Monday, June 25, 2018

Causation and memory theories of personal identity

Unlike soul-based theories, the memory, brain and body theories of personal identity are subject to fusion cases. There are four options as to what happens when persons merge:

  • Singleton: a specific person continues, but we don’t know which one

  • Double Identity: there was only one person prior to the fusion, wholly present in two places at once

  • Scattered: there was only one person prior to the fusion, half of whom was present in one location and half of whom was present in another

  • End: fusion causes the person’s demise and the arising of a new person.

The problem with Singleton is that it supposes there is a fact about personal identity deeper than facts about memories, brain-continuity and body-continuity, which undercuts the motivation for the three theories of personal identity.

Double Identity and Scattered are weird. Moreover, it leads to absurdity. For whether you and I are now one person or two depends on whether we will in fact fuse in the future, and we have backwards counterfactuals like: “If you and I fuse, then we will have always been one person.” This is just wrong: facts about your being a different person from me should not depend on what will happen. And consider that if you and I decide to fuse, thereby ensuring that we have always been one person J, either bilocated or scattered, then J exists because of J’s decision to fuse. But an individual cannot exist because of a decision made by that very individual.

That leaves End. I think End may be a good move for brain and body theorists. But it’s not a good move for memory theorists. For by analogy, we will have to say that fission causes a person’s demise, too. But then it is possible to kill a person without any causal interaction. For suppose you are unconscious and undergoing brain surgery under Dr. Kowalska. Dr. Kowalska scans your brain to a hard drive as a backup. A malefactor steals the hard drive from her as well as a blank lab-grown brain. If the thief restores the data from the hard drive into the lab-grown brain, that will result in fission and thus death. But the thief’s restoring of the data into the blank brain is something that can happen without any causal interaction with you. Hence, the thief can kill you without causally interacting with you, which is absurd.

Hence both Double Identity and End have causality problems on the memory theory: Double Identity allows someone to be literally self-made and End allows for killing without causation. It may be that if one is less of a realist about causation, these problems are less, but since memory itself is a causal process, it may be that memory theories of personal identity don’t sit well with being less of a realist about causation.


Unknown said...

Is there some reason we cannot have a fifth option? If I think about reidentification and what the answers are supposed to be tracking, I find we're trying to keep track of people. Say John and Mark fuse to create Mohn. So John's friend comes up to you and asks where he is, and you answer with Mohn's location. On the memory theory at least, Mohn has the memories of both Mark and John, so Mohn is Mark and Mohn is John. (Or, Mohn was Mark and Mohn was John, and to have been someone is to have the memories of being that someone.)

Alexander R Pruss said...

Isn't this Double Identity? If Mohn = Mark and Mohn = John, then Mark = John.

Or maybe you are urging us to deny the transitivity of identity?

Unknown said...

Yeah, I would also urge denying transitivity of identity, at least personal identity. I'm not really sure what the motivation for affirming it is in the first place besides the personal identity relation looking like an equivalence relation. I'm not clear which questions that actually involve personal identity involve this, though. There are some that make transitivity seem like it wouldn't work. For one instance, if John kills someone, then we're going to blame John. John should go to prison. Mark is not blameworthy as he had nothing to do with it, and we have no reason to put him in prison. But fusing together the two doesn't abdicate John/Mohn. So Mohn is to be blamed for the murder.