On 15/1/05 Bruno Marchal wrote:

Obviously! But it is so only because you dismiss the "failure induction problem". Also: third person identity is arguably an illusion. But I hardy doubt first person identity can ever be an illusion or that it could even be useful to consider like it. What is painful in pain for the suffering first person is mainly that the pain can last, and this independently of any precise idea the first person could have about who she is.

This type of argument is often used to support the more "common sense" position on personal identity, but it is flawed. If I believe (as I do) that my future will consist of a series of people who live only for a moment, who believe they are me and share most of my memories, but aside from this similarity are no more "me" than any stranger is, then I shouldn't worry about "my" future suffering any more than I should worry about the suffering of a stranger. As a matter of fact, I would worry more if I expected to be tortured tomorrow than if I expected someone else would be tortured tomorrow. Therefore, the idea that continuity of personal identity is an illusion must be wrong, or at least my claim to believe this idea must be disingenuous.

In fact, all this argument shows is that humans, and for that matter other animals, have evolved to behave as if the conventional view of personal identity is true. It is so primitive and deep-seated that "belief" is probably not the best word for it; it is more a feeling or instinct. And it is certainly not something I can overcome with mere reason!

There wouln't be much point in arguing about all this if it were not for the theoretical possibility of teleportation, multiple universes, time travel and so on. Efforts to save the conventional view of personal identity in discussing these matters result in a complicated mess. If we allow that all that exists is individual moments of first person experience which can be grouped according to their similarity, as a stamp collector groups stamps, giving the impression of continuous streams of consciousness, all the apparent paradoxes and other difficulties disappear.

--Stathis Papaioannou

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