Perhaps what you are in part getting at is the difference between statements of opinion or value, on the one hand, and statements of fact (either empirical or logical truths) on the other. The distinction seems to have come late in the history of Western philosophy (the British Empiricists, particularly David Hume), and it still isn’t appreciated by most non-philosophers. There is a sense in which the former type of statement can be turned into the latter, if we accept some axiom against which statements of value can be tested; however, the axiom is commonly either unrecognized or falsely accorded the status of an empirical or logical truth.

 

Stathis Papaioannou

 

Jef Albright writes:

 

Finally, the very notion of continuity of personal identity, which is necessary if "survival" is to have any meaning, is just as much a product of evolutionary expedience. That is, it is no more logically necessary that an organism is the "same" individual from one moment to the next than it is logically necessary that an organism will strive to survive from one moment to the next. Those organisms which run away when a predator approaches because they believe they will be the same individual in the next moment will thrive, while those which believe that the organism with their approximate shape, memories, position etc. in the next moment is a completely different individual, and don't care if that other individual gets eaten, will die out. Such considerations do not apply to most of the devices that humans produce, which "replicate" on the basis of usefulness rather than a desire to survive and have progeny. A car does not care if it is wrecked for spare parts for use in another car, or a modern sculpture, or whatever, while even a non-sentient organism such as a bacterium is essentially a machine with no purpose other than maintaining its structural integrity from moment to moment and producing exact copies of itself.


I want to add that while I agree with Stathis' remarks, we can abstract this further and thereby resolve some of the popularly conceived paradoxes of personal identity and of morality if we consider that what we really want is to promote our *values* into the future.  This explains how one can rationally sacrifice one's life for one's family or the good of the greater group on the principle that this is consistent with promoting the kind of world one (and by extension, most others) would like to live in.  It also resolves the paradox of taking actions today for the benefit of a self in the future, without the unrealistic requirement of static personal identity.  Of course, we tend to think of these actions as "good" because we are enmeshed in and a product of the very process of evolution that tends to promote "what works" into the future.

- Jef


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