Monday, November 21, 2016

The identity of countries and persons

Suppose Canada is dissolved, and a country is created, with the same people, in the same place, with the same name, symbols, and political system. Moreover, the new country isn’t like the old one by mere happenstance, but is deliberately modeled on the old. Then very little has been lost, even if it turns out that on the correct metaphysics of countries the new country is a mere replica of Canada.

On the other hand, suppose Jean Vanier is dissolved, and a new person is created, with the same matter and shape, in the same place, with the same name, apparent memories and character. Moreover, the new person isn’t like the old one by mere happenstance, but is deliberately modeled on the old. Then if on the correct metaphysics of persons the new person is a mere replica of Jean Vanier, much has been lost, even if Vanier’s loving contributions continue through the new person.

This suggests an interesting asymmetry between social entities and persons. For social entities, the causal connections and qualitative and material similarities across time matter much more than identity itself. For persons, the identity itself matters at least as much as these connections and similarities.

Perhaps the explanation of this fact is that for social entities there is nothing more to the entity than the persons and relationships caught up in them, while for persons there is something more than temporal parts and their relationships.

[Note added later: This was, of course, written before the revelations about Jean Vanier's abusiveness. I would certainly have chosen a different example if I were writing this post now.]


Heath White said...

I will just note that innumerable episodes of Star Trek testify against this claim. The transporters work by breaking your molecules down and reconstituting an exact replica at another place. But to my knowledge there was no uproar on the ship, or in the audience, that Star Trek had a constantly changing set of characters.

Unknown said...

But Heath, consider: perhaps identity, in this highly technical sense, is merely defined by the opinions of others. Then Spock is still Spock, but we find inconsistencies. There's no real argument to say otherwise--to me he's a new Spock who merely appears to be the old, while to another he may be the very same Spock.

Now consider the perspective that the person in question has his own right over determining his identity. After all, he knows far more than those who say differently. Imagine the same scenario: you could have your present self destroyed, and an exact replica arranged elsewhere--would you do it? Does it not disturb you that perhaps your being killed in your present form would somehow keep *your* particular cognition and sentience from passing on? After all, you are being physically deconstructed and made elsewhere--it doesn't seem *your* consciousness would therefore survive, and so you would suffer death. Meanwhile, your friends have are partying with a replica you with every behavior and memory that you had, but he's not really *you* because *you* were physically disincorporated. Thus, it seems, there is more to the sense of identity--something distinct between mere replication and the original "copy".

We can go deeper with this theory of identity whereby one's knowledge provides the authority for determining identity. In the case of Star Trek's audience, the context gives little reason to suppose my view, given that you follow a character in a story who's identity is portrayed with nearly as much depth as you would have if you were the person a sense, you are God over Spock, in that your knowledge gives you a greater justification for determining his identity: you say his identity is maintained because it would be uncalled for that he should have literally changed persons, rather than simply his location (given that it is a teleporter).

In the same way, God's being our Creator would make His determination of identity even more profound. What He says is more reliable than even *our* perspective on who we are. Therefore, if it should be the case that He loves us unconditionally, then to hate ourselves for failing to meet some condition is to hate someone else--not the person God made. In fact, every insult you throw on yourself is rendered a straw-man against your very self! So the Christian perspective may very well be thought of as the discovery of the Masterpiece (Ephesians 2:10) God intends for us to become.

Consider Philippians 1:6 "For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus."

In the interest of avoiding factual incorrectness, perhaps we should think of ourselves as only partially knowing and owning ourselves, and only partially understanding our potentials, and only slightly recognizing our worth, and only on our way to finding out what it is that God loves so much--something we do not yet see! This reminds me of a song by Twenty One Pilots:

Unknown said...

"I'll never be, be what you see inside.
You say I'm not alone, but I am petrified.
You say that you are close--is close the closest star?
You just feel twice as far. You just feel twice as far.
And I'll fall down, and I'll break down, and I'll fake you out, all I wanna

I'm so afraid, of what you have to say
cuz I am quiet now, and silence gives you space"

--Fake You Out; Vessel

Alexander R Pruss said...


I think that it is a part of the story that however the transporter works, what it produces is (apart from malfunction) is the original individual, not a duplicate. That's probably why the transporter is dominantly portrayed as sending the actual matter of the transported individual to the destination. There are occasional characters who are afraid of the transporter, either for technical or metaphysical reasons, but from the point of view of the show, they are wrong. The in-story metaphysics need not align with the real world's metaphysics, just as the in-story physics does not align with the real world's physics.

Some episodes concern the creation of duplicates of crew members (or even the whole crew, in the case of one Voyager episode). And it is clear that in the story the duplicates are not the originals, even though they have the same character and memories.

IanS said...

Our intuitions about identity, whether innate or based on experience, relate to this world. Here, there are no Transporters. Here, miracles aside, people cannot be dissolved and put back together again, at least as living people. So our intuitions about whether this would preserve personal identity cannot be put to the test.

But Transporters don’t strike me as obviously metaphysically impossible. (Or maybe you disagree?) What would happen if we lived in a world where Transporters were possible, and used routinely? I can’t help thinking that we would come to feel that they really did transport personal identity, not just physical form.