possible. Which theory of time is moral plausible, all things considered, including the question of time travel.

  1. From an intellectual point of view, or a philosophical point of view, should people believe that God exists? To answer this question you must explain and critique at least two arguments for God’s existence (of course, you must also explain what is meant by ‘God’), and think about what role reasons and arguments should play for what people believe.
Anselms' argument, simplified.

He assumes that we (even "fool" atheists) have the concept of God, i.e., the idea of "the being who none greater can be conceived" i.e., thought. (Question: do we have such a concept? Is the concept coherent? Is a being like this possible? Perhaps not: perhaps

Here's the argument, simplified.

1. Either (a) "the being whom none greater can be conceived" exists only as a concept or an idea or (b) "the being whom none greater can be conceived" exists both as a concept and in reality.
2. To exist in reality is greater than to exist only as a concept or an idea. [see Anselm, end of 2nd paragraph, p. 71 of handout; Stairs premise 2, p. 82]
3. If (2) is true and if (a), the claim that "the being whom none greater can be conceived" exists only as a concept or an idea is true, then there exists a being greater than "the being whom none greater can be conceived."
4. But there cannot be a being greater than "the being whom none greater can be conceived," because that's a contraction.
5. So, (a) is not an option.
6. So, (b) "the being whom none greater can be conceived" exists both as a concept and in reality.
7. So, God exists, the being whom none greater can be conceived.

The basic logic:
1. Either A or B.
2. If B is true, then C is true.
3. But C is not true (because C is contradictory)
4. So, not B. (2, 3 Modus Tollens)
5. So, A. (1, 4, Disjunctive Syllogism).

Here's the argument from the Descartes' Fifth Meditation with a modifed translation:
If I can clearly and distinctly think the idea of something, then everything which I clearly and distinctly perceive to belong to that thing really does belong to it. "Certainly, the idea of God, or a supremely perfect being, is one that I find within me just as surely as the idea of any shape or number. And my understanding that it belongs to his nature that he always exists is no less clear and distinct than is the case when I prove of any shape or number that some property belongs to its nature." (AT 7:65; CSM 2:45).
So here's the argument:
1. If we can clearly and distinctly think the idea of something, then everything which we clearly and distinctly perceive to belong to that thing really does belong to it.
2. We can clearly and distinctly perceive the idea of God, or a supremely perfect being.
3. We can clearly and distinctly perceive that he always exists.
4. Therefore, since (1), (2) and (3) are true, God exists.

Here's an ontological argument commonly attributed to Descartes (but perhaps without textual evidence, since this is a bit different than the argument above?):

1. God is an all-perfect being.
2. An all-perfect being has every perfection (i.e., a great-making quality).
3. Existence is a perfection (i.e., a great-making quality; for something to exist makes it greater than for it not to exist: recall Anselm's "To exist in reality is greater than to exist only as a concept or an idea").

For discussion on Descartes' ontological arguments, see here:

  • Are there reasons to think that any of the premises in these arguments are false?
  • Are there reasons to think that any of the premises in these arguments assume the conclusion they are supposed to support?
  • What about Gaunilo's objection that Anselm's argument can be used to "show" the existence of any "perfect" thing whatsoever (e.g., the island which none greater can be conceived, the tattoo needle which none greater can be conceived, etc.), and so is faulty? Are they any good?

Monday, September 24, 2007

Upon reflection, it seems that the chapter on God should take 2 days, not just 1!
Paper/writing on that due Friday.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Writing & Friday

Today we talked some about writing. Here are some good things to study and practice from:

Jim Pryor's "Guidelines on Writing a Philosophy Paper"

Michael Huemer's "A Guide to Writing"

Strunk and White's The Elements of Style, especially part III

For fun: "Philosophy Paper Pet Peeves" from SUNY Fredonia

For Friday, re-read Sider ch. 3 on time.
Some notes are below.
There is a writing assignment due, which is to explain the arguments from the chapter and evaluate them as sound or unsound. Another way to approach the assignment is to explain what Sider's (personal) views seem to be and what the best objections to them are.

For Monday, you should read at least 2 out of 4 the online encylopedia articles on time. See below.

Notes on Riddles of Existence Ch. 3: Time

First, for more discussion, see:

Time :

Time Travel:

For more advanced discussion, see:


Time Travel & Modern Physics:

Some highly practical, concrete questions:

  • Could we go back in time? Is this logically possible, or does the very concept of time make this an impossibility/
  • Can our actions now cause things in the past to be different?

Obviously, these questions depend on the nature of time! But what is time anyway?

The flow of time (p. 44) [The “time moves” theory of time]

We tend to describe time as “moving” (it flows, marches on, flies, etc.)

But movement is defined in terms of time! (p. 45)

The present moment “moves.”

But then the present is defined in terms of other times. (Later, the present will be 6 PM).

Different times are part of hypertime? If so, then hypertime is part of hypertime2 and on and on!

Perhaps then the present moves with respect to itself. (p. 47).

“Noon is present at noon,” etc. Trivial and doesn’t explain how time “moves.”

The space-time theory (of time)

Time is like space. (p. 49)

· Space-time diagrams. See figures!

· Temporal parts= a temporal cross section of that object; that object at that time. (Compare spatial part to temporal part).

Person = sum of temporal parts.

Reality = a single unified space time (vs. the “time moves” theory). (p. 50)

Time does not flow; it is like space. (But only one direction: past to future)

1. Temporally distant objects are still real: past objects exist (??), i.e., they exist somewhere in spacetime. (p. 51), like spatially distant objects are also real.

2. Objects have temporal parts, like spatial objects have spatial parts.

3. Claims about “here” and “now” depend on who is saying them, where she is (in space and time) and what is said.

Arguments against the space-time theory: change, motion, causes (p. 52)

Does time flow? Or is like space?

Space-time doesn’t have the problems (paradoxes?) of flow theory. But there are objections to the space-time theory.

In opposition to (1)-(3) above, one might claim that (p. 53)

· past and future objects do not exist (in spacetime?);

· things do not have temporal parts; at any time the whole object is present,

· “now” is not like “here”: the present moment is special, unlike “here.”

Sider says he’ll skip these objections! (“Time is short!”)

Other objections that time is not like space (p. 53); disanalogies:

1. Regarding change. “Change” vs. “spatial heterogeneity”

2. Regarding motion: can spatially move in many directions; can only go one direction in time.

3. Regarding causes: an event at any place events can cause other events at any other place, but events can’t cause events at just any other time: later events can’t cause earlier events. The past isfixed.

Replies to these objections, these claims about disanalogy (p. 54).

· To objection 2, see 54-57 for the details. How’s this work?

· To objection 3 “most challenging and interesting”, see p. 57.

§ Could there be backwards causation? Could we cause ourselves to be present in the past (i.e., travel through time?). Is this logically possible?

· If time is like space, then perhaps!

Time Travel: (p. 58)

“Back to the Future”

First, McFly pushes the button in 1985 and then he is in 1955.”

· Story is contradictory. If contradictory, then impossible. Can a time travel story be told without contradiction?

o Eliminate that contradiction by appealing to McFly’s experience.

· Could McFly prevent himself from ever existing? (Another worry: Time travel to kill earlier self?!)

Friday, September 14, 2007

For Monday, re-read Conee on Fatalism (see argument notes below).

NEW: read the Stanford Encyclopedia article on Fatalism online at . I gave out copies to people in class; those who missed need to print out their own copy.

The Arguments on Fatalism: Riddles Ch. 2

What fatalism is: ________________________________________________________

Below are valid arguments: the reasoning is fine.

Are they sound? What can be said for and against the premises? Are any of the premises unreasonable to accept because there are good reasons to think they are false?

Arguments from Predications and (Past) Propositions: The Sea Battle

A1. Either the prediction that the battle will happen is true, or the prediction that the battle will not happen is true. (Or, either of the propositions is true).

Why? LEM (p. 27). Objections re. settled facts and future truth makers.

Doubts from vagueness!

A2. If any statement is true, then it has to be true.


It has to be true that: if any statement is true, then it’s true.

If any statement is true, then it has to be true.

C1. Whatever predication (or proposition) is true has to be true.

C2. Whether the battle will happen or not is necessary.

Same argument can be given about every event.

Past Predications

A1. For any way that things will be in the future, there existed in the past a true proposition to the effect that things would be that way. (p. 32).

A2. Every aspect of the past is accidentally necessary, i.e., ________________.

C1. The truth in the past of each true predictive proposition is accidentally necessary.

C2. Therefore, the future in every detail is accidentally necessary.

Necessary Conditions (p. 35)

A1. If something has/is an open alternative/possibility, then all that is needed for the alternative to exist is present. (Something is fixed/unalterable/not an open alternative/possibility if any necessary condition for not having the thing is absent).

A2. Any condition is a necessary condition for itself.

C. Therefore, all actual entities, events and circumstances – past, present and future – are fixed and unalterable down to the last detail.

God Knows (p. 39)

A1. If God knows everything, then God knows in advance (or in eternity) all truths about the whole future.

A2. If God knows any given truth about the future, then any potential for that truth to be untrue would be a potential for God to be mistaken about it.

A3. It’s impossible for God to be mistaken about anything.

C. If God knows everything, then the whole future is fixed and unalterable.

Annual Southern Appalachian Undergraduate Philosophy Conference

University of North Carolina at Asheville

Sponsored by: UNCA's Philosophical Society and Phi Sigma Tau Chapter


10th Annual
Southern Appalachian Undergraduate Philosophy Conference
The University of North Carolina at Asheville
The Liberal Arts Campus of the University of North Carolina

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Our symposium provides a professional style philosophical forum for aspiring undergraduates to present significant and original work. All papers will be evaluated by blind review process. At the conference, a judge from a university with important graduate program will determine the top three presentations.
Please submit:
• A computer file of the paper in MS Word (papers accepted for the conference will be posted on the web); and
• two copies of each of the following: the paper, an abstract, and a separate cover sheet

Papers on any philosophical topic are welcome. Papers should be designed for a 20 minute presentation time [approximately 10 pages]. The papers should not contain the author’s name or institutional affiliation, since they will be evaluated by a blind review.
Eligibility: any undergraduate student who does not have an undergraduate degree prior to May 1, 2008.
Abstracts should be one paragraph, double spaced, no more than 150 words, and attached to the paper. These abstracts should not contain the author’s name or institutional affiliation, since they will be evaluated in a blind review process.
Cover sheets should be on a separate sheet and contain the title of the paper, the author’s name, institutional affiliation, address, e-mail address, and phone number.

All submissions must be postmarked by Monday, September 24 2007
Acceptance notification will occur by October 15, 2007.

For submissions or further information, please contact:
Dr. Keya Maitra
Department of Philosophy/CPO # 2830, UNCA
One University Heights
Asheville, NC 28804-8505


WILL BE SATURDAY, Nov. 3, 2007


Sep. 24, 2007

Return to Undergraduate Philosophy Conference page

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

For Friday, re-read Conee's chapter on fatalism. There is a writing assignment that was announced in class.

Today we wound up talking about this topic in thinking about the First Assumption of the sea battle argument (p. 24) and LEM (p. 27).


First published Sat Feb 8, 1997; substantive revision Tue Aug 29, 2006

There is wide agreement that a term is vague to the extent that it has borderline cases. This makes the notion of a borderline case crucial in accounts of vagueness. I shall concentrate on an historical characterization of borderline cases that most commentators would accept. Vagueness will then be contrasted with ambiguity and generality. This will clarify the nature of the philosophical challenge posed by vagueness. I will then discuss some rival theories of vagueness with an emphasis on many-valued logic, supervaluationism and contextualism. I will conclude with the issue of whether all vagueness is linguistic.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Wed & Friday:

Riddles, Ch. 2 on Fate

Writing assignment on this chapter, due Friday.

See this:


First published Wed Dec 18, 2002; substantive revision Tue Oct 10, 2006

Fatalism is the view that we are powerless to do anything other than what we actually do. It may be argued for in various ways: by appeal to logical laws and metaphysical necessities; by appeal to the existence and nature of God; by appeal to causal determinism. When argued for in the first way, it is commonly called "Logical fatalism" (or, in some cases, "Metaphysical fatalism"); when argued for in the second way, it is commonly called "Theological fatalism". When argued for in the third way it is not now commonly referred to as "fatalism" at all, and such arguments will not be discussed here.

The interest in arguments for fatalism lies at least as much in the question of how the conclusion may be avoided as in the question of whether it is true.

Friday, September 7, 2007

For Monday, read Schechtman in Reading Metaphysics and answer the questions in the commentary.

The selections in Reading Metaphysics take a long time to read carefully. Read their introduction to understand why.


Department of Philosophy, M/C 267
1404 University Hall
University of Illinois at Chicago
Chicago, IL 60607

tel: (312) 413-7565
fax: (312) 413-2093
Curriculum Vitae

Schechtman is an Associate Professor. She received her Ph.D. from Harvard in 1988. Her main areas of interest are personal identity, practical reason, and the philosophy of mind. Her book, The Constitution of Selves, argues that contemporary metaphysical discussions of personal identity over time fail to distinguish between two distinct but related questions, one having to do with re-identifying persons and the other with determining the essential features of character, value, and commitment that make a person who she is. She has continued her research in this area, and is currently working on a project investigating the relations between the sense of "identity" at stake in metaphysical discussions of personal identity and that at issue in the work of value theorists. She is also interested in questions of autonomy, the philosophy of psychology, and existentialism. She is a member of UIC's Laboratory of Integrated Neuroscience, and has published several articles on topics concerning personal identity and the philosophy of mind, including "Personhood and Personal Identity" (Journal of Philosophy, 1990), "The Same and the Same" (American Philosophical Quarterly, 1994),"The Brain/Body Problem" (Philosophical Psychology, 1997), "Empathetic Access: The Missing Ingredient in Personal Identity" (Philosophical Explorations, May 2001).

Brief Notes on Parfit’s “Personal Identity” in Reading Metaphysics

Introduction, p. 13

He’s going to be discussing two beliefs:

1. That questions about personal identity must (always) have an answer.

a. E.g., “Is A=B?” or “Am I identical to this future person?” Parfit will argue that there are cases where, presumably, there is no answer, i.e., “yes” and “no” are both incorrect.

(Later, however, on p. 17, he suggests that he means to say that we can’t at all tell or identify the answer; this epistemological skepticism is less radical than the claim above).

b. He can only give a case to make this assumption above “implausible” (p. 14).

c. If this – a – is so, then the principle of self-interest isn’t so important. And aging and death aren’t so depressing (p. 14). (Why?)

2. That personal identity is “important” (for “survival,” memory and responsibility.

a. These concerns can be addressed without identity.


[informative labels for section headings are always nice; too bad he didn’t give them!]

Case of a man dividing like an amoeba

Wiggins case: your brain is divided and each half housed in a new living body. What happens to you?

1. You don’t survive. NO.

2. You survive as one. (which?) NO

3. You survive as both.

a. If survival implies identity, then you are two different people.

b. Usually this is thought to be impossible. Parfit suggests however, that you could be two bodies with a divided mind. (p. 15)

Description of a “full” and then “divided” (and then re-united) stream of consciousness. (p. 16). Thus, two bodies and a divided mind, one person.

If permanent division, hard(er) to speak of one person. (p. 17)

c. Parfit’s (positive) suggestion: you survive as two different people but are not identical to them (and they are not identical to you). (p. 17). (And nothing important requires identity).

Parfit thinks this case suggests that belief (1 above is false, so questions about personal identity do not (always) have an answer.


  • Survival needs not be “one-one” (but identity must be “one-one,” i.e., one person identical to one and only one person; that’s why in branching cases, there is no identity).
  • Identity doesn’t come in degrees: either identical or not, all or nothing.
  • What matters for survival are relations of degree.
  • What matters for survival doesn’t presuppose identity (according to Parfit).
  • Psychological continuity is what’s really of interest, not necessarily identity..
  • Non-branching psychological continuity is identity which is one-to-one. (p. 21)

III Q-Memory

Memory presupposes personal identity: if you genuinely remember doing X, then you are identical to the person who did X.

[Problem: circularity! (p24) So, Parfit is going to try to analyze survival / personal identity in terms of psychological relations that do not presuppose identity]

S “q-remembers” experience X = (p. 22)

(1) S believes that he experienced X; it seems to him that he experienced X;

(2) someone did have such an experience;

(3) S’s belief that S experienced X is dependent on that experience in the same way that a genuine memory of an experience is dependent on that experience.

[??????? P. 23 ] See Parfit’s explanation…

IV Psychological Continuity and Connectedness

Connectedness = direct psychological relations (p. 25)

More important

Continuity = psychological overlap (p.26)

These relations come in degrees. More and less connectedness…

V Consequences of Psychological Continuity and Connectedness

Connectedness = “one of my future selves,” “one of my past selves”

Does not imply identity (p. 27)

“I”= the greatest degree of psychological connectedness. (p. 28).

“Not me who did that, but an earlier self” !! (But that self is not identical to me or previous selves)

“There is no underlining person who we . . are.” (p. 29)

VI Some practical consequences

· The principle of self-interest: do what’s in your best self interest. (p. 29)

“has no force” according to Parfit (because of lack of identity)

· The principle of biased rationality: do what will best achieve what you want.

· The principle of impartiality: do what’s in the interests of everyone concerned.

Suppose someone didn’t care about his future: he wouldn’t care about the principle of self-interest. The principle of impartiality would still apply.

Fear of death…

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

For Friday

For Friday, re-read Parfit in Reading Metaphysics and answer the questions in the commentary.

For Monday, read Schechtman in Reading Metaphysics and answer the questions in the commentary.

The selections in Reading Metaphysics take a long time to read carefully. Read their introduction to understand why.

No late questions will be accepted. It is vitally important that you do the reading and do the reading on time. See the syllabus.